Client Spotlight: Northeast Arc

When Northeast Arc chose ESC of New England as the right organization to oversee a major Strategic Planning project, they were drawn by the variety of expertise among ESC Consultants. It’s no wonder—they called for assistance in Human Resources, Finance, Fundraising, Marketing, Health & Human Services Compliance, Outcomes Measurement and more.

“We liked the team approach ESC offered, and we were attracted by the organization’s experts in all fields,” Chief Operating Officer Joanne Plourde said. “We were quite delighted with the results of our engagement.”

At the time of this project’s inception, Northeast Arc was transforming into a more inclusive, interactive organization than it had ever been. While the nonprofit’s mission to “help people with disabilities become full participants in the community; choosing for themselves how to live, learn, work, socialize and play” was strong, management felt the organization’s vision could be implemented even more fully with ESC’s help, according to Joanne.

When Joanne began working in direct services with Northeast Arc’s behavioral program in 1983—her first position with the organization—there was no Human Resources department and no Management Information Systems. The agency was providing residential, vocational and family support programs.

By 2000, Joanne was working as Northeast Arc’s Assistant Director of Day Programs. The organization had added Day Habilitation by that time, and she was able to have a hand in the organization’s push for higher levels of interaction between constituents and staff. While the organization worked tirelessly to increase revenue through corporate donors, individual sponsors, and other alternative private gifts, staff and board members moved along to strengthen employment services, entrepreneurial initiatives, and more effective means of engaging people with disabilities in their communities.

In 2012, the organization had grown incredibly and felt a deep need for an updated, all-inclusive Strategic Plan. One of the greatest challenges Joanne and the rest of the management team felt was the struggle to stay connected with staff when there were so many people working under the Northeast Arc umbrella (today the organization employs 500 full-time and 100 part-time employees). The nonprofit also realized it had unmet needs in other areas such as marketing.

“Through the Environmental Scan process and the board retreat, we identified four areas to focus on: program services and sustainability, workforce development, board development, and marketing,” Joanne said. “Overall, the goal was to create a comprehensive support profile that would meet the changing needs of the people currently supported as well as the unmet needs of anyone needing or wanting services in the Northeast Arc community.”

Northeast Arc’s Strategic Planning project was a great undertaking within a very sizeable organization. The consultant team chosen for this project was made up of experts in Communications, Social Media, Finance and Health Care Compliance, Facilitation, Human Resources, Organizational Development, Data Analysis, Research, and Fundraising. The ESC consultant team included Jay Carty (team lead), Mike Byrnes, Michael Milczarek, Bill Huss, Dave Kourtz, Marianne Mortara, Sandi Gubin, Jeff Berman, and Al Gold.

The three most memorable pieces of Northeast Arc’s strategic plan to Joanne and Director of Development Susan Ring Brown are the Environmental Scan process, Consultant Al Gold’s Fundraising workshop conducted for the board, and the board retreat facilitated by ESC Consultant and Board Chair Bill Huss.

Between group roundtables within the staff, family-constituent forums, questionnaires completed by a variety of connected individuals and groups, and countless interviews with funders, competitors, board members, clients, community members and stakeholders, the ESC team was able to gather enough information to create a the foundation for a Strategic Plan that will carry Northeast Arc through 2017. This Environmental Scan phase, both women agreed, was more vital than they could have imagined before carrying it out, and it created unparalleled groundwork for the Strategic Plan moving forward.

Joanne and Susan also reflected on the impact of Al Gold’s Fundraising presentation to the board and management team as well as Bill Huss’ facilitation of a board retreat. While Al’s workshop strengthened the board and management team’s ability to tackle revenue initiatives, Bill served as an exceptional facilitator in guiding the staff and board through a day of collaboration at Nahant Lifesaving Station. Although Al and Bill’s roles were quite different in the Strategic Planning project, these two complimentary acts reflect how ESC teams work in general: individually with different styles, yet all of equal value to the organizations they serve together.

Since the completion of this Strategic Planning project, Northeast Arc has put new structural initiatives into action in many ways.

