Welcome to the Inspired Giving podcast. In this second episode, your Community Foundation of Tampa Bay hosts Wilma Norton and Matt Spence welcome Michael Jalazo, Executive Director of the Pinellas Ex-Offender Re-Entry Coalition. Jalazo's initiative offers a construction training program for ex-offenders and hard-to-serve populations. The Tiny Homes project constructs tiny homes as a social enterprise to fund the Coalition's other programs. Jalazo sits down with Matt and Wilma in the studio to talk about the program, and its potential to impact diverse communities in St. Petersburg. He shares innovative ideas about financial expansion for nonprofits and discusses future collaborations with city agencies and private foundations.
"I wanna live in a safe community. I want my daughter to grow up in a safe community. The way to make the community safe is to think outside the box when it comes to people who’ve made mistakes and give them a second chance, a legitimate second chance that creates neighborhoods, it saves families, it does so many positive things you can’t argue with it."
"I’m not interested in jobs that pay $10 an hour and are always gonna pay $10 an hour. It’s nothing wrong with that job, but you can’t change a life that way, right? If we can’t find opportunities that are upwardly mobile it’s not gonna have great success."
Table of Contents:
(0:00 – 0:46) Introduction
(0:46 – 3:55) About Pinellas Ex-Offender Re-entry Coalition
(3:55 – 12:39) The Tiny House Project
(12:39 – 18:11) Michael’s Role at Ex-Offenders
(18:11 – 21:54) What Gets You Excited About This Work?
(21:54 – 29:37) What Keeps You Up at Night?
(29:37 – 34:37) The Non-Profit Industry Five Years From Now
(34:37 – 38:17) Advice for Non-Profits
(38:17 – 41:30) It’s All About Mindset
(41:30 – 47:09) The Evolution of St. Petersburg
(47:09 – 49:31) Conclusion
Wilma: So welcome, and with us today we’ve got Michael Jalazo who is the Executive Director of the Pinellas…
Wilma: …Ex-Offender Re-entry Coalition. Did I get that right?
Michael: You did.
Wilma: I always have to pause and think what the E stands for.
Michael: It’s what it’s like, so one of those funny things when you talk about how you brand an organization. We’ve talked about this before because we serve multiple populations. We do serve sex offenders, but it’s a small part of what we do. But when you say our name people are, ‘Oh, you guys just work with sex offenders,’ because Pinellas Ex-Offender, it comes off that way and we’ve talked about rebranding as an organization – not because it’s a population we’re not willing to work with, we do work with it. But that what we do is so much more broad than just one population.
Wilma: Well, why don’t you tell us a little bit about what you do?
Michael: Well, PERC exists and we’re most known in the community as PERC. Really our vision is to help the offender to become and remain an ex-offender, someone who is reuniting with family, someone who is a tax paying citizen, someone who is no longer a burden negatively on the system now for us and call that re-entry services. We work with people coming out of jail and prison, we also work with people who we would call pre-entry into the system. We’re licensed as an out-patient substance abuse provider, we do matters intervention programs, we work on the pre-trial side so that people maybe don’t wind up going to jail or prison either. But it really goes well beyond that. We’ve partnered with the city St. Petersburg, with the state of Florida, working with harder to serve populations and workforce development. One of our big projects right now is with the city of St. Petersburg’s Economic Development and Office of Urban Affairs are two different parts of that, with the workforce development initiatives… We’re also helping get people jobs who aren’t involved in the criminal justice system, but our long-term history has been more helping people to re-enter successfully.
Wilma: And you’ve been doing a lot of things that are a little bit out of the norm and that’s part of what we want to talk about today, is how you’re looking at social enterprise to both fund your operations and help the clients that you serve and… also doing some things that are a little innovative in the non-profit world?
Michael: I hope they’re innovative. We made a decision probably towards the middle of 2014. Grants come and go; government contracts are dependent on funding and as we have grown as an organization we just made a conscious decision that we had to change path a little bit and look at a kind of industry or businesses that could help us accomplish our goals. We have a really good understanding of why we do what we do, but how do we get there? And when you think of lot of organizations, especially non-profits, they know what they do but they don’t know why they do it. Or maybe they know why they do it, but they don’t know how to get there. And so for us, we started just a different philosophical approach towards programs and funding. In fact I met with Matt probably around that time and started talking about some of the different ideas that we were working on as let’s move towards social enterprise, let’s look at programs that can be self-sufficient, but also if they’re profitable, that those profits could help sustain other programs that might not be profitable.
Matt: Music to my ears.
Michael: And I think that one of the problems that a lot of non-profits have is that they don’t understand that this is a tax designation, it doesn’t mean that you’re not in business to make money or that you’re in business to lose money. And we look at different projects. We’re a relatively large housing provider as well, which obviously segues into what we’re doing with the tiny houses. But when we look at projects, we can’t look at projects in a vacuum and say this is the greater good and we should do it. Of course, we should do the greater good, but we can’t do it in a fiscally irresponsible way or we’re just not gonna survive. So we started looking at different industries that way.
Wilma: Well we’re gonna talk about some of the big philosophical questions of life here in a little bit, but one of the reasons that we got to know you was through the Tiny House Project which you just mentioned, which was in part – the startup money for that came from our Big Idea grant at the community foundation. So why don’t you tell us a little bit about what that project is? We’re very excited about it and have been thrilled to be part of watching this come to fruition.
Michael: I’m gonna look at you when we talk about it because Matt gives me the… the evil eye.
Matt: I have to say, this is one of my favorite grants that we’ve ever made as an organization, and the evil eye is only because of my impatience and my excitement.
