AbilityFirst and FVO Solutions
CHALLENGE:Two deeply impactful and beloved service organizations based in Pasadena, AbilityFirst and FVO Solutions, wanted to expand and innovate opportunities for people with disabilities in the form of employment and social enterprise. The two organizations shared a similar vision, mission and core values. Each organization’s unique strengths presented the opportunity for better outcomes and a larger variety of programs by joining forces.
With more than 90 years of experience and more than 50 years in Pasadena, AbilityFirst (formerly known as the Crippled Children’s Society of Southern California) provides a variety of programs designed to help people with disabilities achieve their full potential throughout their lives. AbilityFirst programs help individuals successfully transition from childhood to adult life; provide employment preparation, training, and experience; build social connections and independence; and offer both participants and their caregivers an opportunity to refresh and recharge through recreational activities. AbilityFirst has over 450 staff members, 13 centers/programs, strong governance, and extensive marketing capabilities.
With more than 50 years of experience in Pasadena, FVO Solutions (formerly known as Foothill Vocational Opportunities) is one of the most innovative nonprofit organizations serving people with developmental disabilities by providing vocational opportunities through social enterprise. With approximately 30 staff members and deep operational expertise, FVO Solutions runs a production facility with a variety of job and training opportunities for individuals with developmental disabilities.
SOLUTION: Envision Consulting was engaged by AbilityFirst and FVO Solutions in late 2018 to facilitate the strategic restructuring exploration process. We started by forming a “design committee” representing both organizations to lead the exploration. Then we conducted a comprehensive survey with both boards to understand goals and motivations for a possible strategic restructuring, candid perspectives on strengths and weaknesses, and potential issues that might hinder an agreement. By facilitating a discussion about the survey findings with the design committee, we were able to kickstart a transparent and productive process.
The next phase involved due diligence assessments for each organization across the categories of governance, programs, financials, fundraising, human resources, and operations. To prepare our assessments and recommendations, we reviewed hundreds of documents and conducted stakeholder interviews. Each organization reviewed their respective due diligence reports first with Envision, which provided the opportunity for organizational growth and development, even if a strategic restructuring was not pursued. Then we “swapped” reports and helped each organization better understand the other’s current situation, as well as where the opportunities and potential issues might arise through a partnership.
By spring 2019, AbilityFirst and FVO Solutions were ready to move forward with negotiating conditions for a merger, and then both boards of directors voted to engage attorneys and take steps to formalize the partnership. This concluded the first phase of “exploration.”
From June 2019 – February 2020, Envision worked with AbilityFirst and FVO Solutions on implementation planning (the second phase of the NSI engagement). Our work included facilitating the merger implementation committee, planning and implementing communications, updating the new organizational chart and key job descriptions, conducting compensation comparisons, preparing merger impact fundraising analysis, creating and supporting fund development action plan with current and potential funders/donors, and supporting local government approvals. Meanwhile, attorneys for each organization conducted additional legal due diligence to support the vetting and approval process.
OUTCOMES: The merger agreement between AbilityFirst and FVO Solutions was finalized in February 2020, and it was approved by the state in May 2020. AbilityFirst continues to work through long-term merger integration in order to fully realize the potential benefits of joining forces.
The long-term goals for the merger are to offer innovative, person-centered employment opportunities to more individuals with developmental disabilities in the Pasadena area, while also building internal capacity and increasing operational efficiencies.
Asian American Journalists Association (AAJA)
CHALLENGE: The Asian American Journalists Association (AAJA) is membership organization with 20 chapters internationally. Their mission is to advance diversity in newsrooms, ensuring fair and accurate coverage of communities of color. AAJA retained Envision Consulting to conduct an assessment and provide recommendations for improving the financial sustainability and impact of their signature Executive Leadership Program (ELP), which has a 20-year track record of training and developing media industry professionals.
SOLUTION: Envision Consulting developed a comprehensive assessment, which included producing an online survey for program alumni to gather insights about value proposition and perceived impact, challenges associated with participation in the program, willingness to pay, pricing model, and feedback on maximizing program value. We conducted extensive interviews with program alumni, current and potential funders, potential program participants, as well as current and potential employers that sponsor program participants – and compiled a robust report on value and impact of the program, pricing and ways to increase relevance for the industry. We also conducted a competitors analysis to benchmark value proposition, pricing, revenue models and marketing.
OUTCOMES: Our deliverable to AAJA was an assessment report, recommendations and timeline, as well as financial modeling that outlined a potential sustainable path forward for the program. In addition to the strategic benefit of the project, the organization reported that stakeholders appreciated the opportunity to provide input on the future direction of the program. Feedback and findings from the assessment are also being used to inform the future direction and marketing of the program.
