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St. Nicholas Neighborhood Preservation Corp.

About this page

GiveWell aims to find the best giving opportunities we can and recommend them to donors. We tend to put a lot of investigation into the organizations we find most promising, and de-prioritize others based on limited information. When we decide not to prioritize an organization, we try to create a brief writeup of our thoughts on that charity because we want to be as transparent as possible about our reasoning.

The following write-up should be viewed in this context: it explains why we determined that we wouldn't be prioritizing the organization in question as a potential top charity. This write-up should not be taken as a "negative rating" of the charity. Rather, it is our attempt to be as clear as possible about the process by which we came to our top recommendations.

A note on this page's publication date

The last time we examined St. Nicholas Neighborhood Preservation Corp. was in 2007. In our latest open-ended review of charities, we determined that it was unlikely to meet our criteria based on our past examination of it, so we did not revisit it.

We invite all charities that feel they meet our criteria to apply for consideration.

The content we created in 2007 appears below. This content is likely to be no longer fully accurate, both with respect to what it says about St. Nicholas Neighborhood Preservation Corp. and with respect to what it implies about our own views and positions. With that said, we do feel that the takeaways from this examination are sufficient not to prioritize re-opening our investigation of this organization at this time.

Published: 2007

Note: St. Nicholas Neighborhood Preservation Corp. applied for a grant GiveWell offered in 2007, but did not receive the grant. The information below explains why.

In a nutshell

What they do: St. Nick's provides a huge variety of services, and we have a relatively limited understanding of what it does as a whole. One program we focused on, and are particularly optimistic about, is the Skills Training program, which helps low-income people (below 200% of the poverty line) get certification for specific jobs such as Environmental Remediation Technician.
Does it work? We're not sure what the impact of St. Nick's is, in terms of how its clients would do without it. Skills Training programs do appear to successfully place their clients in jobs that pay relatively well, but we don't have enough data or context to make a highly confident judgment for this program.
What do you get for your dollar? Our rough estimates have St. Nick's spending around $900,000 to enroll 110 people ($8,000 each) and sustainably place around 2/3 of them (so $12,000 per sustainable placement) through its Skills Training program. We know less about what to expect from its other programs. As we explain in our overview, we find it logical that highly targeted, segmented programs such as the Skills Training program (as well as many other highly targeted programs of St. Nick's) are more cost-effective than more general programs run by our other applicants.
Where they rank: St. Nick's caught our attention with the unusually high-paying jobs (often more than $15/hr) it gets for its clients, using the relatively simple and straightforward approach of certification-based training. Both it and Year Up are organizations that appear to help clients become truly self-supporting; we very narrowly prefer Year Up, because although its approach is more expensive, it is also more clearly replicable (in terms of the ability to turn more money into more people helped). However, we recommend St. Nick's as our #2-ranked charity for helping disadvantaged people to obtain relatively high-skill jobs.

The Details

Whom do they serve?

St. Nick's has many different work programs, each with different requirements and different populations served. Here we generalize about the clients of the work programs as a whole; we provide more information on program-specific populations when discussing the programs, below.

Selection. St. Nick's has different requirements for its different programs, but its general aim is apparently to serve anyone in its community (North Brooklyn – Attachment A-4 Pg 2) who needs help: "If potential participants meet minimal program requirements (which usually just ensure that services are appropriate for them), and express a willingness to participate, they can enroll" (Attachment A-4 Pg 2). Some of its programs, such as First Job and LEP, require certain indicators of need - receiving public assistance or low English skills (Attachment A-4 Pg 2-3) - while others, such as Skills Training, require certain indicators of ability (Attachment A-2 Pg 2).

Characteristics. We asked for population characteristics for each individual program, and (perhaps due to time constraints) received a relatively scattered set of numbers. Here we focus on the population served by the work programs as a whole; we discuss program-specific characteristics below, when evaluating results.

  • Ethnicity: predominantly African-American and Latin-American (Attachment A-4 Pg 3).
  • Income: At or below 200% of the poverty line in all programs (Attachment A-4 Pg 3). We believe that this represents a low income, generally below what we consider self-supporting, although many of our other applicants have lower income cutoffs.
  • GED/HS degree: Housing issues: fewer than 5% are homeless (Attachment A-4 Pg 3)
  • Substance abuse: about 15% have "substance abuse issues" (Attachment A-4 Pg 3), though we are unclear on specifics.
  • Past conviction: "many" (Attachment A-4 Pg 2)

As a whole, the population seems to have fewer barriers than those served by some of our other applicants, such as Catholic Charities, Covenant House, and The HOPE Program. However, within specific programs, the picture may look very different. We discuss this below when relevant.