Michael: And I share your impatience and your excitement as well.
Wilma: Good things take time.
Michael: So, we had an idea and it really fits a number of things for us, but when we start looking at different industries that are offender friendly, that are willing to give someone a chance to become an ex-offender, one of them has always been construction. So we were looking at different ideas for training programs and just the kind of interest and excitement that we had towards tiny houses, and it really started on a personal level for me. I like to travel, and I always wonder, you see these different TV shows, so there are ways that you don’t have to have a 30-year mortgage on something and make your life more flexible, so I became fascinated by tiny houses five or six years ago. And it just struck me as we were looking at different kinds of ideas to do training – why don’t we build tiny houses? So we started – and this is even before we looked at the Big Idea grant – but we started reaching out to the tiny house community nationally so that we could say, look, what other programs out there exists? Who is willing to share plans? If we’re gonna do this as a training program what kind of support we would get? And it was overwhelming. We were out there on different blogs nationally. We had someone from Alaska send us a video on how they’re doing some things and tiny houses. So it was really a neat idea. We started to say alright, but look, if we add this as a training program can we do something that could become economically self-sufficient so that it would be a social enterprise that we could then use to fund other parts of our programming? So when we made the application for the Big Idea grant, I’m a naturally excitable person but I wasn’t sure how that would translate into a grant, because is it too pie in the sky, is it too…? Except that we had all the components in place, we had the St. Petersburg Workforce Development project coming online, we had a state project where we had training dollars, so we could create the training program. The city of St. Petersburg has been doing stuff with lots that for whatever reason they tore down these dilapidated houses and they were working towards donating those lots to non-profits. And so we started thinking, why don’t we start putting these different pieces together? And again, can we build tiny houses as a training program that could them become something good for the community? But for me honestly, my mindset at first was how could this be a social enterprise, how can we build profit into this so that if it catches on because it’s innovative, that we could do tiny houses and sell them, just put them on wheels and sell them?
Wilma: And if you watch cable television you know everybody in the world seems to be buying a tiny house.
Matt: That’s right, the only element that you need it was a creative, innovative funding partner.
Michael: And so here we came at…
Wilma: Doesn’t that pat some self on the back?
Matt: That’s right, that’s… I just threw out my shoulder patting myself there.
Michael: The Community Foundation of Tampa Bay. Matt has extraordinary vision and I don’t know what else to say about him. But for us…
Matt: And in this case I’m gonna interrupt and be sure that we’re clear that the Big Idea grant existed before Matt’s time at the Community Foundation, so social enterprise was a passion I brought, but we have great donors that really brought the idea of putting a big dollar amount out there to the community and saying come to us with creative ideas. And that’s really what you responded to, that’s why this project was such a great hit because it fit perfectly with something that we really enjoy doing, it gave us an opportunity to really publicly celebrate some of our donors and it fit perfectly with an opportunity that you were looking for.
Michael: Yeah, it was neat for me. So we did the application and then we had the pitch part of it when it was the three finalists. And it was somewhere in there that it really started evolving into what else could we do? We’re a housing provider and people from the homeless leadership board here in Pinellas had approached us about SSVF, some veteran funding – would we consider using some of our beds for that? And so I started thinking well, what if we did a veteran’s village? And we started talking to the city about multi-family lots where we could put multiple houses on, and so by the time I did that pitch I couldn’t have been more fired up because it – you always talk the win-win. This was that win-win-win-win, there was like you couldn’t find the loser in it, because here if we had ex-offenders who are in training who are gonna no longer be a burden to the system but get into an upwardly mobile career path that’s a great win. If we’re building houses for homeless veterans, and there’s a lot of homeless veterans in Pinellas county, that’s a great win. And if we can do a social enterprise and help us fund our programs that’s a great win. And when you started going down, I think one of the things that’s been interesting about the last year is after we won the Big Idea grant Pinellas county government brought all the heads of departments to meet with us and talk about how could we do tiny houses in Lealman? What we want you to do is build six houses and then we want to go one by one and replace a mobile home park. Okay, so suddenly we’re talking about 30 houses and the veterans project, we started talking at about as eight houses, but due to some different funding opportunities, we’re actually building 26 houses. So suddenly before we build any on wheels we’re talking about 56 houses and we’re like, wait, hold on a second.
Matt: That’s right.
Michael: Because this is where this gets complicated, is we’ve met with Irv Cohen last week and when you start really doing the numbers we’re talking about a pretty large social impact, a large social investment. So there’s really a lot of exciting opportunities for donors. Because one of the great things about the Community Foundation is that people who donate are people who are entrepreneurs, they are people who have done some crazy things to be successful and they like the ideas that are outside the box. And that’s what makes us such a good fit together.
Matt: It’s amazing to me to think back on the Big Idea grant and the social enterprise trajectory that several of the applicants that you were able to be successful over have since received funding in their own. And yet it was almost inevitable that you were going to win. Once I read the idea and – everybody I talked to got excited about it, literally everybody I shared it with. So that’s a fantastic idea… that’s going to work.
Wilma: Well, because it fit with all of what we try to do: good for the community, leveraging dollars to bring in more dollars to help the community more and connecting and collaborating among agencies and non-profits and private citizens who just care. So you checked all the boxes.
Matt: It’s been over a year now and I’m still yet to have somebody who learns about this project and say, ‘Yeah, I don’t think that’s gonna work, I don’t think that’s a good idea.’ It’s just been a really fun journey and we’re so close to the point now where we’ve seen the plans, we’ve put a class of ex-offenders through the training program, we know this is going to work and we will have homes up very, very soon…
Matt: …probably before this podcast actually even publishes.
