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Social Work student’s artistic side fuels entrepreneurial journey

March 20, 2023

Kasey Hammock

They say art imitates life. But for Kasey Hammock, art shaped her life.

“My roots are in more creative and inspiration-focused spaces,” Hammock said. “But what I found over time is that it’s a privilege to have the space to be creative, to follow your passions and to have people in your life who support you following those endeavors. Social work gives people the opportunities to live their best lives and removes societal barriers that keep people from pursuing their passions.”

Hammock is a second-year PhD student in the School of Social Work with a dissertation focused on data-driven decision-making in nonprofits. She previously earned both a Bachelor of Social Work and Master of Public Affairs at Mizzou.

The Lake of the Ozarks native said it has been a great experience working toward both her bachelor’s degree and now PhD in the School of Social Work.

“I have some of the same professors now, but with a little bit of a different relationship,” she said. “It’s fun being able to think back to how so many of them shaped where I’m at now. The entire School of Social Work pays such close attention to their students — they really treat each person with such care and provide this team of support.”

Dr. Clark Peters, an associate professor in the School of Social Work, said he consistently has been impressed with how well Hammock is able to roll with the punches when research projects take unexpected turns.

The two worked together on one project that unexpectedly offered very limited data, which he said would fluster just about anyone. Despite these challenges, Hammock was able to put together a report that captured the challenges of the data and found insights that far exceeded expectations. In doing so, she drew from other data sources and her own experience working with agencies.

“She’s eager to deploy any tool that can help answer the questions and help move along the work she’s interested in,” he said. “That really is a skill that demonstrates the best of social work.”

It’s lonely at the top

In addition to her academic pursuits, Hammock is passionate about social services and nonprofits. She has worked in and with numerous mid-Missouri nonprofits, including First Chance for Children and Adventure Club.

Those experiences showed her the unique challenges that nonprofit leaders face.

“It’s lonely being in a leadership role of a nonprofit organization,” Hammock said. “There is not quite as much support as there is when you’re at a for-profit business or working at a government agency. You have a whole board of directors — 12 to 15 people are your boss — and that creates a situation where you’re supposed to be able to lead an organization, but you also have all of these people who are watching your decisions.”

Beyond the traditional business challenges every CEO navigates, nonprofit leaders also must work to meet the needs of underrepresented and underserved populations. And as they walk this tightrope, there’s a crowd of external agencies and funders watching their every move.

“It’s this really huge weight to bear, and I just wasn’t finding many solutions for executive directors to receive support,” Hammock said.

This spurred her to launch Partner for Better, a company that helps nonprofits with everything from fundraising and writing grants to evaluating outcomes and creating a narrative that resonates with community members.

“I wanted to find a way to be a part of the solution,” she said. “How can I support nonprofits in doing their best work in the same ways that I’ve supported individuals in having better lives in the past? That’s how this business started, and it has just completely grown in incredible ways that I never thought would be possible.”

Kasey Hammock

Pitch perfect

When Hammock pitched Partner for Better at the Mizzou Entrepreneur Quest Student Accelerator semifinals in November 2022, the concept was an instant hit with attendees. It was named crowd favorite at the event, earning Hammock a $1,500 prize.

“I was blown away,” she said. “That was a huge honor to receive, and it gave me some startup funding for my business.”

Hammock’s work in the nonprofit space showed her that most of the support and resources available were expensive and inaccessible to nonprofits with modest budgets. This stoked her passion for working with small and startup nonprofits.

“This $1,500 prize allowed me to continue to offer sliding-scale rates to my clients to ensure I’m increasing equity and inclusion,” she said.

Hammock also was recently recognized by COMO Magazine, which named her a member of its 20 Under 40 class for 2023.

Although accolades are wonderful, Hammock said she’s more excited about how this recognition has helped bolster Partner for Better in the community. For instance, Partner for Better helped organizations apply for about $4 million in funding in 2022; but only three months into 2023, she said they’ve already helped organizations apply for more than $5 million in funding.

“This recognition has really launched us,” she said. “It helped confirm that this is a necessary addition to the field and that these services are needed.”

After she completes her doctoral studies, Hammock said she hopes to keep one foot in the practice world and one foot in the academic world, ideally continuing her consulting in the practice space as well as some research and adjunct teaching at a university.

“My slogan is ‘Let’s do more good,’ and I’d love to just continue to do that,” she said. “Whether that looks like working in our local community or expanding nationally and internationally, I want to continue to listen to what the environment and individuals need and focus on that.”

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Clark Peters

Clark M. Peters

Associate Professor