Graduation: The Embodiment of the Power of Possible

Next week, we will celebrate the graduates of our Career Design School as they walk across the stage at the John Jay College auditorium in Manhattan. This event is among my favorite days of the year. It is a shiny culmination of the work we exist to do. Many of our graduates have had to overcome life-threatening odds to walk across that stage. They are an example of what relevant, sustainable impact looks like.

Our graduates come from all walks of life. They represent a full roster of the people we exist to serve—those with barriers to employment—individuals with physical or mental disabilities, youth aging out of foster care, veterans, the previously incarcerated, recovering addicts, and older workers who have been nudged out of the workplace.  Each graduate harbors a story of triumph in personal courage and determination.  Each story is an example of resilience and hardiness and strength. And each moment among cheering parents, relatives, children, grandchildren, and friends inspires me, our staff, and our board of directors to keep on doing the work we are doing to make possible what was, for many, once inconceivable.

Graduation opens the door to job placement, some in our own businesses, but the majority with our over 6500 business partners throughout New York City and New Jersey.  Jobs in high growth sectors with significant opportunity for career advancement.

Graduation day reminds me of the power of one person to make a difference. One graduate, through perseverance, gumption, will, and passion can alter the course of her or his family history. Where there may have been hopelessness about a bright future, there is now resolve. Where some focused only on the outcome, they now understand the journey is where the action is. These are lessons learned only through taking a goal one day at a time, one step at a time, showing up day after day until this day—graduation day is upon us. And now, commencement begins—commencement to the next step, the next journey—it is thrilling to imagine what that could and will be.

I am inspired by the success and the will of our graduates.  Congratulations to our graduates—and to graduates everywhere whose past, present, and future point to new beginnings and to the power of possible.



How to Solve Problems

Here at Fedcap, we solve problems for a living. Every day, every person who works in one of the agencies of the Fedcap Group strives to solve some of the biggest problems in our society: eliminating barriers to economic well-being. We do it by serving individuals and by influencing whole systems through a variety of lenses. This mission is the backdrop for every decision we make and every action we take. And every day, we are making a difference for the hundreds of thousands of people we touch.

Every decision we make in service to our work must be deliberately and thoroughly vetted.  We need brilliant thinkers working at full-throttle to come up with innovative and as-yet untried ideas that we can test, revise, and implement, and which, ultimately, will influence the lives of the individuals we serve and the systems we influence.

The quality of the work we do depends on the quality of our thinking. If our thinking and our decision making is uniformed or distorted, then the solutions we create will be shoddy in equal measure to the thinking—or lack of same—that went into it.

Excellence in thought about any problem we are attempting to solve—from improving an internal process to tackling a societal issue as complex as poverty—is a deliberate and well-calculated activity that we systematically cultivate throughout our organization. For every interview for a new hire, every meeting, every presentation, every discussion, we require structured thinking and high standards of reason and rationale.

As a leader, I want my thinking to be consistently challenged. I want to be questioned with clear and precise arguments. I don’t want to indulge logical fallacies, such as “reason” based on emotion or vagueness or even on personal experience unless that experience has best evidence research as proof behind it. I expect every employee at every level to perform with well-reasoned thought that has been tested against the highest standards and criteria. And I expect everyone to impose the discipline and monitoring it takes to test their own thinking so I don’t have to.

It is only by calling on the highest standards of thinking that we will be able to solve the problems we strive to solve.  And it is only by clearly and explicitly outlining those standards and criteria that we can then apply best thinking and execute actions that will lead to success.

How do you ensure that those you work with are employing the best and highest thinking when working to solve problems?

Lessons Learned about Transformative Replicability and Scalability

Fedcap and its family of companies work hard to ensure that when designing a new program, that program is both replicable and scalable. The goal is that the work we do is transformative, both to the people who receive the services and the systems that deliver them. To ensure replicability and scalability, we have developed a built-in capacity to significantly expand—without placing undue burden on existing infrastructure, without having to “reinvent the wheel,” and with a clear sense of measurement for success. This aspect of our organizational culture has been a key to our growth and expansion over the past decade.

