When she heard about BANC, Emilia DiMenco, President & CEO at the WBDC recognized the potential value in the opportunity, and wasn’t daunted by being the first project. Working closely with Roxanne Ward, Chief of Staff, the duo came up with several ideas for projects. To optimize strategic alignment and fit for BANC, the team landed on a project that tapped into Booth strengths for market analysis and strategic thinking. BANC consultants were tasked to assess how well the WBDC was meeting the needs of their evolving client base, and identify opportunities to enhance and improve the WBDC’s programs.
The WBDC strengthens women's participation and impact on the economy by providing programs and services to support and accelerate business development and growth. Their work fuels economic growth and builds strong communities, by:
- Filling gaps through advisory services, with 6,500+ hours of business consulting in FY20
- Fueling plans with capital through placement of debt and equity, and direct lending, with $1.9 million in capital infused into the community in FY20
- Certifying women-owned businesses to bid on contracts, and bringing together buyers and sellers, helping clients win $15 million in federal and corporate contracts in FY20
- Creating and retaining jobs, with 516 jobs in FY20
A nationally recognized leader in the field of women’s economic development, the WBDC was founded in 1986, is headquartered in Chicago, and serves a five-state Midwest region from eight locations in Illinois, Wisconsin, Minnesota, Missouri, and Kansas.
Supporting Women-Owned Companies of All Sizes
To form the BANC team, Gayle and Judy carefully assessed the skills required to support the project objectives, and selected individuals who closely matched the unique needs, while providing a diverse range of perspectives and experience. The team included five consultants and a project leader, Evan Trent. With deep professional expertise across domains including marketing, consumer research, general management, and finance, the group was comfortable with large data sets, designing surveys, conducting interviews, and developing insights.
As it grew, the WBDC served a wider spectrum of women-owned companies across industries, size and scale. To understand client needs and evaluate the value and impact of the WBDC’s services, the BANC team started with a large-scale email survey to clients certified as Women’s Business Enterprises. With hundreds of responses from engaged clients, the survey pointed to high-level themes, as well as specific feedback on the type of content that would be most valuable, and how, when, and how often clients wanted content delivered.
Based on the preliminary findings, the team then created a qualitative interview guide to dig deeper. They provided criteria for the type of clients they wanted to talk to in person to further validate needs and refine thinking about different unique segments. While fielding the emailed survey, the team also reviewed the website and marketing materials to see how the WBDC projects itself to the market. The interviews would capture the client perspective; that is, how the messaging and value proposition were reflected in how clients experience it. In the conversations the team explored what the WBDC means to the client, the nature of their relationship, perception as a trusted partner, gaps and opportunities in the WBDC’s education programs, and more. The BANC team conducted 12 in-depth interviews, working in pairs, and shared their insights and learnings with the team to help formulate recommendations for improving the content of the WBDC’s workshops and offerings.
Supported by a wealth of new primary research data, the BANC team brought an objective perspective to identify unique segments within the WBDC’s client base. By assessing client needs based on different characteristics of the client organizations, the BANC team was able to gain new understanding of specific needs associated with different types of organizations. After considering different segmentation options, the team landed on the key finding: there was a vast difference between $1M and $10M businesses, marked by very different needs and values. Smaller organizations getting off the ground were very actively engaged with the WBDC and found it very helpful. General business and best practice support met their needs. They didn't need industry specific content. However, the larger the businesses, the lower the perception of value delivered by the WBDC. As businesses got larger, they valued the WBDC certification but had outgrown other resources, leading to a more transactional relationship. As project manager, Evan summed it up, “the key questions became: how does the WBDC stay relevant as clients propel from small to larger scale organizations? How do they provide day-to-day value for more established businesses?”
As a result, BANC recommended that the WBDC view their clients in two distinct segments, offering new services to grow along with its clients, with education and support to meet needs that matured as businesses grew larger. More specifically, they had an opportunity to evolve to meet the needs of the higher end of the segment ($5M+) to better support the growing client base. Based on the research, conversations, and industry experience, the team proposed ideas for services the WBDC could offer to larger organizations, such as group purchasing vendor relationships, support for complex banking relationships, and audit service information.
Today, the WBDC offers unique education and support to address challenges faced by startup and emerging businesses, as well as separate, distinct services that help established women-owned businesses grow and thrive.
