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.

The 4 Functions of a Nonprofit Board

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The world of nonprofit governance is a mystery to most people- even those on nonprofit boards!  How should board members spend their time?  What are a board’s responsibilities?  What should the rest of an organization expect from the board?

We asked a couple of our governance consultants to help us sort out the responsibilities of a nonprofit board.  As it turns out, there are 4 main functions of nonprofit boards, although the amount of time spent on each varies depending on the size of your organization (more on that later).

Function #1:      Executive Oversight

The first responsibility of the board is executive oversight.  It is the board’s responsibility to hire, evaluate, and compensate the Executive Director.  The board must also be mindful to monitor the finances, budget, and key performance indicators for the organization.  Finally, the board must provide leadership consistent with the mission of the organization.

 

Function #2:      Operational Support

Board members may find themselves involved in important day-to-day work, especially in smaller organizations.  For example, board members may be involved in running a fundraising campaign or writing grant proposals.  Board members bring with them a wealth of experience and many skills.  In smaller organizations especially, board members can make a huge difference in the daily operations of their organization.

 

Function #3:      Resource Development

The top responsibility for board members it to make donations happen!

Introducing new donors to your organization should be at the forefront of every board member’s mind.  Maintaining relationships with the donors you already have is also extremely important.  Keeping your current donors up to date on the current happenings of the organization or writing personalized thank you notes go a long way towards fostering good will.

 

Function #4:      Self-Renewal

Recruiting new board members will keep fresh ideas flowing and help an organization to continue to move forward.  Staying stagnant will only hurt a board and recruiting is the best way to stay alive!  Self-Evaluation is also important is a board’s self-awareness.  By setting and tracking goals, boards can gain great insight about their own performance and how they can better help their organization.

 

The time spent on each of these 4 functions varies based on the size of the organization.  One of our consultants, Terry Hamacher, estimated the amount of time different size nonprofit organizations spend on each function.  Generally, the need for operational assistance will go down as organizations get larger and the need for development will go up.

% Of Time Spent On Each Board Function

 

 

ESC of New England offers management consulting and capacity building services in a variety of areas including Governance, Marketing, Strategic Planning and more. Please contact Ulea Lago, Director of Consulting, at ulago@escne.org for more information. We offer a complimentary 2-hour assessment visit to all interested nonprofits in eastern Massachusetts and Rhode Island.

The 21st Century Volunteer

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Volunteer recruitment has changed over the years—not just from the development of new techniques and technology, but in the way that people perceive and take on service opportunities. ESC President & CEO Bethany Kendall breaks down the key characteristics of the modern volunteer in her workshop on volunteer management, based upon material by Thomas and Jonathan McKee.

The new volunteer is very busy with multiple obligations. 21st Century volunteers have many demands on their time. They’ve got numerous obligations to attend to—often several volunteer responsibilities on top of jobs, parenting, and other engagements—and need to be expert time managers. This implies that they’re willing to wear a lot of hats, but will need to feel passionate about a mission in in order to agree to take on an assignment and stick with the commitment.

The new volunteer wants flexibility. Busy people can’t always manage their time perfectly, so 21st Century volunteers need an organization they work with to be flexible. If your nonprofit thinks making 100% in person meeting attendance mandatory for board members or volunteers, you’d do well to think again. Modern volunteers will commit, but must have the opportunity to connect virtually when necessary.

The new volunteer thinks outside the box. Of the organization, that is. The 21st Century will bring your nonprofit innovation and may suggest ways in which to help shake up the status quo. Be sure staff and board members alike are open and willing to accept that new volunteers are eager to explore efficiency through innovation.

The new volunteer will not tolerate incompetent volunteers or staff. Your organization should be comprised of individuals appropriate to your nonprofit’s success. For example, if a volunteer board committee is led by someone who has no meeting facilitation skills, you are very likely to quickly lose members. . There are two solutions that can go hand-in-hand: conduct appropriate trainings—sessions that are additional to basic foundational training, specific to certain volunteer roles, and when recruiting target particular strengths, prior experience, and interests. Targeting and training can help you avoid many pitfalls in volunteer relations and overall organizational success.

The new volunteers dos not want to just make a contribution—they want to make a difference. This is the overarching ideal of all 21st Century volunteers. Engage volunteers in activities that allow them to directly impact –and be aware of their contributions in the community– for the best possible retention and volunteer satisfaction.

Source Materials, McKee, Thomas, and Jonathan McKee. “Keynote Talks on Volunteer Leadership.” Volunteer Power.1 Sept. 2012. Web. 21 Aug.2014. <http://www.volunteerpower.com/&gt;.

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.

Assessing Your Burnout Risk Factors

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Employee burnout is one of the greatest risks posed to a nonprofit’s success. ESC consultant Sue Ogle teaches leaders to assess the following factors when reviewing their organization’s risks:

Workload
When assessing employee workload, nonprofit leaders should reflect on influences that may make the employees they manage unable to perform to their highest capacity. First, they should be sure the job is defined correctly. When a position is ill-defined, it can cause strife, confusion and a general sense that there is never enough work being covered. Secondly, managers should assess their expectations. Are they fair under the constraints of the position in question? And lastly, nonprofit leaders should check to see if a position, or the organization in general, is under-resourced. This last point is common among nonprofits, so leaders should be diligent in demonstrating and teaching efficiency when resources are tight.

