CHARLOTTE, N.C. — After two-and-a-half years of retirement from a corporate job, Dow Bauknight received an offer he could not refuse because it combined his passion for business with his passion for community service.
Bauknight had spent 28 years as a partner at Accenture, initially as a technology consultant, eventually as head of the global consulting firm’s Charlotte office.
While he loved his work, he says, it had kept him on the road and disconnected from the community.
When he was approached about becoming executive director of NPower Charlotte Region, a nonprofit that provides technology consulting and planning for other nonprofits, he saw an opportunity to put his corporate skills to work for nonprofits while also reconnecting to Charlotte.
“I still enjoy the business of business, and continue to learn from a for-profit-company orientation to generate net income,” he says, “I enjoy learning and studying and being part of the engine that drives an economy.”
While Bauknight initially referred NPower to other possible candidates when it first contacted him, he made the “fatal mistake” of reading a business plan the group sent him “and really got hooked,” he says.
“Here was an entity that wanted to provide technology advice and consulting to nonprofits,” he says. “I thought, ‘Wow, it’s kind of what I did for 28 years.'”
And he quickly put his know-how to work on a project that had a big impact both on the client and on NPower.
With only two employees when Bauknight became its executive director in March 2004, NPower was approached by United Way of Central Carolinas about advising it on a major project to replace the technology applications that powered the way it handled its financial system, collected contributions and allocated funds to partner agencies.
“Because I had project management experience in highly complex systems at Accenture,” he says, “I was able to apply that directly at United Way, and it resulted in successful implementation for three major applications in parallel.”
The project also helped NPower grow by putting an important business principle to work, Bauknight says.
“A company grows because management makes a commitment to customers that causes it to stretch and grow,” he says. “That’s what that project did for us: It helped us grow in the direction of the consulting practice we’ve evolved to.”
With eight employees and an annual budget of $1 million, half of it covered by charitable contributions, half by fees for services, NPower has served roughly 50 clients, and services 12 to 20 clients a year, some of it repeat business.
Bauknight says he is applying to his nonprofit clients the lessons he learned as a corporate consultant.
Working on technology plans with a corporate client, he says, requires understanding the company’s mission, resources, finances, performance and workflow.
Like a for-profit firm, a nonprofit needs good business processes, he says.
“It needs a good management team, a good staff, a good board,” he says. “All of the things that I learned over in the business world were transferable to a nonprofit.”
He also learned in his corporate job that the business world had evolved over the past 50 years from a “command-and-control” management model to one based on teamwork.
That collegial approach, he says, is critical for nonprofits, which depend on people driven by passion, not a paycheck, and which depend on a collegial approach to their boards.
While commitment to a cause may be more prevalent in nonprofits than in businesses, Bauknight says, nonprofits and businesses face similar challenges, issues and “stress points,” and nonprofits increasingly are adopting the standards of for-profit business practices.
“And the ones who don’t will be out of business,” he says, “or they will remain very small, boot-strap, hand-to-mouth-type operations.”