Wilma: I was going to say there’s some things that we could talk about, but they will be done and we’ll move on to other things by the time this is…
Michael: But that’s alright because this is a project really that’s in its infancy. And I go back to the lots with the city of St. Petersburg, Karl Nurse, who just finished eight years on city council. He had been pushing for a number of years on how can we reimagine some of these small lots. And the neighborhood stabilization program with another program – name escapes me – but we’re finally almost to the point where it’s gonna be non-profits partnering with the city to turn those empty lots into housing, and into affordable housing. And Karl, I used to joke with Karl because he’s been really doing this push on the row housing, kind of what you have in New Orleans. And at the last meeting we were at it as well, row housing, but we’re gonna need to start talking more about tiny houses because…
Matt: We’re outnumbered.
Michael: …the reality is that here’s where it gets creative. And I’m gonna tell you, this came from guys like Mike Dove who after 30-40 years of service to our city just retired. Or people from the county saying, ‘You know what? If we took a lot and you make one house smaller than the second, have you given any idea of a secondary dwelling?’ And even to my idea, these are people in government who you don’t automatically think that they’re thinking outside of the box or creative actually being more creative than us saying, ‘Look, we can then put two single family houses on one lot, that’s a pretty good idea.’ So that kind of creativity is really neat to see how it’s evolved.
Matt: Yeah, and before we spend two hours talking about the Tiny House Project, I think I’d love to back up a little bit because as you know, we can go on and on about this project but I really wanna hear a little bit about how you ended up working with Ex-Offenders. I think that’s a really interesting piece of this puzzle because it’s the right people at the right place at the right time to make things like this happen.
Wilma: With the right passion.
Matt: Yeah, absolutely.
Michael: Well, I’ll answer that. It’s not the greatest story. I actually was in private business in Gainesville and I’ve been at the University of Florida and finished my Master’s Degree and came down here because I wanted to get into coaching football and teaching. But I had done some advocacy work prior to that, different initiatives, and Gainesville being more of a strangely open-minded town in a very conservative part of the state, but it’s a cog’s town, which is an uncommon… And I loved coaching football, the allure of teaching – I think it was much more idealistic in my eyes than the actual reality of it. However, I still am an adjunct professor with St. Petersburg College, so I do like teaching. But the sheriff at the time was Edward Rice and they started going after some federal grants and they got one and they were trying to find people to run it who had done some similar work. And so I wound up going to work for Sheriff Rice on a program that was founded through the Office of Vocational Education, which would eventually become Safe and Drug-Free Schools. And I started doing a bunch of different things with different federal agencies and grant reviews and so forth, but in the original funding, one of the partners was this organization, the Pinellas Ex-Offender Re-entry Coalition, who committed to do about four or five different things. So of course, in my mind is let’s go meet with them and see how we’re gonna incorporate that into the program. PERC as it was and it still is, is a networking group. They’ve met once a month at Goodwill Corrections probably since the late ‘80s. A lot of people don’t know that. And so they were able to link to some different services but I saw an opportunity at time to say, look… We are right at the time when this discussion of compassion at conservativism, Bush was president and talked about that in the State of the Union, about people getting released from prisoner jail, and I had done enough of these different grants that they actually – the Department of Education had me review what was the first initiative which was called the Serious and Violent Offender Re-entry Initiative, or lovingly known as SVORI. And SVORI was about people coming out of prison, hardcore stuff. And then they made a community-based version of that. And then you started seeing some federal initiatives that ultimately would become what’s now known as Second Chance Act and there has been 100 of different kinds of Second Chance programs. And so early on here was this networking group. I saw the need for the issue, right? But how did we turn that into something? And before the first year I was involved I was a vice-chair or a coacher and we just started growing from zero dollars into going into different grants and contracts and providing direct service. And really for me, this is really simple. People say that they struggle with the why. My why is easy – I wanna live in a safe community. I want my daughter to grow up in a safe community. The way to make the community safe is to think outside the box when it comes to people who’ve made mistakes and give them a second chance, a legitimate second chance that creates neighborhoods, it saves families, it does so many positive things you can’t argue with it. And it’s funny, sticking with social enterprise a little bit is – maybe we’ll talk about it here in a second, but we had made a proposal with the Foundation for a Healthy St. Petersburg on a syringe exchange program, but the way we wanted to do it was to create a wellness pharmacy. Now part of this was to deal with some of the legal constraints in the state of Florida, by the time this airs that won’t exist anymore. A part of it was I just didn’t realize how profitable independent pharmacies could be and so I studied it and said alright, here is something that can help us fund our other businesses, but here’s the ‘why’: the state of Florida is number one in the nation in new HIV aids cases, has been for a couple of years. The highest growth of that is intravenous drug users. These are our clients. The ‘why’ is simple. These are our clients, how do we help our clients become ex-offenders, not using drugs or being involved in the criminal justice system? So it fits as to why we do things. And I think for me, I have become very passionate about it because I love this community, I love the Tampa Bay area. This is where I grew up, this is where my family is and I want to live in a safe community.
