Bayer Center - Consulting
In 20 years of service to the nonprofit community, the Bayer Center has completed over 2,000 consulting engagements.
Our consulting clients include human service, arts, faith-based, community development, environmental and education organizations with budgets ranging from $100,000 or less to more than $50,000,000.
Our intensive and customized Management, Governance, and Financial consulting services are designed to educate leaders and have resulted in:
- Higher functioning governing Boards
- Enhanced financial planning and management
- Increased partnerships and strategic alliances
- More effective approaches to fundraising
- Better informed, evidence-based decisions for future directions
- More capable nonprofit leaders and organizations
- Effective management information systems
- Heightened brand awareness
- A strategic approach to decision-making
Management, Governance and Financial Consulting
Our general consulting is focused on the practical. We always have Peter Drucker's question, "What are you going to do on Monday?" in the back of our minds - because we believe in action, not theory. Here are just some of the areas in which our consulting services may be helpful for you.
Strategic planning, fundraising, marketing and communications, business planning, human resources, collaborations and mergers...the list goes on and on. At the Bayer Center, we approach management consulting holistically creating a plan to serve your needs, not to fit some predefined format.
Whether for brief engagements like BoardsWork!, or more extensive projects to remake boards or position your organization for succession, our experience as board members and board advisors will help you create a more effective nonprofit.
Whether you need better reporting or want help managing your budget and funds more efficiently, our decades of real-world business expertise will assist you in creating a more solid financial operation.
Consulting, with us, is a collaboration. We're partners in whatever you want to accomplish. We'll walk beside you on the pathway to even more effective management.
But don't worry, if you're facing a crisis or going in a direction that really concerns us, we won't hesitate to tell you what we think. We measure our consulting success by your positive change.
In our case studies, take an inside look at a variety of organizations' challenges and how we helped them overcome them. Although these case studies are based on our real consulting engagements, we have changed names and identifying details to preserve our clients' confidential information.
- Program Planning for a Human Services Organization
After a leader’s exit, the program needed to make cuts to survive. The Bayer Center helped them make tough decisions – allowing them to rebuild even stronger.
The client, the local affiliate of a national nonprofit organization, came to the Bayer Center under significant stress. Their long-term director had left the organization to attend to a family emergency, leaving unresolved financial issues. In addition, the organization had recently merged with another organization, and the abrupt leadership change had impacted the successful progression of the merger – indeed, many board members had resigned, carrying with them their subject expertise and institutional history. The organization needed help managing the present and preparing for the future and it needed it now!
Bayer Center staff sat down with senior staff and the interim director to consider what would stabilize the situation. The conversations surfaced an immediate need for program planning. Each of the merged organization’s 14 existing programs served a cherished population, but the short-term financial picture dictated cuts. How could the organization make decisions about reducing services in a way that honored their values, client needs and their staff investments, and also maximized their potential to rebuild?
Bayer Center consultants facilitated a board meeting that identified principles to help justify change (including investing adequate resources in a sustainable future and retaining as many staff as possible) Together, the organization and the Bayer Center also prepared the story of each program’s financial sustainability.
The Bayer Center gathered key decision makers to classify programs by their match with core values and needs as well as their financial performance. Some programs had enough strength to anchor the organization through the transition, and others needed a decision to either build or get out. Programs that were financially weak but mission-central would be retained so growing programs could subsidize them. The complete picture provided a concrete basis to justify investment of staff time and resources in some programs, and decisions to de-fund others.
Extensive and thoughtful communication is an integral part of any change initiative. Bayer Center consultants helped prepare communications and facilitate meetings with staff that gave space for their concerns and questions.
One critical early win from this process was to provide a common shared data pool and space for decision-making. The turmoil in upper management had masked the severity of the financial situation. Once the board realized the importance of short-term decisions to the long-term viability of the organization, they were able to focus their energy and unite behind necessary critical actions.
The program planning exercise provided a way to look at a number of factors simultaneously and find the correct balance between them. Ultimately, it provided justification for giving away two programs to partners who were more able to support them and making other cuts. The program handoff minimized impacts for clients by providing continuity of service, and the trimming gave the organization the financial space it needed to regroup. It also provided the basis for a longer-range strategic plan that laid out goals for rebuilding and eventual program growth.
