Common Threads needed help. A nonprofit focused on teaching children, especially those in low-income communities, how to purchase, eat, and cook healthy foods by working with schools, teachers, and families, the organization wanted to diversify its revenues so as not to be too dependent on grants and donations.
As a result, Common Threads decided to ask clients to help pay for its nutrition programs. “Most of the schools we work with now, which is about several hundred across the country, receive our services for free,” says Holly Raymond, CFO of the nonprofit. “We need to make them see the value of the program and agree to pay for a part or all of it.”
But how? For help with its marketing and financial strategies, Common Threads turned to Babson’s Management Consulting Field Experience (MCFE) program, which partners students with organizations seeking business advice. The challenge appealed to five undergraduates who all knew each other from having held executive positions in a professional fraternity for business majors: Christina Gee and Anamaria Najera, both ’17, signed up first and then told Gabrielle Mosher, Nicole Sun, and Megan Tsai, all ’16, about the project. Alfredo Keri, MBA’16, came on board as team leader to guide the undergraduates.
“We realize how important the group dynamic is to the success of a project,” says Tsai of her team. “You’re submitting your work to a real company, with professional people who will take you and your recommendations seriously. This brings real pressure and pushes you to do something that you’re going to be proud of. This is not just a grade.”
After talking with Common Threads to understand its mission and goals, the team gathered mid-semester to present their preliminary findings via a video conference. Social media marketing played a prominent role in the team’s recommendations to help constituents—schools, parents, funders, and culinary experts—understand the nonprofit’s value. Suggestions included enchancing search engine optimization of the nonprofit’s Facebook page with the help of volunteers, asking them to tag photos, for example. Twitter was discussed as useful for broadcasting real-time, quick bursts of information, which followers could be encouraged to retweet. The team also suggested hosting a weekly event on Instagram, which they named “Savor Sunday,” and using it to upload new culinary information for communities as a way to keep users involved.
The team created a pricing model to help the organization determine how much a school could pay. They also proposed using the price generated by the model as a starting point for discussions— not a hard-and-fast number—to encourage schools to participate.
Other suggestions included asking parents to help sustain the program at their schools and engaging them as volunteers who can help teachers. Also, the team recommended reaching out to local culinary experts, especially restaurant chefs, to form relationships in which the program and experts promote each other.
“The project has been a huge learning experience,” says Tsai. “The MCFE program is not for someone who isn’t internally motivated. We have all learned how to keep the end goal in sight and define the steps necessary to get there. The experience has taught me how to handle my schedule, manage stress, and stay on track. It’s been great working together for a common goal.”
Common Threads enjoyed working with the team as well, says Raymond. “They’re so positive and bring such a different outlook,” she says. “They have fresh, new ideas. Their energy, intelligence—it’s been amazing.”—Sharman Andersen