By Mike Lauterborn
(for Sacred Heart Univ.)
Fairfield, CT – Pressed for time, often underfunded and so focused on their day-to-day activities and clients, not-for-profit organizations sometimes lose sight of business operation fundamentals. That’s where a unique MBA program at Sacred Heart University has stepped in to fill that void and provide teams of students to analyze challenges and offer recommendations, at no cost to these groups.
Monday evening, June 27, eleven MBA students participating in Professor Rawlin Fairbaugh’s Strategic Management class in the University’s John F. Welch College of Business made their final presentations, with select representatives from the participating organizations in attendance. The clients this semester included Derby Day Care, Bridges, Cultural Alliance of Fairfield County, St. Paul’s Child Development Center, Bridgeport Caribe Youth League and the Rape Crisis Center of Milford. Students worked on and presented their recommendations in pairs.
“Twelve years ago, we started advising the Diocese of Bridgeport,” said Fairbaugh about the program’s inception. “We did a lot of work and other organizations began to hear about it. So, we put together a dedicated program and have since worked with 70 to 80 organizations in a 25-mile radius and handled about 400 projects. The groups have been very appreciative.”
Fairbaugh said the takeaway for students is the appreciation that non-profits are part of the business landscape. “They must be conscious of the importance of such facilities as homeless shelters and homes for battered women and the like,” he said.
Recruiting participating organizations has been the job of Deacon Daniel J. Ianniello and William G. Joyce, both Executive Advisors and Board Members of The Center for Not-for-Profit Organizations at the University.
“Our students’ work really makes a difference to these groups,” said Ianiello. “And we’re not just one-shot. We will work with an organization continually. The University’s mission is to provide outreach – this is the College of Business’ way of showing support.”
Sharing evidence that the program has impact, Joyce said, “The best testimonial of success is repeat clients. It’s been over 80% in this case.”
Given up to 15 minutes to present, student teams stood at the head of the classroom and projected their materials on a large screen. Lead-off presenters were Jeanne Pierre-Gilles and Michael Hartman, whose mission was to evaluate communication problems at Derby Day Care. The facility’s office manager, Anita Ashe, and director, Gladys Lazurek, were both present.
“We interviewed the staff, board and communication director, and conducted Internet research,” said Hartman. “We found there was a disconnect between the board and staff. Our recommendations are to gather the staff and explain the business strategy, give employees a forum to share their frustrations and establish a go-to staff leader for issues. The staff cares about the organization and is willing to fix the problems.”
Asked about her takeaway from the project, Pierre-Gilles said, “Communication is very powerful. The staff felt they weren’t being heard.”
Fairbaugh interjected that “communication is always a problem in business and that you have to pay attention to it.”
Students Michael Valsamis and Maureen Kalus worked with Milford, CT-based Bridges, a behavioral mental health agency. The pair’s goal was to help the group narrow and focus on a target market, which they determined to be high school educators, and to establish a price point for services.
“We performed a break-even analysis and studied the local market to see, among other things, if there were other competitors out there,” said Valsamis. “Our recommendation includes distributing brochures to local high schools.”
Working with St. Paul’s Child Development Center in Bridgeport, Bryan Dick and Sanjeev Wadwha determined the group needed better marketing and a website enhancement plan.
“We reviewed information on the Internet and newspapers, and conducted interviews,” said Wadwha. “We found the website to be outdated with no significant content or information about the center, links to social media or calendar of activities. We have recommended homepage updates, a Facebook page, brochure updates, an open house and free seminars.”
Reflecting on the work, Dick said, “I gained an appreciation for what groups with limited funds go through. I enjoyed finding ways to help them.”
Their efforts did not go unnoticed. Sitting in, Barbara Leoncini, St. Paul’s director, said, “Time and money is not always on our side. I take everything seriously, and will discuss Sanjeev and Bryan’s recommendations with staff and parents. They were very committed to helping us find solutions.”
On a side note, the evening’s session was Fairbaugh’s last class after 30 years teaching at SHU. “It’s been a very rewarding experience,” he said. “I’ll miss the classroom. It keeps you involved.”