For more than 20 years, Judith Van Ginkel, PhD, ran Every Child Succeeds, a regional nonprofit she founded in Cincinnati, Ohio, that focuses on early childhood development by providing home visitation and support for parents. During Van Ginkel’s tenure at Every Child Succeeds, the nonprofit provided more than 675,000 home visits and served more than 27,450 families.
Now Van Ginkel is sharing the secret to her nonprofit success. In Chasing Success: The Challenge for Nonprofits, the author uses her time at Every Child Succeeds as a case study for readers interested in the changing landscape of nonprofit administration. The book includes lessons about developing a new nonprofit, utilizing research and best practices, adaptability, and accountability to stakeholders. Van Ginkel also explores how changing policies and funding priorities, of state and federal governments and of philanthropic organizations, impact nonprofits.
Van Ginkel wrote Chasing Success after retiring in 2020 and realizing that the challenges she faced at Every Child Succeeds embodied the challenges that most, if not all, nonprofits face. “I knew that delving into how we addressed these challenges at Every Child Succeeds would have relevance to others involved in the nonprofit field, either as a student, an employee, a volunteer, a board member, or, and very importantly, a funder,” she says. “Even though Every Child Succeeds began with adequate funding, excellent community and business support, and a strong scientific case for our mission, we still encountered roadblocks that ultimately did not allow us to grow to serve the needs of our community.”
Van Ginkel became president of Every Child Succeeds in 1999, after scientific data revealed just how important and instrumental the first three years of life are to the development and growth of a child. “Community and business leaders in greater Cincinnati, cognizant of the new learnings, were eager to create a program that would provide opportunities for parents to understand how to create healthy developmental environments for their children,” she says. But despite support from United Way, Cincinnati Children’s Hospital, and the Community Action Agency, opening Every Child Succeeds was not without challenges.
“In any community, the emergence of a new organization, in this case a nonprofit, creates unrest among existing organizations,” Van Ginkel says. “Other agencies were skeptical if not uncomfortable about what was going to happen to them and their funding. We worked hard to allay the fears by bringing many people and organizations into the creation of the program—holding community meetings, talking with literally hundreds of people, explaining what we were doing, asking for their participation, helping to make them part of the solution. As agencies answered our call for participation, they expressed their fear that they, as a separate entity, would cease to exist. Rather, we explained they would become part of a collaboration with a unified goal and measures to calibrate success.”
As president of Every Child Succeeds, Van Ginkel was responsible for program administration, fundraising, marketing and public relations, advocacy, and community engagement. The author attributes her multi-titled position to a lack of funding—an issue that, to this day, remains a problem in the nonprofit sector. “Needs, if anything, have accelerated,” she says. “Funding has grown only incrementally. The competition for money among programs serving a variety of needs is fierce. In Ohio, our governor has continued support for early childhood, but early childhood is only one among many issues and programs that need attention. Because nonprofits typically exist on a bare-bones budget, there are not enough people to do the work.”
The author hopes that Chasing Success will provide readers working in the nonprofit sector with several insights, the first of which is that while nonprofit work is hard, an organization’s social mission makes the work imperative. “For-profits can measure success with a bottom line,” Van Ginkel says. “In the case of nonprofits, success is more difficult to define. Funding is episodic, and too often decisions are made for political reasons or to address a trending social issue. Nonprofits need to work toward coordination so that services are better organized for efficient delivery and ease of access by those who need or want the service.”