Jody Levison-Johnson will lead not-yet-named combination of Council on Accreditation and Alliance for Strong Families and Communities
When Jody Levison-Johnson took the helm at the Council on Accreditation in March of 2019, she was already thinking about how to add value to the organization’s singular service for clients. Indeed, she had been brought in by a board that wanted someone open to making big moves.
It probably did not anticipate that two months later, Levison-Johnson would pitch the idea of a massive merger with one of the largest membership groups in child and family services: the Alliance for Strong Families and Communities, one of several groups that helped launch the council back in 1977.
“There was healthy skepticism,” she told Youth Services Insider, recalling the initial conversations.
But after more than a year of talks, the deal is done. Pending approval of the merger in New York state, where the Council on Accreditation (COA) is currently located, the two entities will become one Delaware-incorporated nonprofit with its headquarters in Washington, D.C. The yet-to-be-named entity will also maintain the Alliance’s regional office in Milwaukee and will likely keep some presence, perhaps remotely, in New York City, where Levison-Johnson lives.
“This merger accelerates us forward at a critical time in our country,” said Alliance CEO Susan Dreyfus, who is planning to retire soon and will for the time being serve as a senior adviser to Levison-Johnson, in a statement. “As our nation responds to the demands of a nationwide pandemic and economic challenges, we have the opportunity and the imperative to lead on behalf of the field and sector, as we have done throughout our history, to respond to the challenges of today and be prepared for those of tomorrow.”
The new organization will eventually move to COA’s operating model, with services available off a menu for nonprofits to seek out and pay for individually. This will undoubtedly include the Alliance’s peer exchanges on hot-button issues in human services and affinity groups that bring together cohorts of executives and other leaders.
“There will be no membership, whatsoever,” said Levison-Johnson. “We want to pull those offerings apart and allow organizations to seek what they most need.”
The Alliance is collecting dues for 2020 from its 350 members, which is down from about 480 members mid-decade, but the expectation is that by 2022, services will be completely a la carte.
Levison-Johnson “sees this as an opportunity to take a ‘big bet’ and see if she can develop a hybrid organization that provides accreditation and also sells services,” said Jeremy Kohomban, CEO of New York-based The Children’s Village and a former board member for the Alliance. “I think it’s a challenging proposition, but she has the energy and drive to give it the best chance for success.”
Accreditation services are sure to be in demand in the child welfare space this year as most states prepare for the Family First Prevention Services Act to take effect. The law limits to two weeks the amount of time that states can draw federal entitlement dollars for foster youth living in congregate care with a few notable exceptions, including those that meet the newly constituted designation “qualified residential treatment program,” or QRTP. The law passed in 2018, and took effect in 2019, but states were allowed a two-year delay on the congregate care limitations.
Among the requirements to be anointed a QRTP: accreditation by a handful of trusted national bodies, including COA. In 2020, Levison-Johnson said, 46% of new organizations seeking first-time accreditation did so because of Family First.
The merged organization will maintain a presence on policy and advocacy, which is currently led at the Alliance by Ilana Levinson, senior director of government relations. That was a tricky hill to sled for the Alliance as a member group in a sector where consensus building can be difficult, but Levison-Johnson said it will be a “huge, important” piece of what the new organization does.
Asked if cutbacks in staff were to be expected as part of the merger, she said that “certainly when you bring organizations together you seek efficiencies,” and that “how we find efficiency remains to be seen.”
“What I don’t want to lose,” she said, “is subject matter expertise and talent at either organization.”
The planned board of directors for the new organization includes 10 current members each from the boards of the Alliance and COA.