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DC-area MBAs give back with Compass

Girls On The Run DC, a nonprofit that teaches girls life skills through running (one of the nonprofit's races, pictured), recently benefited from the pro bono expertise of local MBAs

The nonprofit is now, says executive director Betsy Lovejoy, "stronger and more unified, and have capacity to grow in a more sustainable way"

Members of Compass DC and charities mix and mingle at the organization's Project Launch

The business of business isn't always business. Hundreds of D.C.'s cut-throat-capitalists-by-day are actually waiting in line to provide pro-bono consulting to local nonprofits. One organization, Compass, has managed to assemble teams of (primarily) MBA graduates to lend their capitalist smarts to the nonprofit sector, giving time valued at a collective $11.5 million since 2010.

“Our mission is really to bring the business community into the nonprofit sector, to get them engaged, and to keep them engaged for the long term.” says Suzanne Laporte, the executive director of Compass. Each year, Laporte and her staff select local nonprofits, or local chapters of larger nonprofits, to receive a team of free consultants for a project.
Projects usually fall under one of Compass’ three core service lines: strategic alignment, board development, or funding strategy. “Last year, with a staff of just two people, we provided about 4.5 million dollars worth of consulting to the D.C. community through 273 volunteers working on 35 nonprofit projects.” says Laporte.

Two Harvard business school graduates founded the organization in 2001, and Compass has now expanded to partner with the alumni networks of fourteen top business schools as well as a few other local companies to curate a source of capable, willing, pro-bono consultants.

For-profit pinch-hits for nonprofits
Tracey Moon, an MBA graduate of Northwestern’s Kellogg School with a business development background in information technology consulting, has led two Compass projects with Lumina Studio Theatre and the Accokeek Foundation. “I work in the for-profit world and I love it. I love doing what I do, and I’m not going to give that up, but knowing that I can take that same skill set and impact the immediate community of people around me, it just means a lot more,” she says.

Moon led a strategic alignment team for the Accokeek Foundation, a 50-year-old group that stewards 200 acres of parkland on the Potomac. With growth, Accokeek has experienced challenges with maintaining staff and offering cohesion with the nonprofit's core mission, resulting in very dedicated efforts, but sometimes more scattered in execution than they could be.

Moon says, “We looked at everything. We started at the top... We interviewed every single staff member, multiple times. We interviewed the board members. We … really got down to the nitty-gritty of every part of the organization... [We] left them with a working strategic plan.” Moon says. “They all knew that these challenges existed…but no one had ever put them all in one place, and … translated them back to the board and the executive staff in a way that they felt they weren’t insurmountable anymore.”

The team's plan mainly included communication solutions to help keep all the growing staff managing resources, programs and finances more connected, and thereby more closely aligned with and able to better execute Accokeek's core mission.

Meanwhile, Girls on the Run D.C. — a nonprofit that teaches young girls confidence, teamwork and lifelong health and fitness habits through running — just wrapped up a strategic alignment project with a team of five from Compass. GOTR D.C. executive director Betsy Lovejoy says the organization had been growing, but struggled to create a leadership structure and capacity that could support its ability to handle the growth over the long term.

“I think [Compass's impact] will be more of a subtle change," says Lovejoy. "We are now stronger and more unified, and have capacity to grow in a more sustainable way because we’ve now created a board structure that will help us take our strategic plan and make it work, make it come to life.”

But perhaps the strongest evidence of Compass's impact on GOTR D.C.: at the end of the project, GOTR asked two members of the Compass team to join as board members.

With the recent hire of a third employee, Laporte hopes to grow Compass’s ability to support more projects for more nonprofits. Compass has a wait list of 100 or more consultant volunteers, and turns away about half of the nonprofits seeking help.

Bleeding hearts take notice. The next time you're tempted to think that those blood-sucking capitalists are all out to destroy the world you're trying to save, remember that some of them are actually waiting in line to help make your job a little easier.

Read more articles by Kaitlynn Hendricks.

Kaitlynn Hendricks is a solutions-focused economist working as a business developer in Washington, DC. She enjoys timeless and (occasionally) avant-garde fashion, reading things that are just a bit too complicated to really understand, challenging the status quo, and exploring the city on her Vespa.
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