Reflections on the Business Certificate Program with Laura Armstrong

Laura Armstrong, Executive Succession Planner & Trainer, and former Executive Director of La Casa Hogar based out of Yakima, Washington, reflects on the value of the Business Certificate Program offered in Yakima by the University of Washington Consulting & Business Development Center.

My name is Laura Armstrong and I am currently the Executive Succession Planner & Trainer at La Casa Hogar. I recently served as the Executive Director at La Casa for six and a half years and stepped aside on October 1st of this year. Magaly Solis, La Casa’s new Executive Director, and myself are both graduates of the business certificate program & advanced certificate program offered in Yakima by UW. I would like to share a few of the impacts this program has had on our organization and our team at La Casa.

Laura Armstrong, Executive Succession Planner & Trainer of La Casa Hogar, Yakima, Washington

At La Casa, we believe in self-empowerment and know that our students and staff members all have strengths and skills; sometimes, though, over years of encountering barriers and challenges due to systemic oppression and inequities, people lose their self-confidence. Our organization strives to offer the tools, resources, community and support to our employees and our adult students for them to remember and continue developing themselves, in pursuit of the goals they have for themselves, their families and our Valley.

This Business Certificate Program, which nearly all of our staff members have now taken, has offered additional training and foundational knowledge for team members. This knowledge has then been passed on to our students and larger community through our programs, education classes and internal training and development to grow ourselves as a nonprofit corporation.

The UW Business Certificate Program has helped us to think about our organization as a business. While we are a nonprofit, and our classes and community services you might say are our “products”, many of the concepts we learned during the certificate programs were directly applicable. Over the years, we’ve done a lot of collective learning and development about things like: cost per service, evaluations around which programs generate revenue or lose revenue, and how that wraps into overall fundraising goals and needs. This type of analysis helps us to get clear together, on exactly what our financial goals are for the year, why, and how those ultimately are in service to our “bottom line”– our mission.

At La Casa, we consider our student community our “stakeholders” or “shareholders”—of course, as a nonprofit, we don’t have traditionally defined “shareholders”—but that language and those concepts have helped us to always remain centered on our mission: the community and the public are our stakeholders—we answer to them and we are accountable to our community for pursuing our mission. And so, when we are considering a financial decision, or a program strategy change, or implementing an innovation, or ending a program offering, we always come back to our mission and we spend time talking to and understanding how our stakeholders will be impacted.

It’s somewhat of a traditional business mentality, but it also helps us to express how our organization works to people who are more familiar with for-profit industries, and less familiar with non-profits. It helps us to communicate so that our visions, strategies and choices can be understood across industries and sectors. Because so many of our staff team members have taken the UW Business Certificate Program, we more effectively developed a shared foundational understanding of our organization as a business, and also to be able to clearly and transparently communicate – across English & Spanish – to various stakeholder groups about our work, our finances, and goals and our visions.

Specifically, our team has gained: increased confidence in our own abilities and knowledge, a larger professional network as we learn together with other Yakima-based colleagues, tactical knowledge about business development and much more.

I would like to thank the Center for offering this program in Yakima and we hope it continues to be offered in the future.

We’ve had a vision for a long time for La Casa to be led directly by someone from the community we partner with, who shares similar lived experiences as our students… in short, we’ve desired representative leadership. Magaly Solis, an alumna of both the Fundamentals course and the Advanced course of the Business Certificate Program, is now the new Executive Director! This program was one of many tools that supported Magaly and all of our leadership team of Managers to increase their confidence, business skills and acumen to move forward in such an exciting transition.