Client Spotlight: The International Institute of New England

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For many years, the International Institute of New England (IINE) has been standing on the shore to welcome new Americans, whether immigrants or refugees, with arms outstretched and resources to enable those who seek new homes to lead successful productive lives in their new country.

The mission of The International Institute is to help refugees and immigrants become active participants in the social, political, and economic richness of American life. Carolyn Benedict-Drew, the President and CEO, says that the mission of IINE is so important because it touches all of our lives, not just the clients the organization serves. She goes on to say new Americans add value to our communities as tax payers and productive workers. Civic responsibility is not taken lightly by the Institute’s clients, said Ms. Benedict-Drew, many of whom have fled their homes risking everything, including in many cases their lives, to pursue opportunities as new Americans.

Last year, the organization reached out to ESC of New England for assistance in creating a new strategic plan. Ms. Benedict-Drew said, “it was time”: many in the organization, including the board leadership, knew where IINE wanted to go, but needed first to build a stronger foundation and identity. Given the growing demand for immigration and refugee services, IINE needed to address the implications of how to grow the organization to meet the expanding need.

IINE interviewed a number of consulting groups but decided on ESC. Ms. Benedict-Drew says there were a few factors instrumental in the decision, including the credibility ESC had and the support it could provide in the strategic planning process. However Ms. Benedict-Drew, like many others, said it was the ESC Consultants who made the decision easy for IINE. The depth of knowledge, enthusiasm for the project, and experience they brought to an assessment visit was unlike others.

In 2013, ESC consultants began work on a strategic plan for the organization. The goal was that the plan would be a guide to ensure programs have outcomes aligned with the organization’s mission, objectives, and coordination of the action plan so they are mutually supportive of one another. Establishing the identity of the organization was essential in proceeding with the future goals. This was a careful process that was, as are all ESC engagements, individualized to address the unique needs of the organization.

Ms. Benedict-Drew said that the ESC consultants understood the complexities of the organization and that this resulted in a highly effective refinement of the organization’s mission. Throughout, the process was very collaborative, involving not only the board and organization leadership, but also the staff and clients of the organization. She credits the ESC consultants with “guiding them through the [strategic planning] process with elegance.”

The dedication of the Board and staff working, seamlessly with the ESC consultants, produced a strategic plan the truly reflects the aspirations of the International Institute.

If your nonprofit could benefit from affordable management consulting, please contact ESC’s Director of Consulting, Ulea Lago, at ulago@escne.org or call 617-357-5550. We serve nonprofits in eastern Massachusetts and Rhode Island, and we offer a complimentary 2-hour assessment visit for all interested area nonprofits.

Client Spotlight: Grub Street

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By the time Grub Street Founder Eve Bridburg connected with ESC for consulting services, her organization had grown strong programmatically. The problem was that her nonprofit had taken off so well she, and the board, felt its management structure was beginning to sag under the weight of success.

“We needed to figure out how to grow, build on success, and work toward sustainability,” Eve said.

A grant from the Boston Foundation allowed the Grub Street team to move forward and take on an affordable consulting project with ESC, where the organization leaders were met with a team of three consultants specialized in strategic planning for nonprofits. The project was initiated in 2010—thirteen years after Grub Street’s founding and eight years after it began as a nonprofit.

“We were at risk of collapsing under our programmatic growth,” Eve said.

The strategic planning project began with the facilitation of a board retreat, where ESC consultants led members in exercises that Eve said led to open thinking and new ideas in an especially productive way. Where the organization had felt stuck before, they emerged from this retreat with energy, focus, structure and confidence. Ultimately, the retreat allowed the team to produce an executive summary that would become Grub Street’s launching point for a strategic planning process.

As the strategic planning process continued, Eve said the board and the ESC consultant team focused heavily on revenue growth. She noted that while the organization had grown on its own, the planning process allowed the board to think about new revenue outlets more constructively and helped them look towards the future in a more structured, stable way.

“There was a concrete redirection as we discussed changes for the future that ESC helped us see,” Eve said. “The process was really well structured and well facilitated. It was a very important and effective process to follow.”