What do they do?

St. Nick's runs several different programs, each targeted at people with different needs and abilities. The programs we know the most about, both in terms of content and results, are First Job and Skills Training; we focus on these when discussing St. Nick's results in the next section, but provide what we know about the other programs in this section.

First Job targets people with serious barriers to employment, and based on what we know about similar programs at other charities, likely places them in low-paying jobs; Skills Training, by contrast, targets people who have the basic skills to improve their incomes substantially, and places them in jobs that can be quite lucrative. This basic structure is the major factor behind the appeal of St. Nick's to us: while serving an entire community, St. Nick's has an unusually diverse set of different programs aimed at different segments of it, hoping to get every client in the best situation they personally can attain.

First Job program

Serves: people on public assistance, referred by the government's Human Resource Administration (Attachment A-4 Pg 2) – generally characterized as having "little to no work experience and multiple barriers to employment" (Attachment B-12 Pg 1). Wage subsidy clients, in addition to being below 200% of the poverty line, must also have custodial or non-custodial children (Attachment A-4 Pg 2).

Activities: The ESP program is a full-time, 2-week job readiness program followed by "part-time supported job search activities" until placement (Attachment A-4 Pg 3). In the absence of much detail about it, we assume it to be largely similar to other 1- or 2-week programs, like those run by Covenant House and Catholic Charities, though the part-time support may represent a higher level of intensity. The LEP program appears to be a similar program targeted at those with limited English proficiency (Attachment A-4 Pg 1). The First Job program also includes three programs that we have no information on but the titles: Wage Subsidy, Strive, and One-Stop (Attachment A-4 Pg 3).

Skills Training program

Serves: unlike other programs, which require various demonstrations of need, the Skills Training program requires various demonstrations of ability. The Environmental Remediation Technician program, the longest-running, requires a 9th grade math and reading level (Attachment A-2 Pg 2); the Commercial Truck Driver program requires a 7th grade reading level, clean driver's license, and ability to pass an employer's drug test (Attachment A-2 Pg 2); the Culinary Skills program has no requirements and targets a limited-English population (Attachment A-2 Pg 2).

These criteria are more stringent than those of most of our applicants, but still relatively accepting relative to those of Year Up, which requires a high school degree or GED and admits fewer than 1 in 3 applicants. St. Nick's notes that "we have found this program to serve a high number of individuals who have been turned away from other programs and are less likely to be accepted elsewhere including: men, ex-offenders, those with limited English proficiency, and others with multiple barriers" (Attachment A-2 Pg 2).

Activities: the Skills Training programs offer a variety of courses, each intended to get people with specific abilities into a specific career.

  • Environmental Remediation Technician (ERT) training, the longest running of these Skills Training programs, helps clients get a number of certifications relevant to the construction and environmental remediation industries (Attachment A-2 Pg 3). It is a 390-hour, 12-week course (Attachment A-2 Pg 3); it requires that clients have 9th grade level reading and math skills (Attachment A-2 Pg 2); and it intends to place clients in a variety of jobs that, according to the application, are quite high-paying compared to most of the other jobs we've looked at in this cause. These include jobs that deal with hazardous materials: asbestos- and lead-related jobs, paying $24-30/hr, and "Anthrax investigation and remediation," which the application states pays as much as $70/hr (Attachment A-2 Pg 3).

    We wonder about the health risks of these jobs. Attachment A-2 Pg 2 states that "Our orientation clearly describes the nature of the training and the realities of the industry (i.e., physical labor, travel, dangers posed, working conditions, etc.)," and it may be that there is a strong element of self-selection as a result (St. Nick's refers to self-selection itself, on the same page). This would imply that those who enroll in the program are willing to take on whatever risks the jobs entail in exchange for higher income. We would guess that these jobs are more desirable than those attained by clients of most of our other applicants, though less desirable as a whole than those attained by Year Up's clients (Computer Support specialist jobs paying around $20/hr).

