A Recipe for Success

At a recent Plaza Rotary meeting, I had the good fortune to hear Don Goldman, Executive Director and CEO of Jewish Family Services of Greater Kansas City speak about the organization’s programs to serve older adults in the area.

Although he focused on only two of the agency’s many programs, the approach he described included many of the ingredients for success that any organization – especially a nonprofit – should nurture.

Start with Imagination

Don came to JFS not with a background in nonprofits but from a series of successful telecom positions (marketing, strategic planning, and operations). He joined at the urging of an acquaintance who was also a board member and felt the organization would benefit from an infusion of “outside thinking.”

JFS continues to be open to change.

 “An organization needs to 're-invent' itself periodically to meet the needs of constituents,” he says. “Any organization that continues to do what it has always done the way it has always done it is doomed.”

Add a Bit of Collaboration

JFS is in the enviable position of having some 120 very similar agencies … agencies that are entirely autonomous, are not in direct competition, and from which it can learn.

About five years ago, Don attended a conference facilitated by the Association of Jewish Family & Children’s Agencies, an organization formed to help advance its member networks through “advocacy, consultation, education and networking.”

At the conference, Don saw a presentation by a San Diego agency that had implemented a new ride-share service using software developed by the spouse of the program director.

Stir in Innovation

At the time, Don was part of a team examining how to provide transportation services to its aging constituency. Another Kansas City organization had launched a program in which a staff scheduler used a manual telephone tree system of calling volunteers for needed rides. The program was cumbersome and would be difficult to scale.

Don was intrigued by the San Diego model, which allowed volunteer drivers to sign up for requested rides at their convenience. He approached the agency about licensing the software.

“The original program had been developed in a very informal way,” Don explains. “The developer had not really thought about licensing.”

But with his technical and marketing background, Don saw the opportunity. JFS worked with the developer to fine tune the product and Kansas City’s JET Express was born. (As was another organization, RideScheduler, a managed-transportation solution that is now also licensed to 15 or 20 other Jewish Family Service agencies.)

And a Pinch of Proliferation

JET Express started with a handful of volunteers who provided 20 to 30 rides per month. Today, there are more than 60 active (trained and vetted) volunteers who provide about 300 rides per month. And the program continues to grow.

“The scalability works,” Don notes. “If we double the number of rides, staffing doesn’t double; it may go up 10% or so.”

And that’s just vertical growth.

JFS is now working with the same developer in an attempt to modify the software to work for its Help@Home program which provides minor home repairs and other services to help older adults maintain their independence.

Help@Home is also an effective response to a real need of aging constituents. The same recipe for success seems applicable as well.