Eve’s perception of the project’s success was not only subjective—she said Grub Street’s budget grew from $900,000 to $1.8 million between 2010 and present day, and the organization continues to function through well-structured and maintained operational management.

“Our work with ESC put us on a healthy, strong path after doubling in size in two years,” Eve said. “Since engaging in this project, we’ve got time to do more thinking, ask more questions, and face more complicated problems than before.”

If your nonprofit could benefit from affordable management consulting, please contact ESC’s Director of Consulting, Ulea Lago, at ulago@escne.org or call 617-357-5550. We serve nonprofits in eastern Massachusetts and Rhode Island, and we offer a complimentary 2-hour assessment visit for all interested area nonprofits.

Client Spotlight: Kidz B Kidz

What difference can a cookie make? Or a shower curtain? How about a bag of compost? Over the past six years, ESC client Kidz B Kidz has shown that these products, and many others, can make an incredible impact in the lives of children.  Founded in 2008, the agency was born out of a collaboration between Nancy Corderman, a textile and clothing designer, and Jan Weinshanker, who ran a ceramic dinnerware company, Droll Designs. The two artists bonded over personal medical experiences and a mutual desire to make an impact in the fight against cancer, and decided to marry their passion for art with a very serious mission of teaching empathy and raising money for medical research.

Kids B Kidz With art parties for children at the organization’s core, Jan and Nancy have led a movement where kids effectively learn, play, and practice empathy for hospitalized children, all the while creating art that can be made into various products like t-shirts, dinnerware, and hospital necessities.  “It’s a very simple idea, but no one had done it before,” Jan said.

As the organization has grown, its unique mission has catapulted Kidz B Kidz forward, but with success came challenges that the nonprofit’s board had trouble navigating on their own. Jan and Nancy reached out to ESC for consulting services in 2011. “We got ourselves into a position where we felt like we’d hit a wall,” Jan said. “We were finishing our third year, and it was like ‘What do we do now?’ There were so many aspects of the business that had to be dealt with and we weren’t sure where to go.”

Even the most successful companies and nonprofits can benefit from a neutral, outside team’s help. “Nancy and I have long backgrounds and careers, and that’s a strength and a weakness,” Jan said. When three ESC consultants began the engagement, they found that board governance was a topic that would need to be addressed. The Board, Jan said, was disorganized and met irregularly; a sense of unity and commitment among members was lacking. The team decided to pose a serious question to all board members : Where does this organization make sense in your life, and what does your commitment look like?

Jan said the ESC team’s “straight-forwardness and gentle demeanor” throughout the process facilitated growth in a very positive way. Following this consulting project, Jan noted several positive changes rooted in better board governance including improved meeting regularity, communication, and recruitment. “The things that we’ve learned and the knowledge that was brought to us has really kept us on track for success,” Jan said. “We were very happy to work with ESC. This engagement let us know how much we’re able to accomplish.”

Since completion of ESC’s consulting project, Kidz B Kidz has expanded nationally and holds programs in five major children’s hospitals. The organization continues to grow its product line, recently developing a partnership with Brick Ends Farm Compost that features Kids B Kitz artwork, which generates funds that go directly to pediatric medical research. Through it all, Jan affirmed that ESC helped Kidz B Kidz direct its growth while maintaining the nonprofit’s mantra: powered by kids, mentored by adults.

Client Spotlight: St. Francis House

Boston’s St. Francis House, the largest day shelter in New England and a national leader in human services, was a successful organization in 2005 when Executive Director Karen LaFrazia first connected with ESC about Strategic Planning needs. Programs were running smoothly, staff and board relations were good, and there was a desire for growth. What the organization lacked, she said, was unification in how that growth opportunity should be met.

“We were talking internally to each other a lot, but we really needed to get out of our own dialogues,” Karen said.

St. Francis House connected with ESC consultants following a smaller-scale HR project in 2004. Realizing there was a larger project to tackle, Karen and her team enlisted ESC to take on a full Strategic Planning engagement. Karen said the choice to use ESC was easy after the several smaller projects our consultants had successful completed. ESC consultants, she said, offered outside perspective while maintaining sensitivity to the mission as nonprofit volunteers themselves.

