Good Nonprofit Business

Wednesday - August 27, 2008
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By Punky Pletan-Cross
President and CEO, Hale Kipa

I have been the CEO of a nonprofit for almost 40 years. My roots in social services come from a sense of social responsibility learned from my parents, who were public school teachers. Sent by VISTA (Volunteers In Service To America, a domestic Peace Corp program), in the early 1970s to Massachusetts and assigned as a youth street out-reach worker, I ultimately became one of the people who started a nonprofit.

Not surprisingly, the service array of that organization mirrors that of Hale Kipa, and is consistent with my personal passion to assist youth and families. I have spent my life working on behalf of those experiencing difficulties, some of which are economically derived, but most of which involve all of the emotional and psychological issues that are more typically at play.

I mention my personal experience because in the late ‘70s I made the decision to get my MBA and earn my fortune in the private sector, give up my vow of poverty, and make it in the “real world.”

I enrolled in Boston University’s MBA program. One day a professor asked me, “Are you in the Public Management Specialization Program?” My answer was no, to which he responded, “Well, you look like a public management guy.” He was right. Courses oriented toward being a public sector manager were of far more interest to me.

I also realized that applying sound business practices would be immensely helpful to me.

I obtained my MBA with a concentration in public management, and almost 30 years later I am still working in the public sector. I have successfully applied what I learned in business in my role as CEO of Hale Kipa. Partially thanks to my parents, who taught mathematics, I received a superb education with a quantitative and analytical frame and an ability to assimilate a framework that appreciates chaos and complexity.

Jeff Thompson, Maria Gozzip, Mari Vermeer, Dori Tyau, Jaque Kelley-Uyeoka and and Punky Pletan-Cross
(from left) Jeff Thompson, Maria Gozzip, Mari Vermeer, Dori Tyau, Jaque Kelley-Uyeoka and and Punky Pletan-Cross

Hale Kipa’s strategic position is based on agility and flexibility, simultaneously paying attention to the present while looking carefully at building our vision for the future.

This is especially critical in Hawaii’s recessionary economy as we are facing budget cuts in our TANF funding (Temporary Assistance for Needy Families), of which Hale Kipa depends on nearly $3 million in TANF money.

We’ve embarked on a very exciting capital campaign to fund building a complex on Old Fort Weaver Road. The present obviously has some gray tone to it; the future, however, remains, at least in our vision, extremely bright. The new complex means sustainability for the organization and our capacity to provide critical services to youth and families for the next 25 to 50 years.

Being agile in the context of an uncertain future is essential to good management in human services, and this agency has embraced that philosophy. I define stability as the capacity to stay on top of a rolling ball on uneven ground. Certainty, predictability, control or stability in the classic sense are not mentioned, but that metaphor is essential to good business practice.

I believe deeply in our commitment to youth and families. To keep our commitment, we must remain organizationally agile in order to meet current needs, anticipate and respond to emerging needs and, as always, deal with the cards that are dealt to us from the ongoing and constant changes in social policy that determine whether or not we have the resources we need to provide services to our youth and families.

If we are not successful in remaining mobile and agile, we will ultimately suffer as an organization, and in the end that means that the youth and families that we care so deeply about, and for whom we exist, will no longer receive services.

The bottom line for Hale Kipa is delivering critical and essential services to the community.

Good business practice is essential to nonprofit sustainability and our ability to achieve our mission.


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