Creating a Path to Growth for Chicago’s Homeless Service Agencies


Stable Staffing and Development for Grantees

Since 2008, the Pierce Family Foundation (PFF) has worked with nonprofit organizations to help meet the needs of people experiencing homelessness. Through general operating grants and innovative support programs, the foundation works to help build the capacity of homeless service agencies and to keep these organizations strong so their programs can thrive.

In addition to providing financial support, PFF offers “support specialists” to its core grantees, enabling organizations to consult with highly qualified professionals sensitive to their needs and knowledgeable about the realities of nonprofit operations. However, PFF discovered that while many talented consultants do fundraising advising or strategic planning, finding someone with a true understanding of nonprofit talent development needs is much harder to come by. That’s why Kris Torkelson has been on PFF’s short list of specialists since its inception.

“Kris has a specialty that is fairly unique in Chicago. There aren’t many people out there who understand all the dimensions of nonprofit HR and who can make the kinds of decisions that are going to lead to stable staffing for an organization and set you up for success,” PFF executive director Marianne Philbin says. “For us, that is THE essential part of what makes a nonprofit successful. To have somebody in our network who really had that kind of understanding was key.”


Building Capacity, Building Leaders

In her work with PFF, one of the things Kris kept seeing was that nonprofit leaders who were not yet at the executive level were often not getting the professional development and support they needed. She came to PFF with the idea for the Top Talent Institute, a 10-month leadership program for managers that Kris helped to develop and now leads for the foundation.

“Someone who we might train and support during their tenure with one of our grantee organizations could go on to work elsewhere and carry that knowledge and skill set with them,” says Marianne Philbin. “We were excited by Kris’ suggestion, not only because it was going to help our current grantees, but because we also saw it as a larger investment in the nonprofit sector.”

In addition to the Top Talent Institute, Kris has contributed to the development of many of PFF’s innovative capacity-building programs, including the Peer Skill Share Program, which enables nonprofit professionals to get technical assistance targeted to their specific needs.

She has also completed numerous organizational assessments for PFF grantees over the years. Through her ability to interpret key data and grasp the personality of a specific organization, Kris provides grantees with an objective look at where they are on the spectrum of organizational health and helps them establish best practices for long-term success.

"Kris is an awesome instructor and coach. Her guidance has helped me understand different management styles and feel comfortable making decisions within my organization."
Top Talent Institute program graduate
The Pierce Family Foundation's Top Talent Institute


Organizations Structured for Success

The 10 years since Kris began her partnership with Pierce Family Foundation have proven rewarding for all concerned. The Top Talent Institute now boasts 105 graduates who have gone on to hold leadership positions in their organizations. Kris has also provided hands-on technical assistance on hundreds of consulting projects for PFF, helping grantees to strengthen and enhance their organizations at every level.

PFF’s grantees value Kris’ expertise and appreciate her willingness to roll up her sleeves and sit down with them side-by-side to assess their challenges and find solutions, Philbin says. In fact, many past participants return to her for continued advice and guidance.

“We get more requests for Kris from our core grantees than for any other consultant because there are so few people to turn to for that kind of support around HR and staff issues. She really is a huge cheerleader for the individual agencies she’s worked with, but she’s also able to see the big picture and how what’s she’s doing for any given agency might be of benefit to others as well.”
Marianne Philbin
Co-Executive Director, PFF