Transformative replicability and scalability occur rapidly and efficiently when there is an expectation of both within program design. As an agency, we expect to grow and expand our services. We believe what we do is worthy of expansion and that what we do makes a measurable difference in the lives of those we serve. When designing a program, we ask the following questions:

  1. Has the program design phase been structured to include elements that allow for rapid replicability and scaling? When developing a new program, we integrate what we know (our evidence) with innovation and we create a flow chart detailing the integration of the two. We define key staffing needs for program operations and expansion (start up, first phase, second phase and steady state); we identify mission critical Finance and HR processes; we design operational expectations including information collection and reporting; and we ensure physical plant needs are described in detail. By thinking about replicability and scalability in this way, we are prepared and can execute with very short notice.
  2. We have invested in systems that will support future growth. At Fedcap, we have intentionally built our corporate services structure to be agile, extensively leveraging technology and flexible human resources. We think expansion as we think system design. Finance, HR, IT and Facilities are expected to be ready for rapid and flexible replication and scalability. We steer away from investing in short-term solutions that will not support future growth. While it can be expensive to invest in systems like Oracle, ADP, SalesForce or Raiser’s Edge, it is imperative to make studied investments of these systems for long-term growth.
  3. We build the strengths of our organization into the very core of program design. At Fedcap we are known for putting people to work. We do this very well—last year placing over 14,000 people in jobs. We weave this excellence into every program design. For example, while we provide a broad array of behavioral health services and a rich assortment of educational supports, the difference is our focus. We provide these services through the lens of long-term economic well-being. Our goal is not just to provide services, but to ensure work readiness and long-term employment stability. By operating this way, our efforts to replicate and expand programs are buffeted by years of a proven track record and a wealth of data to demonstrate the efficacy of our efforts.
  4. We share our learning and encourage the replication of our program design. It is not likely that one agency can accomplish everything on its own. We have always been committed to sharing ideas, and creating communities of learning. When we test a new approach, and refine it over time—and when we have the data to demonstrate that what we do works—we share it, seeking to embed our learning into the very systems that provide funding for services. We fundamentally believe that this is part of our responsibility to the field. It is also a highly effective approach to transformative replication and scalability. Our strategic goal is to impact the lives of those who come through our doors as well as the lives of those who never do—by impacting the design of how government and philanthropic services are delivered.

What factors do you consider when thinking about replicability and scalability? As always, I welcome your thoughts.

Ensuring that Our Strategic Plan Drives Our Future

The Strategic Planning process is one of the most important parts of my job at Fedcap. It sets the forward direction of the agency. I take pride in the fact that our plans don’t “sit on the shelf.” Our plan drives our work, we live by it, it stretches us, and it evolves to meet the unanticipated environmental demands. Our intent is to implement best practices, resulting in optimal impact.

A good strategic plan is creative and requires research, a deep understanding of the current market and an informed sense of the emerging markets. It involves intentional and well-planned outreach to staff and key stakeholders. It requires synthesis of data, smart direction setting and corporate agility. It’s an exciting process—aspirational and satisfying.

I am convinced our Strategic Plans have accomplished our goals because we understand that structure creates the foundation upon which strategy rests. It is the backdrop against which our strategic initiatives are measured.

Structure translates into:

  • Strong and responsive corporate services operating at optimal level—human resources, finance, technology, procurement, legal and facilities.
  • Measurement and Analysis: Understanding our impact is foundational to success. At Fedcap, we employ a process that results in Metrics That Matter—our agency wide system for analyzing outcome data as compared to contract requirements, national trends, and our own goals. MTM drives our ongoing quality improvement efforts; we are continuously honing what and how we measure.
  • Frequent communication: Communication to both internal and external stakeholders is an important piece of our strategy. Our bi-annual financial and programmatic release is a cornerstone of our communication to stakeholders. Our strategic plan is the basis for orienting new employees to the organization. It is also disseminated and reinforced on a regular basis, for example, serving as the backdrop to our internal, year-long Leadership Academy and as the impetus for our bi-annual and much-acclaimed Solution Series.
  • Ongoing Discovery and Research: A strong strategic plan is fluid and evolves based on continuous learning and predictions of changes in existing markets and the discovery of emerging markets. While this may seem like guesswork, it is at its core—educated and informed guesswork.
  • Accountability: Strategy combined with accountability is the secret sauce of success. Metrics that Matter, daily data dashboards, and our quarterly “Corporate Week,” drives agency leaders toward aggregate and granular analysis of our outcomes and our impact.

As we close in on the end of our 2020 plan, and begin to design our 2025 direction, these elements of strategic planning success are in the forefront of our thinking.

As always, I welcome your thoughts.

The Case for Financial Transparency in Non-Profits

The greatest threat to the not-for-profit sector is the betrayal of public trust, the disappointment of public confidence.”

— Professor Joel Fleishman, Duke University

As the head of a large non-profit company, I have a significant responsibility to our stakeholders, including our government and philanthropic funders, our community partners, and our individual and corporate donors.  They have invested in us and we need to demonstrate that we use those dollars wisely, effectively and transparently.  As such, in 2015, Fedcap made the decision to publicly release our financial and programmatic results twice annually—not just because it is the right thing to do, but because it is smart business strategy. This level of transparency signals to our stakeholders that we are doing what we said we would do—spending money in smart and innovative ways to advance our mission.

