Boston Business Journal | Friday, July 31, 2009 | by Mary Moore
Kenneth B Schwartz Center executives identified a potential business opportunity for the organization, but they did not know exactly how to develop it and definitely lacked the money to hire a professional consulting firm to guide them.
The opportunity? Health care companies — from biotech and pharmaceutical to long-term care providers — were approaching the Boston-based nonprofit, asking it to expand its flagship program, the Schwartz Center Rounds.
Provided in 170 hospitals across 30 states, and subsidized in large part by the Schwartz Center, the Rounds are forums in which caregivers can discuss issues they face.
“It was clear there were a lot of health care entities interested in what we’re doing. And we wanted to expand but we thought it could be fee for service,” said Julie Rosen, executive director.
The answer? Community Action Partners — or CAP as it is known — a pro bono consulting group for nonprofits, run by the Harvard Business School Alumni Association and, more recently, with participation from alumni of the Harvard Kennedy School.
“If I had to pay for this from (a consultant), it would be a quarter-million-dollar project,” Rosen said.
At a time when nonprofits are desperate for business guidance and solutions, CAP is providing a much-needed lifeline for at least a small number of them.
A team of more than a half-dozen business executives and nonprofit experts worked with Rosen, exploring four potential markets for the Schwartz Center’s fee-for-service idea. The consulting team settled on two promising markets — long-term care and medical malpractice — and the organization currently is negotiating contracts with companies in both areas.
Since 1993, CAP has been dispatching teams of pro bono consultants to work on behalf of nonprofits, providing strategic planning, market research, financial planning, board and organizational development, and other professional services. A 16-member board runs the CAP projects with the help of approximately 100 volunteers, mainly from the Business School and some from the Kennedy School.
On the Schwartz Center project, for example, the team included a management consultant, a retired health care consultant, the CFO of a business unit at Fidelity Investments, a strategist for Legal Sea Foods, an adjunct professor at Brandeis University, an administrator at Harvard Medical School and two nonprofit executives.
CAP consults with approximately 16 nonprofits for about seven months, the projects selected from among applications the organizations submit. The number of applications has increased to 54 this year from 45 last year, said Steve Diamond, a principal at management consulting firm The Faculty Group Inc. and a member of the CAP Board.
Diamond estimates that CAP has provided the equivalent of $1.6 million in consulting services.
“Almost always they take some of the recommendations,” Diamond said. “When they don’t, it’s usually because they lack the funds or the skills.”
The National Brain Tumor Society took the CAP team’s advice, which suggested that the Watertown-based organization consider a merger in order to grow. Indeed, the $5 million organization merged with another brain tumor organization based in San Francisco, forming a $10 million nonprofit, said Mary Catherine Calisto, co-chairwoman of the National Brain Tumor Society.
“We were more East Coast and they were more West Coast,” she said. “It allowed us to expand our research program and also develop a more effective support program.”
Another CAP team helped Boston-based Women of Means to, among other things, sharpen its messages to highlight the value of the free medical care it provides to homeless women and children. The organization subsequently sent a pitch to a number of Boston hospitals, pointing out that it saves them $2 million or more in emergency care and asking them each to donate $50,000.
So far, Partners HealthCare has donated $100,000, said Dr. Roseanna Means, founder and president of Women of Means.
“Most important was that the CAP team didn’t give up on us,” she said. “They all said, ‘You’ve got an extraordinary program, let’s just keep working on your messaging and new ways to fund you.’ The real outcome of working with the CAP team was the knowledge is that we have a model worth fighting for.”
Mary Moore can be reached at email@example.com.