Nonprofit organizations that hope to survive what many now concede is an economic recession must be frugal, nimble and imbued with a keen sense of timing. At the Council of Urban Professionals, a nonpartisan group focused on the social, political and economic interests of urban professionals in New York City, hopes for doing just that are high.
Officially launched in the fall of 2006 with $62,000 in startup capital, CUP is the brainchild of Tarrus L. Richardson, the organization’s chairman. Richardson also is the co-founder and managing director of ICV Capital Partners L.L.C., a private investment firm in New York City. Richardson says the impetus for CUP came from discussions he had several years ago with other urban professionals about the need for an organization that would address their unique concerns. “While there are excellent organizations that have served our communities for years, there has been a vacuum in terms of an organization that truly captures this generation’s energy and resources,” he says.
Richardson grew up on Chicago’s West Side and was one of the first in his family to graduate from college. “If we spent all of our time focused on our own individual careers, we would never establish the networks that we would need once we finally started becoming partners, CEOs, entrepreneurs and executive directors, especially if we wanted to have a more direct impact on causes and issues within our community,” he says.
CUP has a three-pronged agenda: helping to expand access to capital, investment opportunities and public and private-sector contracts for minority and women-owned businesses; promoting boardroom diversity by placing its members on the boards of nonprofits and for-profit companies; and achieving education reform through its Fellows and Rewarding Achievement (REACH) programs. The Fellows Program develops minority political and civic leaders by connecting them with public-policy experts. The goal is to increase minority representation in the political arena and influence education policy. REACH encourages academic excellence and college enrollment by rewarding minority high-school students in New York City with a monetary award for every advanced placement exam they pass.
That CUP’s presence is timely is evidenced by its rapid growth at a time when many minority nonprofits are seeing their memberships dwindle. “We’ve grown from 100 to 350 members in the past six months and hope to add two full-time employees to the four we currently have,” says Chloe Drew, the organization’s executive director since October. By keeping a tight rein on its $400,000 to $500,000 operating budget for fiscal year 2008/2009, the organization hopes to increase staff even more, Drew says.
Though less than two years old, CUP has placed more than 10 of its members on corporate and nonprofit boards; raised more than $2 million; hosted more than 2,500 people at its speaker series; and organized two access-to-capital conferences that enabled more than 150 minority and women businessowners to network with senior managers of major corporations.
CUP’s board of directors has a clear-cut strategy for growth, but its strategy for financing that growth is decidedly nimble. Funds are raised from individual members and 20 corporate sponsors, as well as through foundations and public monies. “The beauty of being a startup is that you can try and hear the feedback (from the members) and make changes quickly. We’re young and hungry and are trying to do something that feels right,” Richardson says.
He insists that young urban professionals must carry the torch of economic empowerment into the next generation, just as civil rights organizations did in the 1960s. “If not us, then who? Many of the minorities of this generation benefited greatly from affirmative action and support programs that have been or are being dismantled as we speak. Shame on us if under our watch we don’t create new ways to support our communities, given all the talent, capital and resources we have to make a difference,” he says.