Control
Is the employee given autonomy and an open forum to share influential opinions? This is ideal in preventing burnout, as micromanagement or restriction of decision power can greatly affect the passions of a previously enthusiastic employee.

Reward and Recognition
If an employee is underpaid or generally unfulfilled in his or her work, don’t expect energy levels to stay high for long. This burnout factor can be intensified if the employee is also not recognized for doing good work. Managers should be careful to keep praise genuine—dig deep to find something regularly, whether that is every day or every week, that your employees do well and voice that to them.

Fairness
Nonprofit leaders also must be aware of tendencies to play favorites or to participate in office politics. Blurring the lines between professionalism and cliqueiness is a sure way to make employee energy levels drop hard and fast.

Values
Keep check of how your employees relate to your mission. It’s important for nonprofit leaders to remind their staff of why they do what they do in the first place, and what drew them to the organization; in the nonprofit sector, it is inevitable that at least part of the draw for any employee is the mission.

Work Team
Stay in touch with how individual employees mesh with other staff members and the organization’s board. If there is disconnection, burnout can happen easily. Work daily to keep employees on the same page with one another and your nonprofit’s culture overall.

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.

Meet Our Consultants: Hungwah Yu

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As an ESC consultant, Hungwah Yu has applied her experience and expertise in academic operations to numerous strategic planning and business planning consulting projects. She attributes her professional managerial experience and ability to work collaboratively with various stakeholders as a major strength she has been able to transfer to nonprofit consulting; additionally, Hungwah notes that she has been able to apply strengths such as problem-solving, writing, listening and counseling during her time on consulting projects.

Over the last two years, she has served as the lead consultant on strategic planning projects with both Boston By Foot, a walking historical tour organization based in downtown Boston, and Maud Morgan Arts, a community arts center in Cambridge. Prior to these engagements, Hungwah worked as part of a consulting team which created a 3-year business plan for Winchester Community Access Television in 2012; she also worked with the Mel King Institute, a program of the Massachusetts Association of Community Development Corporations (MACDC) offering trainings to community development practitioners and volunteers in Massachusetts. Her ability to manage projects, develop staff, oversee conflict-resolution processes and more—all proven abilities reflected in her professional experience—has made her a vital asset to ESC consulting teams during her time volunteering with the organization.

Hungwah is the former Director of National Programs Operations and Assistant Dean of the Adult Baccalaureate College at Lesley University. In addition to serving as adjunct faculty at Lesley University, she was an Academic Advisor at the Urban College of Boston and a bilingual Career Counselor at the Asian American Civic Association.  She holds a Doctorate in Business Administration and is fluent in Mandarin and Cantonese. Hungwah joined ESC in 2011 and is currently a board member serving as the Development Committee Chair. She resides in Cambridge, Massachusetts.

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.

Meet Our Consultants: Ashok Boghani

Ashok Boghani has worked extensively in the field of consulting, first at Arthur D. Little and most recently at the Monitor Group.  After getting his doctorate in engineering at MIT, and working several years in R&D, Dr. Boghani transitioned to providing management consulting services to both public and private sector organizations.

“I have certainly been able to use my experience as a strategy consultant to look systematically at the challenges faced by our clients,” he said. “Although the organizations I work with at ESC are smaller compared to the ones I used to consult for, the issues they face are very often similar. For example, looking at the future and figuring out what decisions need to be made to correctly position themselves moving forward.”  Ashok’s specialty is helping organizations develop multiple scenarios of the future, identifying the best position for the organization in each future scenario, and developing strategies to get there from where they are now.

Although he had left his primary career, Ashok knew he wanted to continue using his experience and expertise to help others:  “ESC has allowed me to leverage my experience for causes I believe in. I was looking at potential opportunities to give back to society and at the same time provide intellectual challenges.” He continued, “I was on the board of one non-profit and helping a couple of startups in the social entrepreneur sector. However, that was not enough.  Then I found ESC I am delighted that I did and have become a part of its consulting practice.”

Working as part of a team has been of particular enjoyment for Ashok, and is seen by many consultants to be a great benefit of ESC. “I have worked with some very smart consultants from who I can learn a lot,” he said. “I have met interesting people at client organizations—often coming from a variety of different backgrounds. This is important to me, as I consider collecting experiences a more meaningful activity than collecting money. So, ESC has made me richer.”

Ashok expressed how meaningful his consulting engagements have been at ESC, saying “As an immigrant, I owe a lot to the US in general, and Boston in particular for giving me a comfortable life. Now it is time to give back!”

In addition to consulting at ESC, Dr. Boghani currently advises start-ups, both non-profit and for profit, and is actively involved with TiE, an organization devoted to fostering entrepreneurship. He is a Charter Member Emeritus of the Boston chapter of TiE and currently serves on its board.