“We needed more inputs and analysis,” Karen said. “but we needed some outside guidance. We were asking, ‘How will we do the analysis and engage this voice?’”

The ESC Consultant team helped Karen and the rest of the St. Francis house executive staff identify the key stakeholders that needed to be involved in the conversation about how the organization should grow. Then, ESC Consultants facilitated interviews and other analytical strategies involving constituents, staff, donors, board members and more.

“As we were creating opportunities through these conversations, we weren’t just getting input from the consultants—they were helping to foster consensus building among the entire Strategic Planning committee,” Karen said.

What resulted was St. Francis House’s first strategic plan, and a project that helped them significantly expand several programs that allow the organization to better serve the community, and therefore realize their mission more effectively. The strategic plan laid out intentions to increase abilities in permanent housing programs, temporary housing, vocational rehabilitation, and the core services of St. Francis House’s day shelter. Once these intentions were solidified through a strategic plan, Karen said the organization was better able to see just how these needs and opportunities were presenting themselves—in essence, the strategic planning process offered a comprehensive view of organizational realities, which the organization, although incredibly successful, had lacked beforehand.

One program in particular that was lifted by ESC’s consulting engagement was St. Francis House’s adult education Moving Ahead Plan, a workforce development program that identifies individual strengths and talents, then foster s those abilities, to assist their constituents in gaining employment. Following ESC’s Strategic Planning project, this program doubled in size, growing from a program able to serve 100 people per year to 200.

The Strategic Plan in general has given St. Francis House operational grounding that it previously lacked, and it was constructed in a way that allowed organization leaders to lead while consultants facilitated and guided.

“I think we were still getting our head around how to conduct the strategic planning process,” Karen said. “I remember the consultants being very good listeners and patient as we figured it out. They were all very good at giving us feedback, offering good reflective listening. We didn’t need three more voices. They were able to listen to what we were deliberating, facilitate, and move the dial.”

St. Francis House has continued to thrive since the Strategic Planning project, and ESC is proud to have had a hand in facilitating the growth of an organization that gives so much to the local community. If you believe your nonprofit could benefit from a Strategic Planning ESC consulting project, or any other type of management consulting project including HR, Marketing, Fundraising and more, please contact ESC’s Director of Consulting, Ulea Lago, at ulago@escne.org or call 617-357-5550 for more information.

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.

Client Spotlight: ROOF Over Head

In 2009, a group of retirees from Newburyport, MA, created an accidental nonprofit organization. The group had been meeting for years to discuss current events and hot topics in the community once a week when homelessness came to the table. The subject stayed strong in group members’ minds, and the next week, entirely out of character, homelessness was discussed again. They reviewed statistics on homelessness in the area with shock—who knew this financially sound community was home to families who had no place to call their own?

After weeks and months of continued discussion outside of the group’s weekly meetings, ROOF Over Head was born. Kerri Perry, ROOF’s current Co-President, joined the volunteer organization shortly thereafter in 2010.

“I can see how ESC’s services would be of value to an established organization that’s sort of set in its ways,” Kerri said, “but we were really malleable, and it grounded us.”

From the beginning, ROOF’s mission has been to provide temporary housing and a means for lasting financial independence. The program works to set qualified families up with a place to live—a roof over head—for up to two years, as well as a financial rehabilitation program conducted by a contracted independent social worker.

While the mission and intentions of the board were strong, Kerri said the 100% volunteer structure was becoming difficult for the organization to navigate as responsibilities and desires to do more increased.

Enter ESC Consultants Bob French and Louise Borke. The two came on as a team for a Strategic Planning consulting project in 2012 with the intention to focus ROOF’s efforts, and their success shocked the Co-President. Bob and Louise came in with different styles that worked perfectly together, according to Kerri. While Bob was more task-oriented, presenting and sticking to a plan right from the beginning, Louise would dig deep into the everyday operations of the organization to identify how best the Strategic Plan should be developed and implemented.

With ESC’s guidance, ROOF’s Strategic Planning project engaged a small group of volunteers who were assigned core areas of focus. Out of this came the creation of five committees, which the organization has continued to utilize, that cover all aspects of ROOF’s mission and the organization’s ability to meet its constituents’ needs.

