Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Carlisle’s Non-Profit Practice at Ten

How It Works and Why We Do It
By Ann Budner

Preface by David Carlisle

I thought it would be fitting to capstone the year with a blog on giving back. Ann Budner leads our charge in non-profit. I believe there are two different approaches that one can take in giving: (1) understanding why it is good to give, and/or (2) treating it purely selfishly, based entirely on what you get back. I do it for (2). The picture to the right is of our Minuteman Arc barn crew (http://www.minutemanarc.org/). It was taken last week during our holiday lunch in my office. We all sat around our boardroom table and ate pizza and drank cider. Today we had eight people representing a fairly broad mixture of intellectual and developmental disabilities doing barn work at our horse farm. During lunch I asked the crew if Minuteman was going to have a holiday party for everybody. They all responded “no” they are not having a holiday party. Instead, they will be helping prepare food for the homeless; they were all quite proud of this. Makes you think. They all felt great, too, about giving something back. We’ve had crews from Minuteman for over 10 year now. They love the barn and the animals here. I feel better about myself every passing moment. It is purely selfish.

It’s hard to believe that we’ve had a non-profit consulting practice at Carlisle for ten years. Most of our motor vehicle clients don’t know about it. Many of our non-profit clients ask us, “What do motor vehicles have to do with non-profits anyway?” Although we are proud of our non-profit work, we intentionally keep a low profile. Our non-profit work is not a vehicle for publicity or sales, but rather an expression of our business ethics and corporate strategy. That’s why it’s been so successful and has grown to involve all three of our offices and so many of our employees.

In graduate school, I took a course on philanthropy and learned the term “enlightened self-interest.” Daniel Yankelovich, the public opinion researcher, says, “Enlightened self-interest is when you make a profit by meeting a need, by fulfilling a social function.” This idea has been around for generations. It is the concept that the most successful philanthropy happens when the company not only feels good about its contribution, but also benefits, either through increased profits, business connections, or an improved public image. The current lingo is “corporate social responsibility” or CSR. Research shows that the most successful CSR programs are tied to a company’s strategy.

Maybe David is right and it is purely selfish. Our non-profit practice has met our business needs by helping us to recruit talented (and community-minded) young people and providing them hands-on training. It also helps us internally with project staffing. But, on a deeper level, our non-profit practice has lasted because it is linked to our business strategy. It helps define who we are as a company. We are committed to delighting ALL of our clients. When we do, we delight ourselves.

How It Works

I was hired to lead Carlisle’s Non-Profit Practice in 1999, after ten years working in various senior level positions in the non-profit sector. I am the only employee dedicated to the practice. Our other employees cycle in and out of the Non-Profit Practice based on their interests and other project commitments. We particularly encourage our junior level staff to work on non-profit projects. These projects are great opportunities to learn project management, presentation, and other consulting skills in a safe environment. Additionally, each of our two US offices participates in a service day every summer (Read more about our Non-Profit Practice at http://www.carlisle-co.com/np-overview.php).

Internally, we consider work on our non-profit projects equivalent in value to our billable projects. We charge our non-profit clients either a very small fee as a token of mutual commitment, or no fee at all. In purely financial terms, we lose money on our Non-Profit Practice, but gain in many other ways. The program has involved 51 employees and has expanded to all three of our offices: Boston, MA; Southfield, MI; and Frankfurt, Germany.

Sample Projects

Our non-profit specialties include: outcomes measurement, strategic planning, strategic fund development, and logistical analysis. Our expertise reflects our knack for making quantitative information sensible and useful. If you think this is valuable to our motor vehicle clients, it is equally if not more so to our non-profit clients! While non-profit workers tend to be more service than number-oriented, they are under tremendous pressure from donors and tight budgets to be more efficient and to prove the impact of their services.

We have been proud to work with Focus: HOPE in Detroit for over seven years. Along with conducting a strategic review of their First Step/Fast Track basic skills program and researching options for GED training and testing services, we improved the logistics of their food delivery program. Focus: Hope provides supplemental food to 41,000 individuals each month through various channels. Our task was to make the agency deliveries - which criss-crossed all of metropolitan Detroit and went as far as Flint and Lansing - as efficient as possible. The existing process under-utilized delivery capacity and Focus: Hope struggled to meet demand. In order to increase delivery outreach, we evaluated and introduced process efficiencies that dramatically increased delivery capacity without adding cost. In the end, we found 23% extra truck capacity and 172% extra van capacity per month. Translated, this meant that Focus: Hope only had to use the truck 15 days a month to fulfill their existing orders.

Last year we completed an outcomes measurement project for the Detroit Historical Society (DHS). We surveyed their members to help DHS understand their membership better and develop segment-based marketing strategies. We secured funding for a survey incentive, which helped garner over 800 responses. We designed a web-based survey, analyzed the results and investigated cross-demographic trends. We then presented our findings to the DHS leadership. Robert Bury, CEO, described our work as “invaluable.” Our results provide DHS with a baseline for recruiting and help them target their events to different member segments. All grant proposals now mention the Membership Survey. Grant makers view it very positively, especially since it was done on a pro bono basis. http://www.detroithistorical.org/

Samuel Frank, who led the DHS project, traveled for three weeks to Bolivia in November to help the International Orphanage Union (IOU). The IOU builds self-sustaining orphanages, supported mainly through exports to the US (such as hardwood and Bolivia’s Best coffee). Samuel’s responsibilities included guest ambassador, business network development, micro-business strategy development, and low-tech engineering. Early data shows that the audience for Bolivia’s Best Coffee is already broadening, based on social media and organic searches. We were pleased to support Samuel’s good work by granting him “on-call” status during his absence. This is another example of how our company values community service. http://www.boliviasbestcoffee.com/

Why We Do It

So, why go to all this trouble? We’re a small firm and don’t have a lot of excess capacity sitting around. Plus, we actually lose some money in the process. OK, it does distinguish us when recruiting new employees and it’s a valuable training opportunity. But the truth is simpler and less selfish than that: It’s who we are. It’s what we believe in. It all comes down to this: our Non-Profit Practice meets both our strategic and our personal goals. Hey, what are we all here for – as business people and simply as people – if we’re not making the world a better place?

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