In a recent article in the NonProfit Times, the author suggests that the more non-profit reporting practices mirror for-profit companies, the greater opportunities for partnerships with corporations. Examples might include a bank with an affordable housing nonprofit, a technology company and a non-profit focused on science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) education, or a food retailer operating a soup kitchen.

Hank Boerner, chairman and co-founder of the Governance & Accountability Institute, recommended non-profit managers look over corporations’ sustainability reports for opportunities to align missions. “It’s about the survival and thriving of not-for-profits in today’s society with government cutting back,” he said. “Somebody has to pick up the slack and the business community knows it’s them.”

While emphasis on our mission is key to engaging the hearts and minds of our partners, demonstrating our financial and programmatic results is critical to maintaining those relationships.  Increasingly, savvy donors and investors of all types demand results.

On May 17, we will be releasing our first half-year financial and programmatic results for 2018. This process takes place via webinar and will attract participants from business, philanthropy, academia, government, and non-profit sectors across the country. Following our presentation, we engage participants in a Q&A session, intended to further expand their knowledge of our company.

Please join us as we openly discuss the current realities in the nonprofit business environment.


Creating a Leadership Brand

Many leaders, including myself, first step into their leadership roles with the mistaken belief that they must have all of the answers and know more than those on the team they are leading. What a heavy and unnecessary burden to carry.

Over time, effective leaders come to understand that the leadership is about finding ways to enable those around you to strengthen their own voice and the clarity of their convictions, assisting them in recognizing and eliciting their power as authors of their own professional journeys. Great leaders know how to push people to do bigger and better things with a style and approach that is all their own—this is their leadership brand.

The longer I am in this role, the more truth this concept has for me.

According to the Harvard Business Review, a leadership brand conveys your identity and distinctiveness as a leader. It communicates the value you offer. Developing a strong personal leadership brand allows all that’s powerful and effective about your leadership to generate maximum value.  When staff come to me for guidance, I have worked hard to consistently convey that I want their best insights, a researched opinion, evidence that they have dug deep into the issue and a willingness to stretch—really stretch to achieve the organization’s goals. This ultimately brings out their best work. I believe that a strong leadership brand can spread a culture of leadership throughout the company.

Of course your leadership brand isn’t static; as with most things, it will evolve as you face different challenges, different funding and business environments along your career path.  But even in its evolution, your core leadership values will remain.

I believe that we owe our staff clarity of leadership brand.

Ongoing Justice Reform: The Case for “Decarceration”

In 2012, Fedcap combined with Wildcat Service Corp., renowned for pioneering work with New York City’s justice involved.

Wildcat is, in many ways, the embodiment of the spirit of Fedcap: The Power of Possible. As a driving force for New York’s services to those who face disenfranchisement and stigma, Wildcat has touched and improved the lives of thousands who would have become statistics without its quality, innovative programming.

Wildcat was led by Amalia Betzanos, a true pioneer in justice reform and a legendary public servant. We pause each May to celebrate the legacy of its founder and the ongoing work of the organization. And each year, we honor the work of other pioneers in the expanding field of justice reform.

This May, I am pleased to report, we will be honoring Justine (Tina) Luongo, Attorney-in-Charge of the Criminal Defense Practice of the Legal Aid Society.

Ms. Luongo has more than made her mark in the area of justice reform. Under her leadership, the Legal Aid Society opened a first-ever Digital Forensic Unit focused on criminal defense, launched the Cop Accountability Project, and increased the capacity of every trial office to represent clients. No small accomplishments.

One of Ms. Luongo’s most innovative projects is the Decarceration Project, a city-wide campaign to reduce—and eventually eliminate—the pre-trial incarceration of poor people in NYC. This year alone, close to 47,000 people will be incarcerated before their cases are heard, simply because they cannot afford bail. Fifty percent of people with bail set cannot afford it. For those who can afford it, just 11% can post bail at $1000, and 17% can post bail at $500.

And yet, 84% return voluntarily in time for their court dates, and 94% return voluntarily within 30 days of their court date.

The cost to the system and to human life is enormous.

Ms. Luongo offers a great example of what it takes to find a precise intervention that can alter—for the good—a sea change in reform. For example, judges can institute a “promise-to-pay” alternative, which releases a defendant to his or her family with a promise to pay if they do not appear for their court date. The statistics bear out that most will return for their dates. The risk of loss is minimal, especially compared with the cost of incarceration for often months at a time.