Matt: And I think that’s what’s so important to me about telling this full story, is that it’s not just a great idea that hit at the right time, but there’s years and years of groundwork that was laid, and your passion for the issue and the board of the Community Foundation coming around to the idea that this is a really important issue that we needed to address as an organization, and we were out there looking for partners. The Community Foundation had been moving in a direction of more innovative grant making for several years. And under Marlene’s leadership, she was really looking for ways in which we could step out from the crowd of grantmakers. It’s really easy to make standard grants to the major non-profit organization over and over, or you can live a long time as a funder doing that, but we’ve been doing that as a community for 100 years and some of these problems haven’t changed. And where are we going to disrupt this industry, where are we gonna make real change, where are we gonna solve problems and not just treat problems? It’s through that creativity, and that’s what I love about this project. It’s really forever changing lives, right? The work that you do in general is forever changing lives. And one of the questions that we typically ask on this podcast is why do you get up in the morning, what gets you excited and jump out of bed and get going and work? I don’t think we need to ask you that question, right?
Michael: Probably not.
Matt: I think we’ve already covered that.
Matt: I think other than your daughter, I think that we’ve already covered pretty much the main reasons why you get excited to jump out of bed and get going in the morning.
Michael: Yeah. It’s funny, is Kila Engelbrook, is that her last name? – who was here for the Tech Startup Week, and she is the president of the Social Enterprise Alliance nationally…
Matt: And the first guest of this Inspired Giving podcast.
Michael: Well, now I feel semi-important.
Matt: We didn’t even plan that.
Michael: And Kila, before I actually met here with you, she came to a function in the night after and I like when people make it simple. The kind of work we do can change the world. And I’m not a pie in the sky person, right? But the kind of work we do literally changes the world. It does, because when you reunite a person with their family who’s been in jail or prison or… and what’s great about this project, right? I have a guy who we’re probably gonna hire ourselves in the Tiny House Corporation and he is gonna take less money to work for us, but he got offered a job from Habitat for Humanity starting at $17 an hour – $17 an hour, that’s a decent starting salary from someone who was unemployed.
Matt: And unemployable.
Wilma: And unemployable.
Michael: And is now employable, he’s gonna have two different certifications in carpentry, OSHA Certification, we even put Forklift in there. And all of these 12 graduates they all have different opportunities already. But it is the difference between getting a minimum wage job and there’s nothing wrong with that, but it’s below poverty and it doesn’t change lives when you look at your options if you’re trying to feed your family. You’re starting off at $17 an hour – that doesn’t mean where you end up. So when you’re making $21 or $22 an hour you can feed your family and that seems to be a better choice for you than maybe being a burden to the criminal justice system or bouncing around from jobs. To me, it’s about a career path – and again, if we’re gonna make this a safe neighborhood we need successful re-entry. I always joke with Charlie Krys and if he hears this podcast he’ll give me some crap about it, but when he was governor we had one of the first state-wide re-entries summits in Tallahassee. And we did all these different things over a couple of days, but when I spoke at it I said, ‘I wanna say this more than once because I want everyone to understand it: successful re-entry is good public safety policy.’ And I said it again. So when he ran for senator against… or ran for governor again, I don’t know, he ran against Rick Scott.
Matt: He’s always running for something.
Michael: Yes, he probably runs for a lot.
Matt: Sorry, Congressman.
Michael: He used that line. And I said you know – and I saw him at sometimes saying, ,I was about to give a speech and I was gonna quote how you stole my line.’ He goes, ‘Which line was that?’ I said, ‘Successful re-entries is good public policies.’ He goes, ‘That’s a good line.’ I’m like, ‘Okay. I can’t really argue with him there.’
Matt: It is.
Michael: But it’s the reality. This is reality. And again, not to over harp on this, we have to think about funding in different ways, we have to be creative, we have to think outside the box. Because you could say it from a funder perspective as a Community Foundation – for me as a non-profit I want to be the one who, if we’re successful in the things we do and it’s always the first time I met you, I wanna be the one to write a cheque to help that next group of entrepreneurial minded people working in the community…
Matt: I’ll cash that, any time you’re ready I’ll cash that cheque for you.
Michael: I’ll let you know. We’re not quite there yet.
Wilma: Well, and as you were talking that’s what keeps going through my head, is that you’re an entrepreneur with a community heart and that’s really what all of this is about.
Michael: That’s right, we’re almost stuck between two coaches getting soft here talking about hope and change.
Wilma: Yeah – and they’re both waving their hands a lot too, so… So, Michael, what keeps you up at night?
Michael: Well, I got to tell you, running a non-profit – there is a lot of stress, and I was talking to April a lot – if you’re familiar with April, she is the CEO of Directions for Living. And they’re a much bigger company than us, but we work together on a lot of projects. And I love April, she is as unique as you’ll meet and she is determined and she’s great. And she said, ‘You know, it bothers me when we work with this,’ or we’re working on some project together for the Homeless Leadership Board and we just started venting a little bit and she’s like, ‘Some of these elected officials, they don’t realize that I gotta make my payroll every two weeks.’ And this idea of reimbursing non-profits when you feel like it or through different processes that sometimes are two or three months down the road, I think the biggest stress you have is making sure that you take care of your staff, that we do all this good innovative work, but it’s always hard to make the juggle. That’s probably the biggest stress in my life, and then day to day I’d say probably – and this is as corny or boring as it sounds – is insurance. If someone asked me what’s the biggest concern that most non-profits have and they think they were looking for some really exciting…
Matt: …exciting, philosophical answer?
Michael: Honestly, because of our name probably, to begin with, our insurance rates – we spend so much money on insurance and people don’t realize, and then when you start working with government, ‘We don’t want to reimburse that.’ Well, then I can’t operate. But I also can’t operate if you’re six months behind in your bills too.
