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The Future of NPOs & CBOs by CLINIC’s Jack Holmgren

Today we are joined by Jack Holmgren, Field Support Coordinator, Catholic Legal Immigration Network, Inc. (CLINIC), in San Francisco, California as an Immigration Attorney.  Mr. Holmgren has extensive experience directing local, regional and national programs assisting organizations to apply for Board of Immigration Appeals (BIA) agency recognition and staff accreditation, implementing effective case management systems.  He provides valuable insight on how non-profit and community based organizations have weathered the recession while still improving and advancing their respective missions.

1.     When it comes to funding non-profit or community based organizations, what are some of sustained funding methods organizations employ to create a sustainable service to the public for the long term?

Non-profit community based organizations must find ways to obtain funding for their operations in various ways.  The most common method is obtaining funding through grants. This is usually provided by dedicated private or public funders each year.  Another method is through fundraising where contributions are made through individuals and events.  Organizations can also raise funds for long-term sustainability from earned income programs that involve charging nominal fees for services provided.

2.     In the non-profit and community based arena, organizations are sometimes reluctant to implement an earned income programs.  In your experience working with numerous organizations though, what are the benefits of such programs?

The greatest limit on implementing an earned income program is the reality that organizations typically serve low-income or indigent communities.  However, organizations that choose to implement earned income programs always get a greater measure of control over their long-term financial stability.  Especially in economic down times, nominal fees can sustain an agency such that it does not have to close.  These organizations are critical players, along with the EOIR, USCIS, CLINIC, AILA and the private bar, against unauthorized immigration consultants, specialists or notarios.

I’ve also observed that there is an unintended benefit to the community members.  There’s a tendency to believe that low-income community members do not want to pay a low, nominal fee for legal services.  My experience these last 25 years though, tells me otherwise.  Newcomers take pride in their case, especially when they are not receiving legal assistance as a handout.  They become much more invested in their process and participate to greater extent than if they had received it for free.  It’s quite counter-intuitive, but newcomers often respond more readily to services provided at a low or nominal fee than to pro-bono services.

3.     What’s been your experience with organizations that have transitioned from not requesting fees or just requesting a donation after services are rendered to an earned income program?

It has been a universal delight before and after, having worked with many agencies that have transitioned.

For example, one agency had been asking for a donation after service for years and monies generated each year were modest.  After it transitioned to an earned income program, the agency saw its monies increase nearly six-fold (bearing in mind this was still a modest amount).  The agency was now able to have greater, long-term stability without having to put up with the unjust situation of laying staff off on a routine basis.  This alternative funding was significant for the agency, which continued to operate out of the basement of a church.  Earned income allowed this program to provide steady immigration integration assistance.

4.     For non-profit organizations currently in the process of vetting immigration case management software, why would per-process fees make more sense than just a flat monthly per license fee structure?

It is simply pennywise and pound foolish to stick with immigration software that is not the best.  The overall cost of great software is minimal.  And if the agency is smart it will just adjust the software cost as an additional fee.  There is no legitimate reason not to have the best software.  If clients cannot afford the fees, then organizations can provide waivers.  To be honest, the percent of clients who truly cannot pay these fees are a very small percent.  It mystifies me!

What’s more telling are the results I get when I poll organizations representatives during my immigration management training programs.  I ask which representatives use immigration case management software.  (Most hands will go up.)  I then ask which representatives use the software to print out nice forms.  (Most hands remain up.)  Then I ask which representatives use the software for what it was original intended; actually managing cases?  Here, not enough hands stay up.  When asked why more hands don’t stay up, the audience invariably tells me they didn’t get the proper training or support on it.  Of the hands that remain up, they utilize smart immigration case management software that provides a mechanism for per process billing, extensive training and excellent customer support.  This signifies to me that the representatives are reaping a significant benefit from their software vendor, who is more of a partner than just a vendor.

Thanks so much Mr. Holmgren for the interview and your insight.  For more practical immigration updates and articles like this, sign up for our newsletter.