ODNNY Brings Pro-Bono OD Consulting to a Deserving NYC Nonprofit
Organizational culture and role clarity were key aspects of ODNNY’s 2011 Pro Bono Initiative project. ODNNY volunteers worked with the GO Project, an organization dedicated to providing educational enhancement opportunities to low-income public elementary school children, as well as support services to their families.
Over the last two years, GO Project (www.goprojectnyc.org) has experienced considerable change, including an executive transition and changes in the roles, responsibilities and membership of the board of directors. In addition, programs and staff grew extensively, with the prospect of even greater growth over the next few years.
The new Executive Director, Erica Ahdoot, needed help in two primary areas: building the staff culture and re-defining the relationship between the board and staff.
It was a perfect project for ODNNY’s second Pro Bono Initiative project. The initiative aims to match teams of OD practitioners and students with qualifying nonprofits who might not otherwise be able to afford help with OD challenges they’re facing.
The criteria for selecting a nonprofit to work with is pretty straightforward, said Laurie Kelley, the ODNNY board member responsible for nonprofit outreach and the Pro Bono Initiative. “We serve nonprofits located in the greater NYC area with budgets under $5 million. Within that pool, we look for an organization that can commit to partnering with an ODNNY team in support of their change agenda.”
Laurie assigned a team of five to the project: John Magisano as the team leader; Barbara Phillips, Gehan Abreu, Evelyn Levine, Kim Dennis and Jeannette Bongiorni. Over six months, the ODNNY consulting team and GO Project staff utilized multiple tools, engaged deeply in the work, and learned through the process.
The team developed three survey tools. The first assessed the morale of the full-time staff, their understanding of the mission, and experience of the personnel and program changes. The team worked with Erica using the data collected to help her design a full-time staff retreat. The second tool was a survey to assess the outcomes of the retreat. The third tool measured the morale and mission alignment of the lead part-time staff.
In addition, the team assisted Erica and the board by analyzing the results of a previous board survey that measured members’ understanding of the mission, board functions, strategic direction and program growth.
Among lessons learned were:
- the contracting process is critical to the success of the engagement
- the desired outcomes can evolve in the course of an engagement (e.g. from a focus on the board relationship to development of the staff)
- team-building and maintaining team commitment can be an ongoing challenge
The ODNNY team celebrated the conclusion of the project over dinner in NYC. Prior to the gathering, the team completed a survey about their experience in working on the project. The results were shared and discussed over dinner. It was seen as a positive experience by everyone involved and several members would be interested in volunteering again.
The greatest benefit to her, Erica said, was, “Helping me with information gathering, structuring questions based on conversations we’d had, consolidating information and providing a sounding board. I really appreciated that not only was aggregated data presented to me, but also trends were pointed out. I was then able to present it to the Governance Committee Chair and my Co-Chairs.” Erica said she would recommend the ODNNY program to other nonprofits, “potentially as a way to support emerging leaders with a very specific organizational/staff development issue.”