Matt: And that’s to me a really important message to get out there about non-profit exempt organization work, is that I think every small business owner, every medium size business owner, every large business owner listening to this will hear many of those same things that they struggle with, the fact that they have to meet payroll, they have people counting on them to put food on their own family’s table, that they have all these same business challenges that a non-profit has and you have an extra stack of challenges on top of that in terms of restrictions and additional clients that you have to take care of and people that you have to satisfy, whether that be public officials or funders. Although some funders, I hear, are not too bad to work with.
Wilma: Well, you’re still a business.
Michael: That’s right. It was best said by… I wanna say it was Mary Grace in one of those groups that we’ve had is, being a 501(c)(3) is a tax designation – we’re not in business to lose money. We don’t always have to make money. One of the other social enterprise projects that we’ve been involved in one of the programs we worked with is the Red Tent Women’s initiative. A lot of people in the community know Red Tent, Barbara Rhode’s done a great job really, grassroots grow in that program that starts pre-release in the jail and the women make different art-based items that when they’re released they’ll sell at different art fairs and Saturday morning markets. But we’ve given them space in our offices for years and in 2014 we’ve purchased 9,000 square feet of commercial space in the 16th Street quarter that we renamed the Doctor David T. Walsh Center for Progress and Community Development. We bought it from the Walsh family. And our goal in each of the storefronts if you will is a different type of either community-based program or social enterprise. We’re running our STARS work for a trade industry training program out of one, we’ve got an evening reporting center that we’ve done in partnership with Pinellas county government and a juvenile detention alternatives initiative – say that ten times – out of another, and we’re gonna be giving the Red Tent Women’s Initiative a storefront. And as we’re going through how this works, I sat down with the group of them and I said, ‘I’m gonna show you something. Here is the rent, here are the utilities, here is everything. This is what you need to get to every month. You don’t need it in month one, but if this is going to work…’ I don’t need to make money on this, but I’m sure, not interested in losing money. And those are the decisions I have to make. So this is where we need to get and we’re gonna look at it in three months, we’re gonna look at it in six months, we’ll look at it in 12 months and if we can’t get to this number I won’t continue to fund it. And it’s not because I don’t care about them or don’t have a passion for it. It’s we’re not in business to lose money.
Matt: Right. And I think that’s such an important message for aspiring social entrepreneurs, aspiring non-profit leaders out there to hear that how just cogniscient you are of the business elements. I hear people all the time that there’s this cliché of non-profits are passionate and they don’t understand the business side. I will argue to death that non-profits are more business savvy than a lot of businesses because their margins are so small, because you have so many other anchors on what you do, and to have that level of certainty and detail and understanding of your financials, that’s one of the reasons why your business plan was so strong in the first place and you could have a tiny house manufacturing company.
Michael: And listen, that’s how you have to operate. Now a part of it for me, what most people don’t know, is my background education in economics. So profits are a real simple concept. You bring in more than you send out, you stay in business. If it goes the other way it doesn’t necessarily work. And I think that I agree with you because if you look at established non-profits just in the Tampa Bay area, the people running those profits are some of… they’re fantastic. You start really looking at some of the most talented people who really understand bottom lines but also can make decisions. Because if we had ten successful programs and five that weren’t successful it doesn’t mean we’re gonna get rid of those five programs. If we are big enough to say alright, these programs make money, these programs don’t but they’re important to the community, as long as our bottom line makes sense we’re still gonna have to have those hard discussions, but then we’ll make a business decision as to our mission in what we’re trying to do. And I think that that part of it, you have to have an extra layer to a business mindset to also have a heart freer community because it’s hard to balance those and I think a lot of your non-profit CEOs really understand that to a greater degree.
Matt: And that to me is where the conversation gets really interesting on the philanthropy side, because I think the traditional understanding of philanthropy is people who are generous filling a gap where a non-profit just can’t make it on their own because of the mission or because of the inherent challenges of operating whatever it is serving the homeless, or whatever the program is. But that’s why I love the Community Foundation, because we’re being creative, we’re thinking creatively about how we can be philanthropists in the community not just to fill gaps, but to build wealth for non-profits, build capacity for non-profits. So then that can be turned around and more good can be done in the community and more people can be served and more change can happen to really build up this community. And ideally we all want to work ourselves out of a job, but until we get there it’s nice to be able to turn a profit and support each other.
Michael: I’ve even contemplated losing my job over doing good work.
Michael: But you’re right, we would love to put this industry out of business, if you will. But I’m always grounded. When Walt McNeal, he was a secretary for the Department of Corrections a number of years ago – there’s this group of us who’ve been working around the state and probably you know Robert Blunt from Abe Brown Ministries. And Robert, myself, Vicky Lucas, there is this group of us who’ve been doing different versions of re-entry around the state of Florida. And it started off when Bush was governor and his brother was President, we had the re-entry advisory council or the re-entry task force. And then each governor would call it something else but it was the same group of people. And we have to shift the paradigm to some extent to understand where we’re going as organizations and what kind of work we can do collaboratively to get things done.
Wilma: That’s one of the things I was gonna transition us to, is where do you see this industry five years down the line? Where do you see the non-profit industry? Are more people gonna have to take this mindset that you’re talking about?
