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Connecting nonprofits with consultants

Amanda Weatherly helps Mariah Barbee picks out a Dr.Seuss book as Shamar Manns reaches to grab a book for himself during the Book Harvest event at Carrboro Elementary School in June. Book Harvest’s founder creates its success to the help she received from the Executive Service Corps.
Amanda Weatherly helps Mariah Barbee picks out a Dr.Seuss book as Shamar Manns reaches to grab a book for himself during the Book Harvest event at Carrboro Elementary School in June. Book Harvest’s founder creates its success to the help she received from the Executive Service Corps. cliddy@newsobserver.com

Ginger Young knew she had a great idea that could help thousands of North Carolina children. But turning her concept into reality proved to be a challenge.

“I was out there trying to catch up to the idea I had,” said Young, who in 2011 founded Book Harvest, an agency that collects books to give to children who have few or none at home.

By late 2012, the scope of need and even the offers of help seemed overwhelming, she recalled.

“I was trying to figure out how to build a structure that would engage everybody who wanted to be a part of my idea.”

Luckily, Young knew about Executive Service Corps of the Triangle, a Durham-based nonprofit that provides affordable consulting to other nonprofits.

“Our consultants work pro bono, and are mostly retired,” said ESC Director Trudy Smith.

To cover the cost of expenses, clients pay a fee on a sliding scale that ranges from $35 to $60 an hour. The consultants may work with the board of directors, organize staff retreats, provide individual coaching for an executive director or board chairman or take on other agency needs, such as strategic planning.

ESC works with 70 to 80 nonprofits each year.

“When they come to us, they may be at a very bad place, but they may also be in a good place but have areas they want to improve,” Smith said.

When Young first talked with Smith, they held a “broad-ranging discussion” about the needs of the agency, Young said.

Young tapped ESC consultants for help with training for her board of directors, data-gathering and reporting, executive coaching and financial strategies.

“Every single time I’ve reached out to them, they had somebody to connect us with who was able to walk us through it to the point we felt we owned it; they coached us while we figured it out,” Young said.

“The coaches have the experience, wisdom, and sensitivity to help chart a course that’s going to be effective. It’s really nice to know that when something comes up where we need higher-level thinking, we can tap this resource.”

When she needed help with finances, Young met with consultant Ed Rose, a retiree with four decades of professional financial management experience.

“Ed and I really charted out what I needed and went together to find someone to serve as our board treasurer,” she added.

Rose helped her identify prospects, and then she sold them on the vision.

“His 40 years of experience let me feel confident of what I’m doing,” she added. “He gave me the gravitas and understanding needed to look at the big picture, solve problems and fine tune.”

Thanks to ESC, Book Harvest now is thriving. The agency has donated more than 400,000 books to children in the Triangle since 2011. Research shows that children with few books at home are slower to learn to read and face other academic handicaps.

Other agencies served by ESC include Big Brothers Big Sisters of the Triangle, Durham Literacy Council, Exchange Clubs’ Family Center, Exploris Middle School, Learning Together Inc., Montessori Children’s House of Durham, Partners for Youth and many others.

Only 2 percent of visionary ideas actually make it to successful implementation, Young said.

“The people I’m surrounded with have giant hearts, but not the skills to translate it into action,” she said. “As soon as I reached out to Trudy, I felt we had that.

“What Trudy does extraordinarily well is understanding chemistry. She is a matchmaker, of sorts, who looks at skills and needs and figures out where the matches are. Book Harvest wouldn’t be where it was without ESC. They have been integral to our success.”

This year, ESC launched a partnership with the Blue Cross and Blue Shield of N.C. Foundation to help even more agencies with a board leadership training program. The first took place in spring 2015 and another in the fall.

“Through these programs, we offered sessions on management and leadership skills to 46 individuals from 23 agencies,” Smith said.

Another new program is a type of “speed dating” approach to matching nonprofit agencies with volunteers interested in board leadership opportunities.

“Additional funding would enable ESC to offer more unique events like these,” she added. “Our initiatives and services are all designed to strengthen nonprofits and match highly qualified individual leaders with organizations needing expertise. We hope to do many more of these events in the future.”

Executive Service Corps of the Triangle

P.O. Box 51152

Durham, N.C. 27707

www.esctriangle.org

Contact: Trudy Smith, 919-641-9173

Description: The Executive Service Corps of the Triangle provides professional, affordable consulting to nonprofits in Wake, Durham, Orange and Chatham counties. Our services are provided by experienced executives committed to making a difference in their community through pro bono work. Our volunteer consultants come from a variety of backgrounds, including finance, nonprofit management, marketing, strategic planning, human resources, project management and sales.

Volunteers needed: We are always looking for volunteer consultants who have over 10 years of senior management experience and are retired, work part-time, or have flexible schedules, with expertise in areas such as business, marketing, finance, and strategic planning. History of involvement with nonprofits is preferable. Translate the knowledge and perspective you've gained throughout your career to help Triangle nonprofits build their capacity to become more effective and sustainable.

$10 would buy: Name tags for a nonprofit leadership seminar.

$20 would buy: Flipcharts for a nonprofit board retreat.

$50 would buy: Supplies to conduct a nonprofit strategic planning engagement.

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