When Melissa Williams lived in San Francisco, she began volunteering with a group called Community Partners, using skills she learned at the Harvard Business School to help nonprofit organizations on a pro bono basis. When she moved to Chevy Chase in the summer of 2000, she found no such program in the Washington area. So, she started her own.

Williams, 35, now serves as executive director of Compass, www.compassdc.org, a group of volunteer consultants with master's of business administration degrees. The MBAs lend their services to local nonprofits that need help with everything from putting together a board of directors to doing market research to developing a funding strategy. The volunteers wind up spending time over the course of six to eight months with the executive directors of the groups.

"The most rewarding thing is using our specific skills and expertise to help the community and really help nonprofits take themselves to the next level,"Williams says. "A lot of projects we do are things that would otherwise go undone. The people in the nonprofit community are so talented and passionate about what they do, it really gives me a charge."

Williams and her husband, Frank, who works for the Advisory Board Company, a membership organization researching health care practices, also give in other ways. They set up a fund at the Community Foundation and use the money to support a variety of local charities and nonprofits, including Miriam's Kitchen, Bread for the City, So Others Might Eat and City Year Washington, DC, an AmeriCorps program. "We're fortunate enough to have money to put aside for that," Williams says.

"We're all on this planet together, and as individuals we have to take an interest in what's going on around us in our communities. It's feeling a sense of ownership of this community."

-- Andrea Caumont

Melissa Williams's group, Compass, provides volunteer MBA consultants to "help nonprofits take themselves to the next level."