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Making an Impact

SOM’s Outreach Nonprofit Consulting Club (ONC) provides students with the opportunity to make an impact in the New Haven community through yearlong, nonprofit consulting engagements.

SOM’s Outreach Nonprofit Consulting Club (ONC) provides students with the opportunity to make an impact in the New Haven community through yearlong, nonprofit consulting engagements. Club members receive training and projects in the fall semester, and present their final recommendations to their clients at the end of the spring semester.

This year, there were 14 student teams working with 12 local organizations on a wide range of issues including economic development, healthcare, education, arts and underemployment.

Students recently shared their projects at the club’s end-of-year presentations event. Here are a few:

Tara Anderson ’16
Client: Local Health Organization

Our ONC team worked with a local mental health institution to identify ways to improve the financial stability of its clients. For people with mental health issues, the stress and anxiety from financial setbacks can be significant. The organization wants to be able to help clients, all of whom are low-income, save money to better weather unexpected financial needs.

Currently, most of their clients have no savings, and many are in debt, often through expensive sources such pawnshops, rent-to-own stores, or high interest credit cards. Many do not have bank accounts, but those who do are susceptible to high overdraft fees, negating any accrued savings. To better understand the options for our organization’s clientele, we researched and analyzed two specific bankcard options: the Bank of America SafeBalance Account and prepaid debit cards. We produced a handout for our organization to help its clientele identify products best suited for their individual needs.

This project challenged many of our assumptions about what life is like for people with mental illness living at or below the poverty line. For example, we initially avoided products that relied on Internet access or mobile banking, assuming that our organization’s clientele would have limited Internet access. However, we learned that they can access the Internet at our client’s site, and a significant number of them have smartphones.

We also assumed that our organization’s clientele would not be able to use PayPal, however, our assumptions proved wrong, as we learned that some clients earn a living by selling items on eBay and use PayPal for those transactions. Finally, the products we researched felt like temporary solutions. While they may have the potential to help people in the short term, more work needs to be done to help low-income people build wealth in the long term.

Alex Savtchenko ’16
Client: Local Legal Services Organization

Over the past year, our team has been working with the Connecticut Veterans Legal Center (CVLC), a nonprofit dedicated to helping certain demographics recovering from homelessness and health issues overcome legal barriers to housing, healthcare and income. CVLC is a legal services organization co-located within a Veterans Affairs (VA) community mental health facility, which creates unique opportunities for multi-disciplinary teamwork between VA social workers, psychologists, psychiatrists, peer specialists and our client’s staff and volunteer lawyers, paralegals and law students.

Our project was to help CVLC improve its human capital systems and processes. In particular, they were looking for help with formalizing job descriptions, creating a performance management system, and improving their new employee welcome and training processes. As a small organization with few staff members, our client had been conducting human resources operations informally – we started working with them right as they began hiring. After meeting with the staff, we worked together to identify three core areas for our project: organizational structure, workforce management, and scaling and onboarding.

The whole experience was incredibly fun and rewarding – we built a great informal rapport with the client team, which helped us communicate honestly when we ran into roadblocks. As the project moved forward, we hit some milestones early, giving us the flexibility to change direction slightly and tackle additional deliverables. Our client partners gave us a vision for how the organization would benefit from our work and let us find the best way to get there. For a group of MBA students, it gave us a genuinely challenging, enriching, and empowering undertone to our first year!

Nikki Toten ’16
Client: Housing Services Nonprofit

For our ONC project we worked with the Housing Development Fund (HDF), a local housing services organization that believes that all households and families should have the opportunity and access to affordable housing, and that affordable housing and economic diversity are beneficial to communities. Since 1989, our client has helped almost 2,000 people to buy their first home, and with local developers has made affordable housing a reality.

Despite their programs that support inclusive homeownership, HDF has not had a strong way of measuring the impact of their work. What is homeownership worth? How does it contribute to the lives of the 1st time homebuyers? We sought to answer these questions by developing a social return on investment (SROI) framework for three main programs: first time homebuyers, multifamily loans for developers and protection against increased risk of flooding.

Our team has grappled with how to define and measure impact. Does SROI measure just the impact of the target stakeholders (the homeowners), or are the developers, realtors and banks also included? How do you measure the psychosocial benefits of homeownership? These are key issues within the social impact world, but we learned that there is no clear answer. Social impact can be defined in countless ways.

We decided to create a framework for evaluating the impact for those who are the hardest to understand through traditional metrics and are the ultimate target of the programs. HDF has a clear business case for why they engage with banks; however, it’s much more challenging to understand the impact of homeownership, affordable housing and flood-proof homes on the homeowners themselves and the government/community.  Hopefully, we have put together a living document that can help our client communicate the impact of every dollar invested.

Juliana Granados ’16
Client: Employment Services Organization

Our client seeks to enrich the lives of persons with differing abilities, families and the community. It has been a great honor to get to know the organization, its management team and some of the wonderful people it serves. The client was established over 50 years ago, and offers a great array of services, including supported employment for differently-abled community members.

Within the supported employment program, our client offers transportation for its members from home to their work. Nearly 200 people benefit from this service, which is pivotal to the development of these individuals and their ability to earn an income. To fulfill this task, the client leases vans, some of which have wheelchair access and staff to make specified stops. We worked with the client to help improve the profitability of this service. We started by understanding their process, concerns, and a way to effectively measure profitability.

After this, we developed ideas for improvement and made contact with organizations that either provide similar services, or parts of the service that could help optimize some of the client’s process. Our final recommendations focused on better use of their current fleet by making sure they are filled to capacity, contracting or purchasing software to optimize their routes, and increasing revenues.

Working with the client was a very rewarding experience. The client team always showed a great sense of knowledge about their organization and a strong commitment to our project. There are several operational takeaways, including how the client could allocate costs or reduce the number of vans to reorganize current routes. However, our main takeaway was the great opportunity to witness a passionate group of people serving their community and finding ways within their means to organize their operations.