Nonprofit Innovation Hub: Our Family Services reimagines programs and financial structure to best serve community

Nonprofit Innovation Hub: Our Family Services reimagines programs and financial structure to best serve community

Our Family Services donation drive

When demand spiked at Our Family Services this year, a group from the local Davis-Monthan Air Force Base hosted a supply drive, collecting over 550 pounds of supplies like hygiene and cleaning products for families and youth in need. Partnerships like this were vital as community needs grew. Pictured here are Staff Sergeant Javier Ortega and Our Family Services Grant Writer Sarah McNamara.

by Alexandra Conforti, ASU Lodestar Center for Philanthropy and Nonprofit Innovation

July 28, 2021

Over the course of the 2021 fiscal year, Tucson-based Our Family Services served 23% more families experiencing homelessness than in the previous year, and housed 14% more individuals in need of their services. They were only one of many nonprofits to see a rise in demand during the COVID-19 pandemic. Our Family Services is now working to prepare for what comes next and how to become a flexible, responsive organization going forward to best serve those facing homelessness.

Our Family Services works to eliminate homelessness and strengthen the community. By providing stability in times of crisis, linking people to resources, supporting social connectedness, and acknowledging and combating systemic inequities through policies and advocacy, Our Family Services is able to tackle tough community issues hands-on, and transform the lives of individuals by providing a safe, inclusive space for all. Through their I&R directory, 2-1-1 helpline and online portal, all families, youth and individuals are able to receive the resources and help they need to combat homelessness.

Due to the pandemic, nonprofits have felt and continue to feel negative effects on their fundraising, revenue streams, programs, and staff and clientele. But through new financial structures, additional training, board and funder support, and improved technology, organizations are on their way to stronger and more prepared operations. Beth Morrison, executive director, chief executive officer and president of Our Family Services, noted that the pandemic made them have to “flip everything in a day,” such as how they did their work and how they responded as an employer.

“In the course of the last year and a half, especially in those early months, we realized that we were pretty nimble, flexible, and accommodating, and I think we have learned many new lessons and tricks to allow us to continue to be flexible to our employees, as well as to the community,” Morrison said. “The way that we were able to adapt and change and are continuing to do so, and how we serve the community is to really continue to be a strong partner at the table for homelessness.”

With a core group of their staff now working from home, Morrison said that they began to look into what was and wasn’t working for remote work in the future.

“We have identified a kind of layered, tiered approach to our staff. We have identified some staff who may never have to come back into the office and can continue to work from home. And with that comes our staff hopefully having a better work-life balance,” she said. Our Family Services, like most organizations, has since become more savvy with technology, and has a full group of vaccinated staff in-house.

Because of the community support and responsiveness, the nonprofit was able to receive additional funding from their donors. “It was wonderful to have the community, our donors and supporters have faith and trust in us that we would put their dollars to good use,” Morrison said.

“A lot of people entered the system that had never sought out services or housing help in the past. All of a sudden people lost their jobs or their hours were cut and people very quickly were living paycheck to paycheck, so there was definitely a pretty significant increase in the number of families we served.”

Although finding the positives in the aftermath of the pandemic appear slim, Our Family Services was able to use this time to focus on their program’s practicality and reintroduce focus to previously on-hold priorities with the help of their more resilient financial structure.

“The eviction prevention work we did in the past was very small because there was not enough community dollars to be able to do eviction prevention, but now it's become a greater piece of what we do,” Morrison said. “Because of the pandemic, our operations were able to grow and that was an area that served as an example of listening to the community's needs.”

Despite all the challenges of the last year and a half, Morrison said that Our Family Services has “a very bright future.”

“As an organization, we have great community support. We're very focused on doing whatever we can do to help address the root causes of homelessness, and in the last year and a half, all of that drive has just been more solidified. We're hopeful, and we must address the more pressing issues our communities are facing. Those lessons will hopefully carry us forward into achieving our vision and that is that there will be an elimination of homelessness.”

Innovation hub

Nonprofit Innovation Hub

We want to hear your success stories. Organizations are invited to contribute to the ASU Lodestar Center's Nonprofit Innovation Hub and share how they are adapting during the COVID-19 pandemic. Submissions will contribute to an indispensable resource and help lift up the nonprofit community during this time of need.