Nonprofits and the professional, passionate people who run them provide a range of essential services to the communities they serve. Whether it involves teaching young girls how to resolve conflicts or helping high school dropouts earn diplomas, most nonprofits are deeply entrenched in their communities, and the professionals who run them are dedicated to their work on an emotional level not always seen in the commercial world. While passion is an essential element to their success, nonprofits continue to struggle with resource constraints that threaten their efficacy.
GE recognizes the critical role nonprofit organizations play in a well-functioning and stable society. Support for nonprofits is not just about being a good corporate citizen but also about “paying it forward,” yet most corporations do not have a giving strategy that reaches beyond capital projects and into nonprofits’ operating structures and processes.
For GE, nonprofit agency support comes in three forms, referred to internally as “bucks, brawn and brains.” This means financial support, volunteer efforts and intellectual capital, a critical element that is too often overlooked by corporate citizenship programs. By sharing GE’s metrics-based, change-oriented process for continuous improvement, we leverage our business process excellence to maximize our positive impact on nonprofit organizations in our communities. As a result, GE’s nonprofit partners, such as Girls Incorporated of Metropolitan Dallas (Girls Inc. Dallas) and Connect2Success in Cincinnati, Ohio, have reduced administration overhead and improved their delivery of services.
CAPACITY BUILDING AT NONPROFIT ORGANIZATIONS
By 2009, GE had the traditional “bucks” and “brawn” well institutionalized, annually investing an estimated $220 million and more than one million hours of volunteer time in communities where GE employees live and work globally.
“I have seen highly educated people painting a fence at a nonprofit,” said Laura Clancy, Managing Director for New Sector Alliance, which provides consulting and volunteer services to nonprofits. “They can also have a huge impact by going inside and working on operational issues.”
Thus, the need for the third leg of the stool: Brains.
At GE Capital, Americas, the intellectual component is often provided by Access GE, a team of people dedicated to helping commercial customers address their most pressing business challenges. Since 2000, they have conducted more than 7,000 engagements for more than 5,000 companies globally. Bringing their tools, resources, insights and learnings to help with the organization’s philanthropic endeavors—called In the Community, For the Community—seemed to be a natural extension of their skills. The success of this three-tiered approach can be seen in the partnership between GE Capital, Americas, and Girls Inc. Dallas.
The partnership started several years ago, when executives from Girls Inc. Dallas visited GE Capital’s office in the Dallas area to talk about their work on conflict resolution and education. Everyone from GE who attended that presentation was moved by Girls Inc. Dallas’s mission, which is “to inspire girls to be strong, smart and bold,” and by the stories of some of the girls in the program.
One of those girls, 13 year-old Latarjinae Johnson, said Girls Inc. Dallas changed her life. “My mom and I never used to get along, but Girls Inc. Dallas provided both of us with counseling on how to communicate better with each other. Now, rather than screaming and yelling, we share everything and I can tell her anything that is on my mind without fear. We are the best of friends,” she explained. Johnson now provides mentorship to some of the younger girls in the program.
“GE Capital has expertise in many processes and tools that may be commonplace in the corporate world, but were completely new to us. We are now using these tools to lead, manage and provide excellent delivery of services to our clients—the girls and young women that will be the change agents of the future.”
LORI PALMER, CEO OF GIRLS INC. DALLAS
Over the years, GE has provided Girls Inc. Dallas with both bucks and brawn, such as funding for critical programs and large-scale employee volunteer efforts, including 175-plus employee volunteers on a single day. Then, in February 2010, seasoned professionals from the Access GE team at GE Capital, Americas provided targeted training to the entire leadership team at Girls Inc. Dallas’s operation, including CEO Lori Palmer and Chief Development Officer Lisa Rossi.
The agency had gone through a comprehensive effort to develop a five-year organizational plan and needed processes and tools to manage the plan’s implementation. After a series of discussions, the Access GE experts developed a two-day workshop to focus on project management and change management, the same kind of training that’s offered to GE Capital’s top commercial clients.
Heather Wilson, an Access GE leader for GE Capital, Americas who developed and delivered the workshop for Girls Inc. Dallas, was unsurprised by how easily GE’s tools, resources and insights transferred to the nonprofit sector. “Nonprofits operate with very limited resources, so effective project management is particularly important to avoid going over budget and missing deadlines,” said Wilson. “And clear and effective communication can help avoid duplicative efforts. It’s similar to what a lot of our commercial clients face.”