At the time of the intervention, there was a significant operating deficit. The organization was able to make and justify the difficult decisions that kept it viable. A year afterwards, it was operating with a healthy surplus, more unity in their programs, and a staff that was unified behind them.
- Direction-Setting Process for a Community-based Organization
Swinging the Compass! An organization needed a renewed sense of direction. It ended up with a clear sense of its purpose – both for staff and board and to share with the outside world.
The organization was justifiably proud of its history in the community, serving as the voice of local business interests for over 110 years. However, this volunteer-driven organization found itself with little wind in its sails. The board was having trouble retaining part-time administrative help, and there were few clear benefits to paid membership, which constituted its economic engine. Members were weary of board meetings that seemed to have more minutiae (where should we hang holiday decorations?) than meaning. They had recently bid to be absorbed by a larger and more powerful community based organization, but the other organization wasn’t clear there was enough added value to justify the effort. They were asked to conduct a capacity assessment and strategic planning process before any final decision.
Board members came to the Bayer Center requesting help in refocusing on their mission, vision, and in increasing community engagement.
No organization exists in isolation, so the Bayer Center frequently begins with an assessment or “environmental scan”. This process helps a group step out of the immediate presenting issues (how can we develop enough value to be a good candidate for merging?) into a clearer view of the whole picture. Through interviews and document review, Bayer Center consultants collected information that would help the organization see itself and the current community context.
With that picture at their fingertips, board members could determine how to chart the course ahead. The Bayer Center facilitated three meetings with board members. The first allowed time to absorb information on the context, and the second was an opportunity to build on that information and generate a new mission and vision statement that captured their hopes and excitement for the work. These meetings helped define what the dedicated but exhausted group was not going to take on or discuss. During the third meeting, members identified three areas of focus and specific goals for their work.
Many boards, especially those with fresh talent, struggle to understand their roles as board members. In volunteer-led organizations board members often take on the work of the organization, which frequently increases role confusion. The meetings included exploration of board composition and responsibilities for a board in that kind of organization, sharing tools that would make it easier to develop agendas and keep meetings on a productive tack.
During the course of the meetings, the organization realized their mission had significant differences from the organization with whom they’d originally hoped to merge. The question shifted from “how do we rebuild ourselves as a candidate for merging?” to “what are our own organizational strengths and goals for the next era?”
Confident in its new mission and focused on a narrower area of impact, the organization has updated its programs, membership benefits and website, which now clearly reflects the value of paid membership, as well as newly-developed membership levels.
Feedback from a board member involved with the engagement concluded, “The Bayer Center helped us stay focused on our mission and primary goals.” With that direction determined, the organization has come out of the doldrums and is on its way.
- HR Improvement for a Faith-based Organization
The client needed a rational and up-to-date salary scale without triggering fear and resistance. The Bayer Center delivered on both objectives!
This faith-based organization, providing largely residential-based services with a staff of approximately 100, found itself facing a problem that had been building up gradually over time. Staff throughout the system had been hired at different pay rates and then had been given different percentages in their annual raises – meaning there was very little remaining connection between job descriptions and salaries. Senior staff realized that this had the potential to create increasing problems not merely with morale, but also equity. However, compensation adjustment is a sensitive matter. Leadership realized it would be useful to have external compensation data and third party support to create logic for resolving the problem and implementing changes, and they approached the Bayer Center for help.
The Bayer Center’s Executive Service Corps (ESC) program connects nonprofits to professionals with deep experience in human resources management. The ESC consultant for this project not only researched and provided a report of salary ranges for comparable jobs in comparable institutions (with help from the Bayer Center’s annual Wage and Benefits Survey), he also created a plan and a timeline for phasing in the necessary changes.
The organization’s project lead was nervous about the compensation study’s potential for generating conflict. She reported, however, that the ESC consultant’s thoughtful listening immediately put everyone at ease, and there was very little resistance to the recommendations that ultimately emerged. Delighted with the result, the same client immediately asked for a new contract with the same ESC consultant to overhaul their performance evaluation system, which was followed by work on board governance. She recently called the Bayer Center again indicating she was “trying to figure out some way to get that ESC consultant back!
- 501c3 Launch for a Youth-Serving Organization
The founders needed a long term way to sustain their mission. The Bayer Center helped them turn their program into an organization.