Impactful Work, Recommendations and Process
The WBDC was very excited by the recommendations from the BANC team. The insights enhanced focus on certified women’s business owners and the need to leverage and build the relationships. The work also validated and confirmed thinking to move the organization and board forward.
The WBDC appreciated the result of the project — and found the process of working with BANC to be both productive and rewarding. As a nonprofit, they acknowledge that they couldn’t afford to buy the quality of work delivered by the BANC team.
Emilia commented on the unique value of working with BANC: “The BANC work was all about us — helping us to achieve our mission. With a dedicated pool of sharp minds, and a skill set uniquely driven by and matched to project requirements, the work helped us have greater clarity, focus, and buy-in on priorities. I don’t believe we could have moved forward with the same pace and confidence without recommendations from the BANC team.”
Roxanne highlighted the strengths of the team: “Having a team of dynamos with varying perspectives was unparalleled. The BANC team brought competency beyond compare, professionalism, and dogged determination to plan, schedule and keep to the schedule. They appeared to enjoy and truly invest in what they were trying to do.”
A BANC consultant on the WBDC project and a BANC Steering Committee member, Sujatha Shenoy added, “I believe our work with the WBDC really shows how BANC added significant value to a nonprofit. BANC consultants came in as outsiders and were able to get the businesses to talk to us in a frank manner. We had the bandwidth to interview a broad cross section of the WBDCs clients. They trusted that their comments were confidential and could tell BANC things they weren't able to tell the WBDC directly.”
Enhancing How the WBDC Prioritizes Volunteer Resources
The WBDC is fortunate – many people want to work with their clients, and they receive regular offers from volunteers who want to support their mission. They receive far more offers than they can accept.
The experience with BANC helped the WBDC appreciate that there are volunteers that can provide deep business value, without burdening the organization. It helped their leaders identify more effective ways to screen potential volunteers. As a result: they are more thoughtful and intentional about finding the right opportunity and right people to do it. And, they are able to optimize time and resources by turning down offers that aren’t the right fit.
Advice for Nonprofits
Emilia and Roxanne shared their tips for nonprofits who may be considering pro bono consulting resources. Their top recommendation: “Don’t miss out on this amazing opportunity. There is no downside; it’s incomparable and invaluable.” They also highlighted a few additional things to know:
- It’s not hard to bring BANC on board. While you may think it’s necessary to invest a lot of time onboarding and supporting the team, they don’t require a lot. BANC does an incredible job matching the project needs to the skills of the project team, and offers an abundance of talent specific to project needs that minimizes the onboarding.
- The model is seamless and easy. BANC projects are led by project leaders who move work forward, supported by a clear agenda with a strong cadence of meetings and project management. Dedicated hours are given to the project, and they stay on target to the timeline with a definite start and stop.
BANC consultants are accomplished professionals who want to do this. They aren’t doing this to pad their resume.
- Outside business experts can help. Nonprofit leaders shouldn’t view bringing in consultants as a weakness. Consultants and people outside your space can bring skills and perspective to help clarify and solve real nonprofit issues. Trust that they can bring unique expertise and a passion to help you refine and achieve your goals.
Back to BANC, Again and Again
With 24 completed projects, 132 consultants, and delivered services that equate to $2 million of value, BANC is going strong. Consultants seek to work on multiple projects, and nonprofits seek BANC work, again and again.
“ For Booth alum with a passion for social enterprise, BANC provides a truly unique opportunity to get involved. You meet and bond with a diverse group of Booth alumni over a shared purpose and goal, collaborate closely with nonprofit leaders, and get hands on with day-to-day decision making. The experience can complement participation on boards or executive coaching, and be rewarding for the relationships you build and the tangible value you deliver to the client.”
- Evan Trent, Project Leader
WBDC was so delighted with the process and results, they sought BANC for a second, more quantitative project. In 2017, BANC helped the WBDC assess and recommend ways to expand its direct lending program. The new team reviewed the WBDC’s current lending program and operations; and assessed the involved, and the structure and process required to become a Small Business Administration (SBA) micro lender. As a result, the team confirmed that the WBDC should do it, and how, including helping get the WBDC Board more comfortable with the regulations to become a lender as a community development financial institution (CDFI).
“The formation of BANC is a real boon for the nonprofit world. After each project, it was so rewarding to celebrate with the BANC team and see how engaged and genuinely happy the consultants were with the contributions they made.”
“If BANC would do it, we would ask them to work with us every year — and could keep them busy for the next ten years.” ”