Decarceration is a significant and important effort in the fight against injustice. Thanks to Tina, the legacy of justice reform has jumped ahead.

We welcome your attendance to our Spring Cocktail Party on May 16th where you can learn more about Ms. Luongo’s ground breaking work, the history and ongoing work of Wildcat, and the legacy of the remarkable Amalia Betanzos.

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Creating the Organization its Leaders Deserve

“Leaders get the organizations they deserve.”

                                                                                         —  Doug Rauch

We recently had the privilege of listening to Doug Rauch, the former CEO of Trader Joe’s and the current president of The Daily Table ( address the staff cohort and senior-leader faculty of our Leadership Academy. Doug has had a fascinating career—and has no indication of slowing down. He never stops… in fact, he wakes up every morning trying to solve problems. And he gets it right much of the time.

Doug offered many great ideas to our Academy participants. Among them was the idea that leaders get the organizations they deserve. And depending on the leader, this adage can bode well or ill.

For an organization to thrive—to be the best organization a leader can deserve—means that leaders must ensure that the basic measures of success, like structure, metrics, data, and stewardship of the community’s resources are firmly in place.  Those are a given.  But to truly thrive, it is the culture that makes the difference.   Leaders have to take the time to and work hard to create a culture that allows people to thrive.  And we must be deliberate about maintaining this culture.

For me, creating this culture is born out of setting a tone for honest, direct communication. I do not want people around me echoing my thoughts or simply agreeing with me. I want people around me who question me, challenge me, and who are willing to disprove my thinking. I want to hear perspectives from people who see the world differently from how I see it, whose experiences do not mirror my own. I want intelligent voices to tell me what I am not considering. I want to learn something new every single day. And I want to—and will—change my mind if that is what it takes to improve and grow.

According to studies in both Europe and in the United States, 85% of employees from a variety of industries and sectors are afraid to raise questions or concerns for fear of retaliation or firing. I can’t imagine what it would be like to lead an organization where this was true. These are organizations where people feel unwilling and unsafe to take risks, to try out new ideas, to fail fast and fail forward, and who cover up their mistakes instead of heralding them as learning experiences.

I feel very lucky that I am surrounded by people whose strengths are different from mine, and whose intellect and voice expand the conversation. Instead, we wrangle through the problems we are solving—together. We disagree heartily. Sometimes we get mad. But in the end, we come up with a better solution, a more informed resolution, and a better direction. And in the end, we know we are better people—and a better organization—because we have created a culture where care, risk, and trust are our pillars.

And we have the organization we deserve.

I welcome your thoughts.

In Search of Disequilibrium

Organizations that want to stay vital must search out surprise, looking for what is startling, uncomfortable, maybe even shocking.

— Margaret Wheatley from Leadership and the New Science

Equilibrium is another word for balance—where forces of equal weight come together and form stability, symmetry, and evenness. Margaret Wheatley, in her book Leadership and the New Science, reminds us that, as children, we are constantly seeking out disequilibrium—to be knocked off balance. We aspire to swing as high and far away from the earth as we can; we love the bounce on the see-saw; we can’t get enough of hanging upside down on the jungle gym.

As we grow up, we find ourselves discarding the delights of disequilibrium for “balance”. We seek predictability, and control. Yet, in nature and in science, equilibrium is considered the last phase of evolution, as Wheatley states, “the point at which the system has exhausted all of its capacity for change, done its work, and dissipated its productive capacity into useless entropy.”

So you can imagine, if it is a choice between equilibrium and disequilibrium… I choose disequilibrium.

In my mind, THIS is the “place” where innovation is born. I believe that by creating and maintaining a culture that prizes the “startling, uncomfortable, and maybe even shocking,” we thrive.

What does disequilibrium look like in a business such as ours? It looks like challenging the status quo—flipping orthodoxies that we assume are firmly in place. It means not being afraid to question the logic of how systems that serve our most vulnerable are structured.

Here’s an example: until recently, the assumption—the orthodoxy—was that individuals with intellectual/developmental disabilities could not effectively work in the community—and that it was better for them to work in sheltered workshops. This system of workshops represented equilibrium. And then came the disturbing question: What if those with intellectual/developmental disabilities were to integrate more broadly into the community by working in jobs within community businesses? This question caused disruption of an entire system. And yet, we now know that employment of people with intellectual/developmental disabilities works—and it is expanding and improving their lives as well as those in the community working alongside them.

I suggest that if we seek equilibrium as an organization, we will atrophy. It is imperative that we continue to seek disequilibrium— that we seek the discomfort that comes from asking questions, challenging assumptions and not accepting status quo.

As always, I welcome your thoughts.