Executive Service Corps closing in Charlotte

By Todd Cohen

CHARLOTTE, N.C. – Unable to overcome the same types of challenges it worked to help local nonprofits address, the Executive Service Corps of the Charlotte Region will end operations on Dec. 31.

The organization, formed in 2004 to help nonprofits improve their governance, leadership and service delivery, will honor outstanding consulting commitments, says Rosalyn Allison-Jacobs, interim executive director.

Those include consulting services to two nonprofits, and providing each of 14 nonprofits with 16 hours of free consulting as part of the Building Better Boards initiative the Executive Service Corps launched in 2006.

With start-up funding from Foundation for the Carolinas in Charlotte and the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation in Miami, and an annual operating budget of $175,000, the Executive Service Corps provided over 3,000 volunteer consulting hours to over 50 nonprofits.

And its Building Better Boards initiative served over 1,500 individuals representing 120 organizations.

But in the end, Allison-Jacobs says, the group’s business model did not work.

Consulting fees and the participation of retired volunteers fell short of expectations, and support from foundations and corporations “dried up,” she says.

“Foundations want to fund direct services,” she says. “They do not want to fund operations. And that is the challenge every nonprofit faces.”

Terry Broderick, chairman of the board of the Executive Service Corps and dean of the McColl School of Business at Queens University of Charlotte, says raising money for an organization that served other nonprofits but did not provide direct health- and human-services was tough in a highly competitive charitable marketplace.

“We’re sort of one step removed from the kind of emotional appeal that is available to a number of organizations,” he says. “We’re not serving a disease directly. We’re not serving the poor directly.”
With individual donors facing “fatigue” because of an escalation in funding appeals from nonprofits, he says, the Executive Service Corps also had a tough time raising money from individuals and family foundations.

Allison-Jacobs says the Executive Service Corps had counted on generating some income from below-market fees for its consulting, but after totaling 20 percent of overall revenue in 2006, fees fell this year because many nonprofits that otherwise might have hired the group to provide consulting instead participated in the free Building Better Boards effort.

The group also expected more retired executives to participate as volunteer consultants, she says, but three-fourths of the consultants who actually worked with the Executive Service Corps were free-lance consultants who wanted to broaden their expertise by working with nonprofits.

Broderick says nonprofits continue to face critical challenges in building their organizational “capacity,” challenges the Executive Service Corps had been formed to address.

It now will be left to corporations “to decide whether their grantees need capacity-building,” he says. “Too few saw the point.”

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