Michael: I think that if you’re gonna survive you do. And in fact, since I’ve mentioned Robert, I met with him about three weeks ago and we started talking about how we can collaborate on certain things in terms of they’re ready for a pro whim and our version of it. And if you only rely on funding from the state, local and federal you’re always gonna be limited to what you can do and how successful you can be. Because what happens when grants go away? And they do. Programs go away, grants end and you can’t constantly depend on that. And if you’re not thinking outside the box enough to know how you’re gonna grow and sustain your revenue and expand your revenue in an entrepreneurial mindset – you actually have to think like a business person on how do I grow my business? Because even… I’m sure that the world’s littered with former Fortune 500 companies that didn’t expand and evolve that no longer exist. And it’s no different for the non-profit world. For what we do, working with offender populations it doesn’t look like we’ve solved all those issues quite yet and we’re not closing down a lot of prisons or jails, but we’re trying to have that impact. And working with people in and out of government, working with private foundations, working with federal agencies, the more creativity we can bring to it the more that we’re able to grow things. I’d say it this way too, is that in every grant application they always talk about sustainability plans, and I used to be guilty of this, where I had some really good sustainability language on if we show this if we do that – I don’t want to do that anymore.
Wilma: Can you tell me to cut and paste?
Michael: My sustainability language needs to be a business plan on growth and here’s how we’re gonna reach these goals. Period. We can’t just keep throwing money on issues and expect that government’s the answer. They have to be a partner, but we have to be creative and that’s where the future on-profits have to go, especially working in social services.
Matt: Wilma has got a big smile on her face over there because she’s heard me say that ad nauseum. You can probably can’t even count the number of times I’ve talked about how frustrating it is… I call myself a recovering grant writer, but when I was an active grant writer I had a beautifully written passage on sustainability and I could plop it into any grant I wrote.
Michael: That’s right.
Matt: And on this side as a grantmaker I just get tired of it because I know what that is. It’s the same thing. And the true answer if we’re all honest with each other when we write grants and when we read grants is if you stop funding me I’m going to go ask somebody else for that same money for that same project unless – and that’s where social enterprise comes in. That’s why we are so passionate about it, that’s why you and I got along so well and talk over each other at Starbucks every couple of months.
Michael: I always try to back down a little bit. He’s a funder, I’ve got to play nice. I’m not really well known for that, but it’s the truth. Look, I think that if you start talking about our business plan for the Big Idea grant, these are actual numbers. Here are the different pieces of budget that go to this, here’s your bottom line, here’s your sustainability – because if we build eight houses our profit might be 20,000, but if we build 16 houses or 24 houses now you’re starting to talk about legitimate sustainability. I just had a conversation with someone recently about social impact bonds and I know Gipsy Gallardo and I’ve been talking about this with people. And even the experts on social impact bonds don’t 100% totally get it and when you think you get it some other part of it comes up and you’re a little confused again. But we’ve got to come to a point where we understand funding mixes differently, or we’re just not gonna survive, and that’s where we are as an agency. And I know Matt gets a little… I always give him a hard time because he gets a little frustrated because we keep coming up with these new ideas that we want to get involved in. But isn’t that my job as a CEO, is what are the things that fit our mission, that still fit our ‘why’ but allow us to grow and sustain the things that we do?
Matt: Nobody likes a new idea better than me and that’s really the challenge, is that I’m the one…
Wilma: I can attest that.
Matt: …I’m the one who is supposed to come up with the ideas and then somebody else executes them.
Michael: Well, it’s the hardest part because when you asked about what gets you excited in the morning but what keeps you up at night is I think that anyone who is an entrepreneur has this social impact spirit, this social entrepreneur – it’s the day to day stuff, the details of it, you hope that you’re bringing great staff to do that so you can keep coming up… Because my staff loves me but I drive them crazy, like, ’What did you get us into now?’ But when you start understanding how it comes together it’s fun to be a part of it.
Matt: Yes, absolutely. And that’s one of the great things about having people like Wilma around, it’s there’s somebody to bounce my ideas off of and she can tell me half of them are terrible, but maybe there are some that we can pursue a little further, like this one.
Wilma: Sometimes I just say, ‘No more ideas this week.’ Or, ‘No more ideas this hour.’ So if you were sitting down with somebody who is just getting into the non-profit field or somebody who has been doing it the same way for a lot of years, what’s a book you would recommend or a piece of advice you would give to help them move toward this entrepreneurial social spirit that you are working within?
