Aligning mission with financial planning helps Whitman-Walker expand services to more D.C. residents

Despite the strain of providing healthcare services during the COVID-19 pandemic and navigating other volatile care and economic challenges, Whitman-Walker expects to debut services at an expansive new facility on the St. Elizabeths East Campus as planned in 2023.

The Anacostia health center will “present about a three-fold expansion of care for us east of the river,” said Naseema Shafi, CEO of Whitman-Walker Health.

Although the nonprofit has served residents in Southeast from its Max Robinson location for nearly 30 years, the new 118,000-square-foot center will support clinical research and medical, behavioral health and dental services in one building. “It’s an opportunity to remove every single barrier that stands in the way for the community to access healthcare services,” said Ryan Moran, CEO of the Whitman-Walker Health System.

Shafi and Moran, along with EagleBank’s Terry Beverly, shared with WTOP how the nonprofit developed a financial strategy to support the $35 million investment to bring the new center to life and offered tips that can help other nonprofits and businesses.

Mission defines journey ahead

The nonprofit has been on its journey to launch the new Southeast facility for more than a decade. “An organization like Whitman-Walker doesn’t wake up one day and decide that this is a project,” Shafi said. “But it does wake up with more clarity around the desire to get there faster.”

To that end, Whitman-Walker focused on reshaping both its organizational model but also its financial strategy.

From a financial perspective, the nonprofit worked with Beverly, senior vice president and market executive at EagleBank, to define a plan to operationalize its vision and mission while leveraging its real estate assets. Those planning discussions kept Whitman-Walker’s mission — delivering health equity and access to healthcare to traditionally marginalized or underserved communities — at the core.

The aim was not for Whitman-Walker to become real estate developers for the sake of real estate development, Beverly said. Instead, he said, the effort focused on answering a question: Do we have assets that we can leverage to drive that mission, and can we deliver on that mission better than we do today?

The plan evolved over time and built on the work that the nonprofit had done with EagleBank over several years to build a solid financial foundation, Shafi said.

“When you have a partner like EagleBank that you can trust, that is both willing to take risks and willing to tell you when you can’t, you can really have more honest conversations,” she said. “In the nonprofit community, that’s really helpful.”

From a business perspective, Whitman-Walker also restructured its organizational model in 2018. It brought on Moran in late 2021 to lead the clinical research, education, policy and fundraising side of the organization, while Shafi continues to focus on patient care services.

The restructuring and financial plan are “about creativity and how we take that mindset that we have as a creative organization to think about how we can deliver more and better and different to the community and really look at all of the resources that we have and think about leveraging those,” Moran said. “In some ways, this is a pretty natural evolution for Whitman-Walker because of who we are. And in other ways, it’s wildly different than other small healthcare nonprofits in the region”

4 tactics to build a strong financial foundation at a healthcare nonprofit

What lessons learned have there been along the way as Whitman-Walker established a sound financial framework and developed its extensive new healthcare facility?

Collectively, Shafi, Moran and Beverly offered four takeaways that could help other nonprofits and businesses tackling similar pursuits, particularly in the healthcare sector:

  • Lead with mission: It’s essential for ensuring the right financial approach, Beverly said. “Stay true to your mission, understand what your goals are, and work toward accomplishing the mission.”
  • Recognize the need to rethink your business model: Even organizations steeped in legacy have an opportunity to be innovative in how they structure themselves to achieve future goals, Moran said. “Tie your mission and your strategy but continue to evolve so that your legacy becomes your future promise.”

In Whitman-Walker’s case, infrastructure changes were needed to effectively operationalize on vision and mission, Beverly added. “Whether you’re a nonprofit or for-profit business, that’s a great takeaway: Make sure that you have the infrastructure in place to be able to approach your bank and say, ‘How do we finance our vision?’ ”

  • Collaborate closely with your financial team: Regular communications are paramount, Shafi and Moran said, to ensure planning integrates the expertise that Whitman-Walker has in healthcare and medical research and that EagleBank has in finance and banking.

Working closely together began prior to the COVID-19 pandemic to ensure that the nonprofit could mitigate unforeseen challenges successfully, Beverly said. The partnership works, he added, because collaboration ensures that EagleBank can provide financial services and products that let the team at Whitman-Walker deliver services in the ways that they wish to.

  • Be ready to adapt to circumstances: In the nonprofit and healthcare worlds, there’s a duality that exists when addressing financial planning and management, Shafi said.

“The most important thing every day is cash,” she said, adding, “Nonprofits are mission-oriented organizations, but there has to be margin. So you have to be able to pull up and really think about the future.”

To discover more insights for entrepreneurs, startups and SMBs shared during WTOP’s Small Business September, click here.

EagleBank is an Equal Housing Lender and Member FDIC.

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