Dress for Success Worldwide-West
CHALLENGE: Dress for Success’ regional office in Los Angeles was struggling to gain significant prominence and sustainable funding after four years of operations. The hard-working and talented staff saw their efforts plateauing and needed to figure out how to get to the next level of growth.
SOLUTION: The West Coast office needed West Coast leadership! Because it operates under the umbrella of Dress for Success Worldwide in New York, Dress for Success Worldwide-West doesn’t have a separate Board of Directors with fiduciary responsibilities. But it needed connectors, door openers, influencers and friends on the ground in Los Angeles to help realize its strategic goals.
Suzanne Elliott developed a charter for the West Coast Advisory Council that outlined the purpose, roles and responsibilities, and guidelines for membership. Then we recruited 15 senior executive women from a range of industries (entertainment, PR/marketing, law, finance, etc.) who were passionate about the Dress for Success mission and excited to be ambassadors for the organization in Los Angeles and beyond. Some of the new Advisory Council members were existing Dress for Success volunteers or donors, some were recommended by early Advisory Council members, and others were completely new to the organization. Suzanne also led on-boarding for new Advisory Council members and initial group meetings.
OUTCOMES: Six months after the first Advisory Council meeting, the group has become a wealth of resources, connections and outreach. The early accomplishments of the Advisory Council include:
- Offered strategic insights on programs, real estate, marketing and PR
- Helped double attendance and revenue at the organization’s annual Empower Breakfast
- Provided graphic design services on a pro bono basis
- Connected Dress for Success to over 30 new corporate contacts
- Introduced junior colleagues to Dress for Success’ young professionals group
- Represented Dress for Success as speakers at industry and community events
- Assumed leadership roles for upcoming fundraising events
“The Advisory Council is the cornerstone for our continued growth and success in Los Angeles,” said Joi Gordon, CEO of Dress for Success Worldwide. “Suzanne helped to bring together the right people and give them the structure, inspiration and encouragement to make things happen.”
The Pablove Foundation
CHALLENGE: As a new and growing organization, The Pablove Foundation recognized their need for an executive team member who could see the big picture across the development and marketing departments. The organization also needed someone who could promote a culture of high performance and provide feedback, support and training to develop staff.
SOLUTION: After assessing the organization’s structure and needs, Envision Consulting helped The Pablove Foundation create the Vice President of Development and Communications position, which would focus on leading the organization’s fundraising and communications efforts to further achieve its mission. Additionally, this position would be charged with creating and refining a strategic communications and development plan.
OUTCOMES: From candidate recommendations based on Envision Consulting’s sourcing and recruiting, The Pablove Foundation hired Bart Verry as Vice President of Development and Communications. Bart has been in the development field for 17 years in Southern California, having worked for a variety of organizations such as Global Green USA, Make-A-Wish Foundation, Los Angeles LGBT Center, and AIDS Project Los Angeles. Bart’s experience brings a new level of sophistication to Pablove, particularly with inter-departmental stewardship.
Dubnoff Center for Child Development
CHALLENGE: In February 2011, the Dubnoff Center for Child Development projected a $400,000 loss for the fiscal year due to a reliance on government contracts and falling enrollments in the Day School. An independent financial audit confirmed this projection and further estimated significant cash shortfalls within months that threatened to halt agency operations and programs.
Immediate actions were taken, including administrative pay cuts and furloughs. However, projections remained weak and the agency was forced to draw down the entire line of credit ($150,000) to keep programs running.
Envision Consulting was contracted directly by the Board of Directors to perform a two-week analysis on the revenues, fundraising and internal operations of the Dubnoff Center to ascertain both the causes for the financial situation and to make recommendations to avoid possibly agency closure.
SOLUTION: Envision Consulting spent a full day at the Center learning background information, touring facilities and interviewing the CEO/President and other key staff. We also analyzed documents and data to fully understand the agency’s past and current situation.
We proposed four viable, strategic options to address the Dubnoff Center’s financial hardships:
- Agency acquisition/merger
- Partial agency closure
- Community center transformation
- Programming growth with focus on autism
We also proposed the following initiatives to strengthen the agency’s operations:
- Increasing volunteer driven projects
- Gaining earned income through facility leasing
- Creating compelling programming to attract new donors
- Outsourcing certain operational functions
- Introducing community engaging events for agency awareness
OUTCOMES: Following recommendations by Envision Consulting, the Board of Directors opted to pursue acquisition and merger partnerships while engaging Envision to act as Interim CEO.
During the 15 months of interim engagement, we helped the agency achieve:
- A successful merger and acquisition
- Reduction in expenses (22% administration and 13% overall)
- Beautification and enhancement of facility for community use through significant repairs and equipment additions
- New funding from grants, direct mail campaign and small fundraising event yielding more than $125,000 and an additional $75,000 from facility rental contracts