“We definitely feel things have been moving on,” Joanne said. “The Strategic Planning project did a great job facilitating a shift in the Board away from an operational Board toward a more strategic Board putting broad input into action.”

Following ESC’s engagement, the organization has held its most successful fundraiser in its 60-year history (fittingly through a 60th Anniversary Gala), created new business cards to quickly and efficiently market their services, and engaged staff members on all levels in a better organized and more encouraging way than ever before. All agree this already well-established organization has been able to realize its mission even more effectively, and continues to improve, with much thanks to the Strategic Plan.

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Meet Our Consultants: Marjorie Bauer

When you start your nonprofit marketing consulting project with Marjorie Bauer, you can expect the highest-quality engagement—a project that isn’t rushed, and touches on every step of the campaign’s development exactly as it should. The key lesson she learned over her last 14 years as a marketing executive with Fidelity was that the best strategies are born through process.

“Clients are a little surprised by the starting point in projects where you’re best trying to communicate what they do,” Marjorie said. “It is common practice to want to begin with ‘What do we say? How do we say it?’ In reality, we have to go through a much more disciplined process.”

She notes that understanding the organization, what it stands for and other important components of a brand is an iterative process.  It is a lot of art, she said, but there is also truly a science component to marketing as well.

When it came to transitioning from her previous position as Senior Vice President of Market Research at Fidelity to an ESC Consultant role, Marjorie said it was natural since she was essentially an internal consultant in her latter years with the financial giant. Working with clients to help articulate their needs or services, conduct research, and use information was part of her executive role; these transferrable skills have been endlessly valuable in ESC consulting projects and all of the nonprofit organizations she has worked with over the years.

Marjorie said one particularly interesting boost in marketing has been the field’s boom on social media. It’s hard to browse the web without stumbling across a marketing tips blog post or a free guide on how your nonprofit can stand out from the crowd.  Marjorie believes the reason it’s such a hot topic is because the market is simply getting crowded—it’s harder to stand out than ever before, so nonprofits, for-profits and individuals alike are clamoring for information on how to be seen.

While the push for “free” marketing advice is overwhelming, Marjorie sees online activity as a means for exposure that small organizations otherwise might not consider.

“Social media has an aura about it that it’s free, where traditional marketing work you have to pay for,” she said. Because of this perception, she stated, more nonprofits have become aware of marketing and that it is feasible for them to undertake the development of a strategy because it is more affordable to carry out.

Marjorie is a lead consultant in ESC’s marketing and branding practice serving nonprofits in eastern Massachusetts and Rhode Island. If your organization is interested in learning more about marketing and how an affordable consulting project with ESC of New England can bring your nonprofit’s abilities to a new level, please contact Ulea Lago at ulago@escne.org or call 617-357-5550.

Nonprofit Fundraising Tips: Reaching New Donors

Maintaining donor relations is a challenge in itself, so how can nonprofits effectively dedicate time to reaching new donors? The answers are simple, but nonprofit staff, volunteers and board members must follow guiding principles to conduct new donor outreach with the best results possible.

ESC Consultant Bruce Enders and President & CEO Bethany Kendall present several fundraising solicitation methods nonprofits can use to reach new prospects in their Nonprofit Fundraising workshop.The following are Bruce and Bethany’s most trusted ways of reaching prospective donors, listed in order of importance and projected effectiveness:

–       Face-to-face meetings

–       Personal phone calls

–       Personalized letters

–       Special events

–       Email solicitation

–       Phone-a-thon

–       Direct mail to new prospects (although almost invariably a money loser)

–       Website (growing in importance!)

–       Newsletter

Keep in mind that embarking on a fundraising effort with these strategies is nothing without the guiding principles of reaching new donor prospects. Apply these four guiding principles to ensure your fundraising campaign won’t go unnoticed:

–       Reach out consistently; connect on your organization’s needs and values

–       Examine the geographic distribution of current donors—this should give you a clue on where to seek new donor prospects

–       Remember that people give to people, and peers give to peers. Connect with individuals like yourself, your volunteers, and your board members—as well as organizations and foundations with similar values and missions—to maximize your fundraising campaign’s impact.