Michael: It’s a funny thing because I had someone who worked with us for about ten years and she went to become the executive director of another agency, and giving her advice I said, ‘Listen, I wanna offer you something.’ I said, ‘Once a month find time on your counter and pin me the time on my counter to go to lunch.’ I said, ‘Because this is a terrible job. There’s so much of it that you’re gonna hate because it’s just so much comes at you all the time. No matter how many boundaries you try to put in place, if you have an open-door policy thing set, even if you’re on the phone and I’m at the computer, that means to come in at that minute. And it can be really lonely, it really can because there’s so much that goes into every day. So it’s a tough job. But the reward is when you’re able to do creative work and really have an impact on people’s lives there isn’t a better reward.’ Because in the non-profit world it’s really not about financial, that you’re gonna retire early – because it doesn’t really work that way. But when you see that impact… I’ve shared this story I think with Matt before, we had a program in the jail who – it was a therapeutic community program and when they went in phase one they got these black bands like those old Livestrong bands, and when they went into phase two they got a blue one, and if they go into phase three they got a grey one. If they graduated we had all three colors and sort of a camo band. The program got cut and the real bad budget times, 2008-2009 – five years after that I’m walking into a Tyrone Square Mall and a guy comes up on a Harley, ‘Mr. Jalazo’ – he pulls up and he kind of looked familiar and he goes, ‘You don’t remember me because when I was in PNA it was called Project New Attitude. Six years ago and I’ve never been back.’ He was still wearing the band. ‘You see? I remind myself every day.’ And so you have to be passionate about what you do because the creative part of it is what makes it so exciting, but also understand that if you’re passionate about what you do and you don’t pay attention to everything else you’re not gonna be successful. If there’s a book, that’s a tough one. The book that popped into my head when you asked me was there’s a book called ‘Ain’t No Makin’ It’ and it was an interesting study, and it’s been revised several times, about the watch riots in Los Angeles. And looking at generational poverty for black people versus white people in nearness of the civil rights movement. And it was a fascinating study about how the people from after the watch riots had much more aspiration than generationally poor white people and you never thought about it that way. And the reason I say that that’s one of those books that’s interesting to read is that we all have to understand that the top 1% means that there’s 99% who aren’t the top 1% and we’re gonna have different experiences in our lives and different experiences in our communities and we need to understand to be an inclusive world, an inclusive community – which doesn’t always feel like that right now in our country – requires understanding the experience of people who may be a different gender and inequality in terms of pay for women and what that must feel like, because I don’t understand that as a man, or growing up a different race. And what your experience like that is, is that if you have a base understanding of that everybody in the world needs, then maybe you can then find your way into a career where you can give back and have an impact on your community. That was a long answer, but…
Matt: No, it’s a great answer. I think you bring up a really interesting point that I know even really successful people maybe just haven’t been exposed to. And there’s a huge difference between generational poverty and situational poverty. We like to think about situational poverty, somebody who lost a job and just needs a hand up, somebody who had an injury or an illness in their family and now they’re struggling a little bit. And we as philanthropist especially, that’s one of the situations where you could step in and make a big difference and have an easy solution. But generational poverty, the solutions are different, the approaches are different, the people are different, and I think that unless if you’ve been exposed to those ideas, unless if you’ve had an opportunity to hear Ruby Payne or read ‘Bridges out of poverty’ or any of that, there’s lots of work around that. A couple of weeks ago we were sitting with the CEO of a major company here in the Tampa Bay area and he was talking about his awakening to that, that he was having employees turn down raises because they jeopardize their government benefits. He was having employees shy away from opportunities to advance in his company because they just weren’t comfortable understanding what it would be like to be on their own and not have government benefits for early learning, government benefits for food, government benefits for all these other things, and that to me is… that’s one of those mind-altering, perspective changing moments when you can step back and say, ‘Oh, wow, that truly is a different experience, that’s a different approach.’ And maybe the way that I look at it having grown up with two parents and never having to worry about a meal and never having to worry about whether or not I could get into College and all of those other things… It takes a conscious effort to step outside of that and look at the situation and say okay, maybe the solution that I think would work for me doesn’t work in this situation.
Michael: Yeah, I agree. And listen, it probably changed a little bit on the way we do employment development as well, because as an agency in some of the things we do it’s not simply about getting a job, right? I keep using the term upwardly mobile, which people get really tired of hearing from me, but I’m not interested in jobs that pay $10 an hour and are always gonna pay $10 an hour. It’s nothing wrong with that job, but you can’t change a life that way, right? If we can’t find opportunities that are upwardly mobile it’s not gonna have great success. And we have to think about that differently, but we can’t think of it that I somehow know everything that’s right, because I don’t understand what it’s like to grow up as someone poor in the South if you’re white or if you’re black, and those experiences are gonna be so dramatically different. And it’s been interesting through my career to work with different leaders in different parts of the county and just see completely different mindsets versus entrepreneurial mindsets. Take leaders like Gipsy who I mentioned earlier, we have to think differently. And every community, it can be St. Petersburg and South St. Petersburg – it’s one city, how do we bridge that gap? And you have some phenomenal leaders, like the Nikki Capeharts of the world, who understand that here’s how we move forward and how do we empower people to do that? And that’s gonna be different in different cultures.
Matt: And I think one of the really fun things for us is the Community Foundation. A lot of the people that we work with are new to the community, they’ve relocated here, they’ve retired here because of how beautiful it is, and they came with resources. And they see Beach Drive and they see Central Avenue and they see all the wonderful things about St. Pete. They probably had a box seat at the Grand Prix this weekend and wind up to the Valspar and watch golf up at Innisbrook. And helping philanthropists discover the city around them and the difference that they can make is really an exciting kind of place to be, and introducing them to entrepreneurial innovative people like you in the community who are living in it, working and doing it every day, that’s why Wilma and I really enjoy what we do and that’s what makes this kind of thing fun for us.
Michael: Yeah, I agree, and I think it’s our whole region, by the way. Because I know sometimes people think I’m a St. Petersburg homer, but with the Valspar is up in Palm Harbor, North County… But even if the Rays do ultimately move to Ybor, there’s such a rich tradition in history in Ybor. You go into South Tampa area, whether we call it now SoHo, South Howard, right? There is great things to do, there is such a rich community and really you need to see, especially for me in St. Petersburg, really it’s become such an innovative progressive city. Because it wasn’t’ that way, and when you bring new people in… I grew up, it was God’s waiting room, that’s what we called it. And people went ahead into seeing the doctor I guess, you will know I don’t know how to take that analogy out, but as it’s evolved and to see such a progressive city when it comes to equal rights for different communities… I always say around the LBGTQ… But listen, these are people we work with every day and these are good people in our community; to think about inclusion legitimately it’s neat to be in a city like that and a region like that.
