The pivot is a critical stage for any business. Sometimes it’s a simple tweak to ongoing operations, and other times it means a complete overhaul in strategy or product offerings.
A group of students in the Executive Masters of Business Administration (EMBA) program had to make a pivot of their own just a few weeks into a project for BUSN T680, Nonprofit Business Consulting for Executives. This course, offered for the first time during fall quarter 2017, builds on classes previously taught by adjunct faculty Todd Von Deak at the undergraduate and masters level, as the students deliver solutions for real companies.
The class worked with MenzFit, a small nonprofit focused on improving employment opportunities for men from low-income backgrounds by providing education and professional clothing. What started as a feasibility study for expanding operations to a new city quickly turned into a longer-term overall strategy for MenzFit: everything from client intake to processing donations and coordinating volunteer efforts.
“Sometimes you’re looking at what the client wants, and you’re thinking it’s ‘A’ and it turns out to be ‘B’,” Von Deak says.
After making the determination to pivot from advising on expansion, the remainder of the eight-week, two-credit course involved both a reworking of the initial agreement – similar to the kind that consulting firms undertake with their clients – and moving quickly toward a solution.
“It was a bit of a sprint, and all within the confines of the students having full-time jobs of their own,” Von Deak says.
EMBA student Ryan Hummel, who works in IT in the finance industry, marveled at both the challenge and the speed with which the class moved in and addressed it. “This is the kind of problem you face in the real world,” he says. “Sometimes, you’re faced with something never done before, and we had to lean a lot on each other and leverage our connections and relationships.”
Cohort members drew on their own contacts with major nonprofits and brought in nonprofit business leaders, including from the American Red Cross and the United Way of Philadelphia and Southern New Jersey, to share expert advice.
Fellow student Bill Powell, director of enterprise architecture at ARO Global Fleet Management Services, observed that aside from the lack of shareholders and differences in how taxes are paid, nonprofits don’t operate all that much differently from regular public companies.
“It was a great learning experience on how nonprofits work,” Powell says. “You’re really seeing someone’s vision and passion, and being able to come in and help them with their business just meant the world to me.”
Though a few EMBA students work for nonprofit organizations, it was new territory for the majority of the cohort. For them, a visit to MenzFit’s Philadelphia storefront, where they saw clients being fitted for suits and asked them about their experience with the company, was an eye-opener.
“That was really a turning point for the class,” Von Deak says. “This will help expand their toolbox and get them thinking about their own social responsibility and their own ways of giving back.”