In 2016, S&P 500 firms spent, on average, a full third of their budgets on behind-the-scenes administrative support. Nonprofits? Because of funding constraints, they spent less than half that.
“Investing in an organization’s systems, structure, and people is what makes you strong and sustainable over the long term,” explains Katie Leonberger ’08, president and CEO of Community Resource Exchange (CRE), a nonprofit consulting firm that helps other nonprofits maximize resources. “It’s your talent development, it’s strategic planning. [But] that stuff is hard to come by in the nonprofit sector. Most nonprofits are not [even] able to cover the cost of their programs through the state and local funding they receive — only 14 percent say they can.” Grants and donors offer supplemental funding, but “most nonprofits are operating at a deficit,” Leonberger says.
Investing in New Yorkers’ Futures
That’s where CRE comes in. Founded in 1979, the organization provides consulting services to more than 300 New York City–based social-service nonprofits on topics such as board development, expansion planning, and organizational restructuring, while also offering leadership- and professional-development opportunities. As an example, Leonberger helped an organization that provides visual-arts youth programming create a plan to expand beyond the five boroughs.
“Our [priority] is working with these groups so that we’re effective together in reducing poverty, promoting equity, and increasing opportunity.”
CRE is funded by government contracts, foundation grants, and the organizations it serves. Leonberger estimates that CRE impacts the lives of more than half a million New Yorkers each year through its clients, which range from after-school and senior-care service providers to social-justice groups. “Our [priority] is working with these groups so that we’re effective together in reducing poverty, promoting equity, and increasing opportunity,” Leonberger says.
A Passion for Working Together
Leonberger first became interested in nonprofit work while studying in Latin America as a Stanford undergraduate. She earned her master’s in international studies and was an economic consultant in the US and Africa before applying to Columbia. “I really enjoy supporting organizational and leadership development,” she says. “How do you get disparate people to come together to [form] a solution that makes people’s lives better and does something great for the world?”
A City for Everyone
Leonberger joined CRE in 2014. In her first year, she helped launch the CRE Rising Fund to provide services to deserving nonprofits free of charge. While most organizations receive government or foundation funding for such services, small and community-based nonprofits don’t necessarily have these subsidies, Leonberger stresses. Through the Rising Fund thus far, CRE has selected 10 organizations to work with pro bono, including Turning Point for Women and Families, which offers free and confidential services such as counseling to Muslim women and children who live in Queens, and the Knowledge House, which creates job-training programs in technology for underserved Bronx youth.
“This city represents all the possibility and opportunity in the world but also some of the hardest parts of our world,” Leonberger says. “That’s why I’m so excited about getting to lead CRE, because CRE is playing an integral role in helping to create one city for all of the residents here.”