Executive Service Corps matches volunteers, nonprofits

By Todd Cohen

CHARLOTTE, N.C. — Wanting help completing its strategic planning, Substance Abuse Prevention Services of the Carolinas turned to Executive Service Corps of the Charlotte Region.

But Executive Service Corps, which matches volunteers with nonprofits needing advice on a range of organizational-effectiveness issues, found Substance Prevention Services first needed to do some work gearing its board and staff to work together on planning.

“By using the Executive Service Corps, you get a broader look at your organization than you might naturally do on your own,” says Donna Arrington, the group’s executive director.

The Service Corps, which early in 2004 became the 33rd affiliate of the Raleigh-based national Executive Service Corps Affiliate Network, already has enlisted 47 volunteers, three-fourths of them still in the workforce, and has been contacted by 38 nonprofits seeking assistance.

Focusing initially on nonprofits in the fields of health and human services, arts and the environment in Mecklenburg and nearby counties, corps volunteers have completed 14 consulting projects, and are working with six active clients.

Now, the group is launching a new initiative to provide more professional development for nonprofit leaders, and another to strengthen nonprofit boards and increase the number of consultants willing to volunteer their services to nonprofits.

The corps is launching new Executive Leadership Roundtables that will select eight to 10 nonprofit professionals who will meet a half-day a month for seven months at Queens University of Charlotte.

In addition to attending sessions on topics like decision-making, managing, board relations and marketing and development, participants will receive one-on-one professional coaching.

The roundtables and coaching are designed to strengthen leadership skills of nonprofit executives, and to connect them with one another, says Roslyn Allison-Jacobs, deputy executive director.

“It can be very lonely being in a position of leadership in a nonprofit because they don’t really have peers they can share information with confidentially,” she says.

And by helping them learn from and lean on one another, she says, the new initiative also should help executives learn to mentor and coach their own staff.

Modeled on a program of the Gulf Coast Community Foundation in Venice, Fla., a second initiative to begin in the first quarter of 2006 will let board members of nonprofits paying a $50 fee per organization complete an online assessment of their boards’ strengths and weaknesses.

Based on an analysis of those assessments by Florida board consultant Sandra Hughes, nonprofits can apply for a two-day workshop on board training and development.

Nonprofits accepted for the workshop also will get 16 hours of free one-on-one governance consulting from volunteer consultants who sign up to be trained by Hughes as part of the workshop.

“We’re building local capacity among consultants who will continue to volunteer with us,” says Allison-Jacobs. “We’re also building capacity at the organizational level by working with executive directors, board chairs and full boards.”

Taking the risk of asking for help in finding ways to improve the way they operate is critical for nonprofits, Arrington says.

“Any nonprofit that is seeking to do business better,” she says, “is taking a very courageous step in their service delivery and in their longevity.”

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