By following these principles and using the most effective fundraising strategies possible, you are more likely to ensure an increase in overall annual gifts and potential lifelong donors for your nonprofit organization.

ESC of New England offers high-quality management consulting and capacity building services to fellow nonprofits in eastern Massachusetts and Rhode Island, including assistance with nonprofit fundraising strategies, donor retention and strategic planning.

The Structure of Strategic Planning

ESC’s number one consulting project type is Strategic Planning. Due to the number of Strategic Planning projects conducted through our organization each year, we often forget that not every nonprofit leader knows the ins and outs of such an undertaking if you know anything about this process at all, so today we’re breaking down this type of project.

ESC Consultant David Ames teaches the structure of strategic planning by describing seven phases of this project type in his Strategic Planning workshop: Getting Ready, Developing/Clarifying Mission and Vision, Assessing the Environment, Establishing Priorities, Putting it into Writing, Implementing the Strategic Planning, and Evaluating the Plan. All of these phases come together to make up the entire Strategic Planning process.

At the beginning of any Strategic Planning project, there are four major aspects that come together: Situational Analysis, Mission-Vision-Values, Issues and Goals. These four areas of assessment make up what is known as the Environmental Scan phase. The Environmental Scan is the first step of any consulting project, particular Strategic Planning or Business Planning engagements, and it is vital to the creation of a lasting, effective organizational guide.

Within the Environmental Scan portion of a Strategic Planning project, there are three major components. First, the organization must agree on readiness and establish a planning committee. In a sense, this is an internal environmental scan. Second, the organization must develop or clarify its mission and vision. While consultants can help fine-tune an organization’s intentions, it is up to nonprofit leaders to provide some foundational focus in these areas by writing or rewriting a mission statement and drafting a vision statement. Third, as consultants become more deeply involved in the Strategic Planning process, consultants and organization management must assess the environment. In this assessment—the heart of the Environmental Scan phase—an organization must conduct internal and external analysis, identify program effectiveness, and list all critical issues.

As a project moves from the Environmental Scan into the bulk of tangible Strategic Planning work, the organization enters a straight trajectory that starts with its fourth stage: Establishing Priorities. Here, leaders must examine interplay of strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats (commonly referred to as SWOT); select criteria for setting priorities, identify strategies, write goals and objectives, and develop financial projections. At this point, the Strategic Planning team will begin to feel the full effect as they move from foundational work to more obvious, concrete development. By this point work should be linear with a clear order of steps defined. The fifth stage, Putting it into Writing, follows closely behind and solidifies the team’s work. Here, leaders should prepare a draft plan for review, review and write a finished Strategic Plan document, and present the plan to the Board for adoption.

The final two phases tend to follow an ESC consulting project, although many clients take on a second project for implementation assistance or facilitation. Phase six, Implementing the Strategic Plan, requires the organization to implement, monitor and adjust the plan on a set time frame to achieving objectives, as well as develop an operating budget in line with the plan. Lastly, the organization must Evaluate the Strategic Plan. This can be done internally or through an additional Outcomes Measurement consulting project depending on an organization’s needs. Moving forward, the organization is expected to update and assess this strategic plan along with any other existing operational plans.

While having a basic understanding of Strategic Planning should be helpful to any nonprofit, it is imperative to a successful Strategic Planning process that individuals outside the organization conduct the Environmental Scan phase, where the breadth of your nonprofit’s operations are evaluated critically in order to ensure fitting, effective outcomes. Additionally, organizations that are interested in establishing a Strategic Plan that may not have the time or staff to conduct such an undertaking, or those that have Strategic Planning capabilities but could use assistance in the facilitation of such a process, can greatly benefit from working with ESC Consultants. We offer a complimentary 2-hour assessment visit to nonprofits of any size in eastern Massachusetts and Rhode Island. Please contact Director of Consulting Ulea Lago for more information at ulago@escne.org or by calling 617-357-5550.

The graphic above is taken from Carter McNamara’s book Field Guide to Nonprofit Strategic Planning and Facilitation. This publication is available for purchase through the Authenticity Consulting website.