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Nonprofits get free MBA professionals

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A pool of 30 local charities have been selected to receive the free business expertise of nearly 200 professional consultants. Through an organization called Compass, professionals holding MBAs are matched with selected nonprofits to map out strategies in fundraising, partnerships, board development and organizational planning.

Compass selects the business volunteers, which typically come from local consulting firms, through an application process, and assembles teams to parachute into a nonprofit for one or two years. The pro bono services are estimated to be worth about $130,000 each year.

The program enters its 11th year at a time when local charities are still struggling to rebound from the recession, when contributions fell sharply. Many firms cannot spare funds to hire consultants and other outside experts.

Take Wonders Child Care. In 2010, managers were at their wit’s end. Many of the day-care provider’s clients could no longer pay tuition because they had lost their jobs. The 36-year-old operation ran a deficit of $250,000, forcing it to close one of its ten locations.

“We just felt like we needed to bring in more big brains,” said Joanne Hurt, executive director of Wonders Child Care.

A board member heard about Compass through a friend, and the organization decided to apply.

The day-care nonprofit was accepted in 2011 and received a team of consultants who surveyed board members, staff, clients and local elementary school principals. They have analyzed the market and are now helping to develop a strategic plan for the nonprofit.

“The nonprofit world is different than the for-profit world,” said Kristalee Overdahl, a consultant and Compass project leader, “but the business principles are always the same.”

Some nonprofit leaders say they are worried about engaging outside help.

“Whenever you get involved with consultants, there’s always that concern of whether they are going to create more work than they help you with,” said Lisa Hayes, president and chief executive of the Accokeek Foundation, which will participate in the Compass program this year. “We’re finally at the point where we can see where more business savvy could be helpful for us.”

Compass officials say training is key to help business consultants adjust.

“We do a lot of training for the leaders and show them what its like to work at a nonprofit because the culture is so different,” said Suzanne Laporte, executive director of Compass.

Compass is still taking volunteer applications for 2012-2013. Applications are due October 10.

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