Kristi Webb, the GE Capital, Equipment Finance executive sponsor of the engagement with Girls Inc. Dallas, noted that the Access GE teachings “would resonate with any nonprofit or any business.”
“They left with tools to use as they execute their strategy. They learned a common language to speak, metrics to gauge their improvements and techniques to hold each other accountable,” she added.
Girls Inc. Dallas is now using GE tools like Work Breakdown Structure, Project Status Reporting, and Project Definition Documents on a daily basis to manage their operations. As a result, the organization is no longer missing deadlines, and it has a process in place to monitor progress against its five-year plan.
Lisa Rossi, chief development officer at Girls Inc. Dallas, further elaborated on the impact the workshop had on the organization. “We have surprised a large number of people, especially in the nonprofit world,” Rossi said. “People are astonished with how quickly we are operationalizing our strategic plan. In fact, we have already achieved many of our 2010 goals and are on track to meet goals for 2011.” Girls Inc. Dallas has been so successful in the implementation of its transformational five year plan, that Palmer has been invited by Girls Inc. Dallas’s national organization to participate in a nationwide strategic planning process.
Elsewhere, GE is replicating this success story. In Cincinnati, Ohio, GE Aviation is working with Strive, a network of nonprofits focused on childhood education and achievement. GE Aviation Black Belts and Master Black Belts, those with the highest level of training, have adapted GE’s Lean Six Sigma (LSS) process for the nonprofit sector in what is being called “Lean Six Sigma in the Community.” Many nonprofits in the Strive network now use GE’s Change Acceleration Process as they deploy strategy, while applying the principles of LSS to define, measure, analyze and continuously improve projects.
In the four years since LSS in the Community was launched, GE Aviation LSS Black Belts have trained more than 200 nonprofit and education leaders, and they continue to provide ongoing mentoring and support. Malachi Lawrence, an LSS Black Belt assigned to mentor Connect2Success, a Strive Student Success Network made up of nine non-profits and three educational partners dedicated to helping youth who have dropped out of school, describes the impact of LSS in the Community:
“Everyone who works at Connect2Success is highly committed to bringing out-of-school youth off the streets and back into the education system. But some of the things they were doing were inefficient, so our first step was to create a process map and understand the steps they went through to achieve their mission. We then standardized the process, and digitized the data collection and reporting. As a result, we managed to bring the amount of time the organization was spending on administration down from two days per week to as little as two hours,” said Lawrence, sub-section manager, GE Aviation.
“It’s a partnership of equals. We’re good at data crunching. We bring some of those harder skills to the table and they bring the knowledge of community needs, caring and passion for what they do, and we learn a lot from each other.”
ROB LAWSON, COMPLIANCE MANAGER, GE AVIATION
PARTNERSHIP OF EQUALS
GE Volunteers who have been part of the capacity building work both with Girls Inc. Dallas and with Strive—or any of the numerous other nonprofits that GE supports—said they felt proud to work for a company that encouraged them to get involved in their communities. In fact, they felt re-energized and motivated to work with passionate community leaders who are dedicated to their causes.
Volunteering also provides seasoned GE employees with new ways to put their skills to work and demonstrate leadership and teamwork. In some cases, GE employees meet for the first time during a community engagement effort. But most importantly, GE Volunteers are helping to build and enhance the communities where they live and work. Not only does that help the company retain high-caliber people, but it also helps ensure a future source of talent—a critical component of GE’s success as a company.
KEY SUCCESS FACTORS OF GE’S APPROACH
GE’s approach to community building is unique and effective for three main reasons:
- GE takes a three-pronged “bucks, brawn and brains” approach in our support of community organizations, meaning we provide financial support; volunteers to help execute and meet the daily needs of an organization; and intellectual capital to build capacity and increase the efficacy of each organization with which we are involved.
- GE makes sustained, long-term commitments to nonprofit organizations. We can take a long time to learn the strengths and weaknesses of an organization in order to provide the most impactful, meaningful support. This also builds strong relationships between corporate volunteers and nonprofit employees, which enriches the experience for both groups.
- While GE strives to support all of the volunteering interests of employees, large-scale community investment efforts focus on a few key areas that align closely with the company’s mission and core competencies, with education as the top priority.
GE brings a rigorous, results-oriented approach to excellence to the nonprofit sector because we recognize that these organizations face many of the same issues that our commercial customers face. That’s how GE is able to achieve our goal of strengthening the communities in which we operate.