  • Commercial Truck Driver (CDL) training aims to help clients get a Class BP driver's license (Attachment A-2 Pg 4). The course is 120 hours over 7 weeks and includes "in-the-truck/bus training" (Attachment A-2 Pg 4); it requires "a 7th grade reading level; a clean (automobile) driver's license; and ability to pass an employer's drug test" (Attachment A-2 Pg 2). St. Nick's states that for related jobs, "The minimum starting salary is about $10/hour but often as high as $14/hour and can grow to $20/hour with experience" (Attachment A-2 Pg 4).
  • Culinary Skills training aims to help clients get "two industry recognized credentials: the NYC Food Handler Certification from the NYC Department of Health; and the ServSafe Food Handler Certification from the National Restaurant Association" (Attachment A-2 Pg 4-5). The course is 150 hours over 11 weeks; it has no absolute requirements, and has focused in the past on a limited-English population (Attachment A-2 Pg 2). St. Nick's states that "Food service jobs are plentiful, with placements in restaurants, hotels, schools, hospitals, nursing homes, corporations, and prisons, as well as in food manufacturing and entrepreneurship. Starting salaries range from $8 to $12/hour" (Attachment A-2 Pg 5).
  • Other programs. The application states, "We are also exploring other potential skills including: Emergency Medical Technician; Pharmacy Aide; and Microsoft Office Suite certification" (Attachment A-2 Pg 5).

Career Path program

Serves: the program targets people "who may be working but underemployed due to low basic skills and/or limited English proficiency" (Attachment B-12 Pg 2); individuals are tested to determine what specific courses are best for them (Attachment A-4 Pg 3).

Activities: 3-hour classes in English as a Second Language, GED, Basic Education and Computer Literacy (Attachment A-4 Pg 4). ESL is offered both every day and 2 nights a week; the others are offered 2 nights a week.

Wealth Building and EarnBenefit programs

Serves: open enrollment (Attachment A-4 Pg 3).

Activities: We are vague on exactly what these programs are – the application states "Participants work with EarnBenefits and retention staff as necessary to identify and access post placement services that can increase their income; maximize the economic impact of working; support job retention; and continue to build financial and personal assets" (Attachment A-4 Pg 4). Attachment B-12 Pg 2 implies that major components of the program include assistance with application for the Earned Income Tax Credit, as well as financial literacy assistance and referrals.

Fatherhood Initiative

Serves: "non-custodial fathers with existing child support orders" (Attachment A-4 Pg 3).

Activities: the only info we have is that this program provides "employment services, legal and court assistance and parenting support - to lead [non-custodial fathers] and their children to sustainable economic self-sufficiency" (Attachment B-12 Pg 2).

What are the results?

We have a limited understanding of St. Nick's outcomes. The only information we have on what happens to clients after working with St. Nick's is from the First Job and Skills Training programs, and that is limited. We would guess that the First Job program is roughly comparable to similar programs run by other organizations (such as Covenant House and Catholic Charities), and ends up benefiting a relatively small percentage of clients.

What we have seen from the Skills Training program implies that it places enrollees sustainably in jobs at a relatively high rate, though sample size is very small. Details follow.

First Job

We have information from ESP, the general job readiness program, and LEP, the version targeted at those with limited English proficiency. ESP data comes from Attachment B-4, while LEP data comes from Attachment B-8.

Class Program Graduates Placements 3m retention 6m retention 9m retention
2005 LEP ? 54 53 ? 46
2006 LEP ? 66 58 ? 41
2004 ESP ? 112 74 56 ?
2005 ESP ? 141 91 59 ?
2006 ESP ? 114 71 44 ?

A crucial missing piece of information here is the number of enrollees in each class. This makes a difference: other organizations running similar programs have shown high attrition from enrollment to graduation. Even after graduation, ESP clients have a high attrition rate in the jobs they obtain. The LEP retention rates are much higher; we aren't sure what to make of this, but the sample size is relatively small and we have no information on the difference between LEP and ESP (besides the fact that it targets a limited-English population), so we're not inclined to make much of this relatively strong retention data.

Because both of these programs are relatively short and simple (see above), and because of the high attrition rates shown in ESP, we're inclined to guess that the people who benefit from them are mostly people who are largely ready and able to work, and may need help with something simple like knowing where to look or writing a resume. We're also inclined to guess (though we don't know) that the jobs they obtain are relatively low-paying, as they are for similar programs run by other organizations.