Two men, motivated by the large number of youth at risk in their neighborhood, began a program where adolescents could find options for healthy activity as well as a critical sense of home and belonging. Twenty years later they believed even more in the importance of this work – continuing to carve out approximately 30 hours every week from other commitments to keep it going - but knew something had to change before they burned out. Previously-attempted partnerships had left them without funding or credit for their successes, and they had decided they wanted to become an independent organization.
The founders had taken some initial steps, including successfully applying for 501c3 status. However, the intricacies of complying with rules and regulations, creating computer systems for managing money and data, and creating compelling communications felt overwhelming. They approached the Program to Aid Citizen Enterprise (PACE) which provides grants for capacity building for organizations with African-American leadership, and successfully applied for funding to support consulting through this transition. PACE matched the group with the Bayer Center.
As well as salaried staff, the Bayer Center’s Executive Service Corps (ESC) program gives nonprofits access to professionals with particular talents. The Bayer Center mobilized an ESC-based team for this project with a complementary set of skills – one consultant who had deep knowledge of planning, support services and the African-American community and another with business planning and financial management systems expertise.
The client needed more than a plan – they needed people who would be part of the team through the implementation phase, wrestling collaboratively with questions that emerged every step of the way. Over the next 9 months, the team worked through everything from budgeting to outcome tracking to donor messaging. Later, another ESC consultant provided technical assistance in QuickBooks and creating a chart of accounts.
The founders had created a program that was making a significant impact in children’s lives. What they needed was confidence and language that could communicate that value to others – a case for support with the kind of structure and rigor that funders use for decision-making. They also needed fundamental systems for their new independent organization. By the end of the consulting engagement, they were able to communicate and prove the full value of what they were doing for the youth, including not only the well-known central program but the mentoring and life skills that accompanied it.
While their initial application for program funding was disappointing, they proved in the next two years that they were indeed able to manage money carefully and deliver results, and were subsequently rewarded with a much larger grant from another funder. The organization successfully completed its ramp up to supporting a staff of three, and continues to meet a critical community need.
- Strategic Planning for a Youth Services Organization
The client needed upgrades to its governance, leadership and fundraising. The Bayer Center helped them transition in all three areas – now well-equipped for the future.
The client was a youth-serving nonprofit (among the largest in the state) with administrative headquarters and 3 regional offices. It had a longstanding history and wide community recognition as well as stable and successful leadership -an executive director who had served for 37 years and who had grown the organization’s budget by almost 30 million, as well as an energetic and visionary second-in-command.
However, the organization did not have a history of advance planning. They also were somewhat constrained by hierarchical decision-making and leadership structures. Its board, while filled with capable and gifted people, was largely following the executive director’s lead. Furthermore, its funding stream was almost entirely from government and needed diversification.
These issues were taking on increased urgency as the executive director was considering retirement. After discussion, the organization contracted with the Bayer Center for Nonprofit Management for a strategic planning process that would focus on these issues.
Bayer Center staff started the process with an assessment, which collects information from a variety of different perspectives in order to get a full and updated picture of the organization. Board members, staff and clients (children and families) participated in focus groups and one-on-one discussions. Because of the state-level profile of this organization, the lead consultant also interviewed a variety of top policy makers on their perceptions of the agency.
The picture that developed was somewhat unexpected. Before the assessment, the organization didn’t feel confident in its reputation at high levels – overly focused on any mediocre result. The assessment revealed both great concern over enormous needs for the target audience as well as huge confidence in the organization and a desire for it to take on much more.
As the planning process continued, board committees formed to guide progress towards key goals. Each goal had accompanying tasks, responsibilities, and timelines, which helped communicate expected progress as well as keep everyone accountable to results.
The project went through phases of consultant engagement, but maintained a strong connection over the course of 3 years. That allowed not only for the strategic planning process, but support and troubleshooting of the implementation stage.
Over the course of the contract, the executive director’s plans for transition, which had been on a frequently-shifting timeline, became firm. Both director and organization received support in navigating the difficult path through letting go, and navigating an internal promotion with integrity.
Board members shifted from passivity into true governance. The relationship between the board and director matured, becoming collaborative and transparent. The assessment work crystallized the organization’s understanding of their potential and possibilities waiting for their involvement. The intervention moved them from a place of strength to a place of power, with increased ability to vet opportunities according to strategic objectives, and to leveraging their talents for increased community outcomes.