Bob and Louise also made it clear that a volunteer organization cannot be top-heavy; in other words, work needed to be better distributed to volunteers other than those in executive positions. Once this was understood, ROOF was able to see more clearly how the established committees could be maximized, and recruitment efforts took off. Kerri said positions were filled by friends and neighbors that her organization hadn’t dreamed of before working with ESC.

“The outcome was unbelievable,” Kerri said. “It was unbelievable how much stronger, and sharper, and more efficient we became.”

ROOF’s board reviews the Strategic Plan annually, and Kerri cites the plan as the foundation of its continued success. The organization remains central to progress in Newburyport’s homelessness issues today.

ESC of New England offers a complimentary assessment visit to any nonprofit in eastern Massachusetts or Rhode Island seeking capacity building and management consulting. Please call or email Ulea Lago at 617-357-5550 or ulago@escne.org today to make your appointment.

ESC Client Spotlight: NewTV

 

ESC client NewTV has gone from a humble local television station in Newton, MA, to a community media center and industry game-changer over the past few years, and Executive Director Bob Kelly says ESC has played a role in the reinvention that elevated his organization.

“NewTV has become much more than a local community station,” Bob said. “Even as a nonprofit, we’re producing programs that are really far-reaching, connecting with for-profit and state entities.”

Bob made it clear NewTV’s productions aren’t working at the Wayne’s World level. They’ve moved far beyond, interacting with established production companies and cable channels on a national scale; and their accolades reflect the level of production—the organization is an Emmy-winning establishment that’s made deals with networks as big as The History Channel.

NewTV first partnered with ESC in 2010 for a Strategic Planning engagement. In addition to creating a five-year plan for the organization, the consultant team of Donna Davis and John Kogan—a Newton resident and lead for this project—facilitated NewTV’s thought process by managing a retreat held at Mount Ida College. This above-and-beyond style of work solidified Bob’s faith in ESC as a fellow nonprofit that certainly had his organization’s best interests in mind.

“ESC did a great job facilitating the strategic planning process and thinking it through,” Bob said. “It’s nice to have the caliber of ESC consultants at a rate local nonprofits can afford.”

During the course of the original ESC consulting project, NewTV leaders explored alternative revenue streams and asked themselves, “How can we compete with 900 channels?” The results of the project had such positive impact, Bob said, that the organization’s momentum combined with the constantly-changing nature of the television industry called for a rehaul of NewTV’s strategic plan after just 3 years of the original plan’s implementation.

Bob said there was no question about calling ESC back to revamp NewTV’s strategic plan in 2013, and he was thrilled to have ESC Consultant John Kogan return to lead the project.

“We called ESC back out of pure adaptability,” Bob said. “Five years happened in three—our goals and objectives for years four and five had changed.”

The comfort level of having John on NewTV’s second ESC consulting project paired with Bob’s confidence in his commitment to NewTV added to the decision that ESC must be the consulting service to reassess the strategic plan composed three years prior.

“John may come back and have a cup of coffee,” Bob said. “That’s the level of commitment he showed and continues to show to this organization.”

The latest ESC consulting project with NewTV wrapped up in February. Bob told us the recent work done by John and his ESC colleagues, Neil Golden and Les Goldstein, really got to the heart of the issues the organization faces. One of the key aspects of this consulting project was the consultants’ abilities to produce measurables for each year, and each quarter, of the next five years, and it’s left Bob and the rest of the NewTV with revived confidence in their actions.

“Bringing in ESC was the best thing we did for our future,” Bob said. “My peers—Executive Directors of Nonprofits—tend to think we can do a strategic plan on our own, and we could, but we forget about the sets of eyes that aren’t in the industry and aren’t working with our organizations every day. Someone who could see us from the outside is what we needed—someone not in the industry, not on the board of directors, and someone who is unbiased.”

If you are interested in learning how an ESC consulting project could impact your nonprofit organization, please contact our Director of Consulting, Ulea Lago, at ulago@escne.org or call 617-357-5550. ESC of New England offers a complimentary two-hour assessment visit for any local nonprofit seeking the guidance of senior-level and executive management and capacity building consultants outside of their organization.