Skills Training

ERT data below is from Attachments B-5 and B-6. The only information we have on other Skills Training programs is at the top of Attachment A-2 Pg 2.

Class Program Applicants Enrollees Graduates Placements 6m retention 12m retention
2005, Class 1 ERT ? 31 24 23 ? 23
2005, Class 2 ERT ? 32 24 22 ? 19
2006, Class 1 ERT ? 31 24 21 21 ?
2006, Class 2 ERT ? 26 23 19 ? ?
2006 CS ? ? 14 11 ? ?
2006 CDL ? ? 11 11 ? ?

Though we don't have a lot of data, it seems that these programs have high graduation, placement, and enrollment rates – cumulatively, it looks like about two-thirds of ERT enrollees end up sustainably (at least 12m) employed. Our estimates for other organizations, even highly intensive ones such as Year Up and the HOPE Program, are around 50-60% at most.

To the extent these high retention rates are representative, we would guess that a large factor is that the programs are highly targeted. As we state above, St. Nick's states in Attachment A-2 Pg 2 that they are very clear with enrollees about what they can expect, in terms of training and in terms of jobs, and we find it plausible that this leads to significant self-selection given the careers under discussion.

According to our calculations from Attachment B-10 (which gives wages for each individual graduate of ERT), nearly all ERT jobs obtained by graduates pay at least $10/hr, while around a quarter pay more than $15/hr (and around 14% pay more than $20/hr). This is consistent with St. Nick's claims about the high pay for ERT jobs (above). CDL graduates also nearly all earn $10/hr or more, with about 30% earning $15+/hr (though none in the file earn more than $20/hr).

One of the big questions in our minds is what sorts of job options clients would have if not for these programs. We don't know much about what the options are for getting certification without the help of St. Nick's.

What does it cost?

We estimate, very roughly, that St. Nick's spends about $8,000 for each person in its Skills Training programs. Details follow.

It is hard to estimate the costs of the Skills Training program or the Workforce Development program as a whole, because both function within the larger organization of St. Nick's - therefore, looking only at the literal expenses of these programs would underestimate the organizational overhead required (and it would not be fair to compare these numbers directly to the expenses of a program like The HOPE Program, whose budget includes all administrative overhead).

We take a very simple and rough way around this, using the numbers below. St. Nicks submitted estimated program expenses for Workforce Development and Skills Training Program for 2007 (Attachment D-2), and its Workforce Development and entire program for 2005 and 2006 (Attachment D-1). Its Form 990 (available on Guidestar) provides program expenses for its Workforce Development program as a whole for 2004. All expenses below are given in thousands of dollars.

Year Skills training Employment program All programs Organization Organization overhead Overhead %total Employment %program
2004 ? $804 $9,836 $10,537 $701 $7% $8%
2005 ? $850 $9,245 $9,929 $683 $7% $9%
2006 ? $1,159 $10,236 $11,275 $1,038 $9% $11%
2007 (est) $816 $1,625 ? $12,195 ? ? ?

If we assume that overhead is around 10% of total organizational expenses and that the Workforce Development program as a whole is around 10% of St. Nick's program expenses, this implies that last year's "true costs" for the Employment Program as a whole were about $1.3M. The Skills Training program is about half of this according to 2007 numbers, so we'd guess it cost about $650,000 in 2006, for over 80 enrollees (see above table - we don't have enrollee data for the CS and CDL program, so we just use graduate data, knowing that this will understate how many people are served). That comes out, to a very rough estimate of around $8,000 per person enrolled.

It seems clear (from the above table) that St. Nick's is planning to conduct significantly more activity within Workforce Development next year than it has in the past, and the fact that it has recently piloted new programs is consistent with this. Therefore, we believe it will serve more people next year than in the past. Using the same technique described above, we ballpark the Skills Training costs at around $900,000, which implies that around 110 people will be enrolled.

If success rates are similar to those of the ERT program (a relatively large assumption, given how different other programs are and how little data we have on the ERT program), we can expect about 2/3 of enrollees to be sustainably placed, yielding a figure of $12,000 per sustainable placement. Rough though these numbers are, they are in the same ballpark as our equally rough estimates for Highbridge's costs, and substantially lower than our estimates for more intensive programs such as HOPE and Year Up. This makes sense to us, because St. Nick's and Highbridge are following models of seeking out very particular populations and giving training focused on specific certifications.

