As we developed Cincinnati Works, our retirement project, we never dreamed it would become a new business model approach for reducing poverty. Dave and I had hoped to assist several hundred people in becoming self-sufficient through employment. We thought this would be a way to give something back to the community that had provided the ideal place to raise a family.

During the 14 years we have been in business, we have discovered what works and what doesn’t work. There are a number of ways that Cincinnati Works differs from other job programs. We believe these differences are responsible for our success:

  • We are a unique nonprofit because we operate by standard business principles, including annually audited financials, a written Business Plan, a board-driven Strategic Plan, and specific measurable outcomes and measurements. We have a Board of Trustees, a Legal Advisory Committee, and an Employment Visionary Committee.
  • We receive no government funding, which is by design. We observed that other organizations receiving government money were limited in who they could serve and how they could serve them. If we feel there are changes that need to be made in order to better serve our population, we want to be able to proceed without needing permission from an agency that does not know our particular situation.
  • We are research-based. Research is the key to the decision making process, and assumptions are routinely challenged. Whenever we face a business problem, we conduct research to help us solve the problem. After collecting the facts, we are then able to make the appropriate changes.
  • We assist job seekers in removing or minimizing all barriers to employment. We know that many job seekers have more than one barrier, and unless they deal with all their barriers, they will not be successful in getting and keeping a job. Some of the barriers we assist job seekers with are child care planning, transportation, legal assistance, work clothes, medical and dental care, and housing issues. We have a full-time mental health counselor on staff to help people with mental health issues such as depression or anxiety, which are very prevalent in the population we serve. We have a chaplain as well. We offer retention services until the job seeker reaches self-sufficiency.
  • We believe we have two customers: our job seekers and employers. Regional employers are strong partners of Cincinnati Works. We don’t ask them to do us any favors by hiring our job seekers unless they are the best candidates the employers can find. We realize the employers are in business to make money.
  • We supply retention services. Many job seekers can get a job but find it almost impossible to retain the job. We believe it takes at least a year for people to become stable in their jobs. Our slogan is: “One year at one job.” Our Employment Support Specialists keep in close contact during that first year of employment, and many times they can help a job seeker avoid being fired.
  • We offer advancement services. Most first jobs do not pay self-sufficient wages. After a person has successfully held a job for a year or more, they are eligible to go into our Advancement Program. The purpose of this program is to assist a working person in working toward a job that pays self-sufficient wages. That may involve getting a driver’s license, taking a computer course, taking a skills training course, etc. This process may take 3–5 years.

Because of the above characteristics, we have created an organization that accomplishes extraordinary results at a very effective and efficient cost per placement. Our fully loaded cost per placement is less than $3,000, with a retention rate after one year in the 80% range. We place between 500 and 700 job seekers a year.

We realize that some people are not physically or mentally able to work, and society must care for them. But for the most part, people in poverty are able to work if assisted with barrier removal. Helping people to work is an incredibly good investment. Since its inception in 1996, Cincinnati Works has spent $8 million. Last year the total amount of wages earned by our job seekers (for that one year) was more than $76.3 million. The investment in dollars speaks for itself. The investment in changed lives can never be measured.

-Liane Phillips