Matt: Yeah, I think the story of St. Petersburg is just such a fascinating one because I grew up here too and a few years ago… As I was growing up I owned two pairs of shoes, I owned flip flops and baseball spikes, and that’s really it. If I had to be wearing something else I was not happy. And at that time you either lived on the beach or you drove across the bridge to Tampa to do something. St. Petersburg had Demens Landing and that was about it. And to be where we are as a community now and to see the growth and the opportunity and the excitement here, and people choosing St. Petersburg not to visit their great-grandparents but to move and live here. There’s just such an energy. And we spent a lot of time, you mentioned Kila earlier, but at the Community Foundation, we sponsored Social Enterprise Day at Tampa Bay Startup Week. But to have two full days down here in St. Petersburg with nothing but startups – hundreds of people, thousands of people just talking about this energy and the excitement, it’s so critical to me that we take advantage of this opportunity and that it spreads out across our whole community, that it’s not just the Central Avenue and the Towers that are going up, but it’s all St. Petersburg, it’s all Pinellas county. And that’s where people like you come in and really can make a big difference so that these men and women who are graduating from our construction training programs are getting jobs building those high risers.
Michael: That’s right.
Matt: They’re the ones who are making this progress possible and they’re benefiting from it in a way that they haven’t in previous years. I think that’s just a cool place to be as a community.
Michael: It really is and I give a lot of credit… It’s always strange for people to give a lot of credit to people in government because sometimes they move slow and sometimes it does move slow. But with not taking a political ideological thing – having a progressive mayor like we do with Rick Kriseman in St. Petersburg and the Nikki Capeharts, Doctor Tomalin, Kanika is – she’s phenomenal, she’s now the Deputy Mayor and city administrator…
Matt: That’s right.
Michael: …and very worthy for any of those kinds of things. And you have Ken Welsh, who is the chair of the county commission. These are people who love this community, who are creative, who want to empower people and businesses in our community to be successful, guess why? Because that’s what their job is. And they understand what their job is, and it’s not about some sort of history or you’ve won something by winning an election. In this weekend, which won’t affect this podcast, but Deo Rousan is having his 20th year celebration of sobriety. And if you ever get a chance to listen to his story, it’s powerful. He grew up with privilege, he had both parents in the household, but he took a path that lead him to some really dark places and he shares that story every St. Patrick’s Day, he does it every year, that’s how I met him as he came into some of our programs years ago into jail. And he does what he does because he cares about his community. And that’s what their job is. And it’s nice to have people in government who try to do the right things for the right reasons because it helps our community.
Matt: And I think to me the local element of it is so critical. That’s what I hear underlying all of the things that you’re saying, is that one of the reasons why it’s great as a Community Foundation employee is because I can think locally, I can think small in terms of the people we know in the community who are doing good things, it’s easy to connect them. St. Petersburg is a place… Tampa Bay really is a place where you are only two phone calls away from almost anybody, from everybody from the owner of the Lighting down to the owner of the corner store. You can get to those people in one or two phone calls and they’re willing to sit down with you and have a coffee and talk about how to make our community better. And it’s just a fun place to be at the intersection of all that.
Michael: It really is.
Wilma: Right. Well, you guys could talk forever. Michael, is there anything that we haven’t talked about that you were dying to tell us when you came in here today?
Michael: I don’t think I’ve stopped talking, so I’m not sure if I’ve left anything out. We’re excited about where we’re going as an organization, not just with the Tiny House Project but that’s really gonna be an interesting project for our community and potentially other communities – being able to build that, we’re working with the city right now to acquire these two lots where we can build at least 16 houses. We’re gonna build 16 houses for homeless veterans, right? So in Pinellas county, the idea of getting the functional zero and veteran’s homelessness is something we’ve struggled with. Part of it is because we have such a resource-rich community, we have such a strong veterans system with Bay Pines, so there’s some part of it that’s just built into the system. But when we did the point in time count and the people who did that, because I wasn’t involved and that’s a huge undertaking that the partners of the HLB do every year – that number has gone up, because it’s hovered around 320, 325 for years and a point in time it got up to 351. But we have to look at creative solutions in the for-profit, non-profit and the government world to do things creatively. That’s why we get along so well as the Community Foundation, they reward the creative ideas that can have impact in the community. We all have to start thinking more that way if we’re gonna have the impact that we hope to have. And I get real passionate about it, it’s good to have me sitting here in a sit because I’m not throwing my arms around too much, but it’s easy to get passionate about it. We live in such a rich community, we’re doing the CEO non-profit thing and meeting different people like – I can’t think of Michael last time, he runs the Morean Arts Center and he came from such a rich arts community in different parts of the country and what he wants to see here, you have Stephanie Gularte who is running American Stage and doing these creative, amazing things in our community. And as she is stressing out about one play closing and another one opening, they have an entire wing of what they’re doing bringing art into schools, into some of these hard to serve communities. And it’s really neat to be a part of that, so I’m just thankful for it.
Wilma: Well, and we’re thankful you’re here.
Michael: Thank you.
Wilma: Thanks so much.
Matt: I know, that brings us to the end of another Inspired Giving podcast I think.
Wilma: I think so.
Your podcast hosts are Matt Spence and Wilma Norton.
Wilma Norton joined the Foundation in 2014. She was a journalist at the St. Petersburg Times (now the Tampa Bay Times) for more than 20 years. Most recently, she was assistant director of public information at St. Petersburg College. Wilma has a BA in journalism and political science from Western Kentucky University and an MBA from Florida International University.
Matt Spence was the Vice President, Community Impact for the Community Foundation of Tampa Bay, where he oversaw the Foundation’s grantmaking & community initiatives, which have provided nearly $200 million in funding to nonprofits since the organization’s founding in 1990. Matt Spence is now Chief Programs Officer at Feeding Tampa Bay.