The organization

St. Nick's is a comprehensive community organization; we have looked only at a very small portion of its activities. We have little sense of the organization as a whole, though we are optimistic that at least some of its sub-programs seem unusually well designed (see above).

Size and scope. St. Nick's is a moderate-sized community organization that is specific in geography (Williamsburg and Greenpoint – see Attachment C-3 Pg 1), but very broad in scope – its program areas are Housing, Youth and Education, Workforce Development, Health Care, and Economic Development (Attachment C-3 Pg 1). We've reviewed only Workforce Development, which is only around 10% of the budget (13% to be slightly more precise – see below).

Note that despite the name, St. Nick's is specifically nonsectarian (Attachment C-3 Pg 1).

Personnel. Details on the 16-member Board are relatively thin; most seem to be from the for-profit world. We don't have a general set of staff biographies – what we have is for the Williamsburg Works program (Attachment C-6). Three of these staff have long tenures at St. Nick's (11, 7, and 12 years); backgrounds outside St. Nick's appear to be from other community nonprofits.

Financials (2003-2005 data from IRS form 990s, 2006-2007 from Attachment D-2).

Year Revenues (thouands) Expenses (thousands)
2003 $10,847 $11,377
2004 $10,293 $10,536
2005 $9,958 $9,928
2006 $11,563 $11,547
2007 (est) $12,207 $12,195

St. Nick's revenues and expenses have grown tightly in line with each other. We wonder about the extent to which this is because St. Nick's gets so much of its funding from the government (see below), and is therefore expected to spend everything it gets. Both revenues and expenses have grown about 20% over the last couple of years, implying that St. Nick's has expanded moderately. We don't know much about the dynamics of government funding, and have trouble predicting what an influx of private donations would result in (less government funding? More scale? Or more spent on things the government is reluctant to fund, perhaps including rigorous self-evaluation?)

As of the 2006 audit, St. Nick's held around $7M in assets (Attachment D-1 Pg 5), equal to about half of 2007 expenses (Attachment D-2). This assets-to-expenses ratio is in the range we consider reasonable, making St. Nick's neither a large risk to collapse nor an excessive hoarder of cash.

Around 2/3 of St. Nick's revenue comes from the government, with another 1/6 from non-government grants (which may include individual donations, as there is no separate line item for these). The rest is from fees and miscellaneous sources (Attachment D-1 Pg 4). Expenses are dominated by salaries (about 2/3), and also include a large line item – about $2M per year – for "Housing assistance – scattered sites" (Attachment D-1 Pg 7).

The Williamsburg Works program, which we've featured (see Attachment D-3 for financials), cost about $1.6M in 2007, or about 13% of total expenses. Personnel consume about half of expenses within this program, with another quarter coming from rent and "subcontractor fees" (we're not sure what these are).

Conclusion

We find St. Nick's to be one of our strongest applicants, because we believe its approach to helping its clients – with a great deal of segmentation, and programs concretely aimed at getting willing and able people into particular jobs – is a relatively unique (among our applicants) and promising model. The Skills Training program's high retention rates, and low costs per person placed, are consistent with these strengths.

That said, we don't know enough to have great confidence in our endorsement. We want to know substantially more about client outcomes, in Skills Training programs as well as other programs; we also need a better sense of what clients' alternatives are for obtaining training and certification. If we had a more comprehensive sense of St. Nick's activities, outcomes, and likely path of expansion, we might recommend it as our top choice; as it is, we very narrowly prefer Year Up.

We'd like to know more about:

  • Population served (see "Whom do they help?" section). We are unclear on:
    • What is meant by "substance abuse issues."
    • How common ex-offenders are (what is meant by "many").
  • Health risks in ERT program. We are interested in seeing any materials used in the orientation, to explain the tradeoffs of these jobs to potential clients.
  • Client outcomes (see "What are the results?" section).
    • How many people were served in the ESP and LEP programs?
    • Is more outcomes data available for the Skills Training programs?
  • Other options for clients. What are other, non-charitable, options for obtaining the certifications that St. Nick's provides?
  • Financials (see directly above). What are the "subcontractor fees" mentioned in the audit?

Attachments

A. Application and response

D. Financials