How Professional Skills Can Make a Difference and Uplift Communities

Most of us can probably name nonprofit organizations that have enriched our lives and the lives of our loved ones. It could be the majesty of a National Park you visited; a local symphony performance that moved you; or a Girl Scout troop that taught your daughter about life and friends and the great outdoors. The impact of nonprofits can be powerful and long lasting.  

If we tried to imagine our cities and regions without them—it would feel like a significant loss. 

Back in 2012 when Propeller Consulting opened its first office in Portland, co-founders Amy Weeden and Jeff Foley determined that we’d set ourselves apart with a strong culture ethos and an actionable set of values. That original vision evolved into Propeller’s active engagement in our local communities through volunteerism and pro bono work.

Every year, Propeller looks for opportunities to keep the health and vibrancy of local nonprofits alive in the cities where our consultants live, work, and play—including Portland, OR; San Francisco, CA; Silicon Valley, CA; and Denver, CO.

Uplifting Nonprofits Through Virtual Mentoring


Uplift is what we call Propeller’s nonprofit partnership support program. It leverages the business acumen of our consultants to respond to the needs of these organizations. Our goal is to make a lasting impact through strategy, professional development, and direct service.

In February of this year, Propeller held an Uplift Virtual Mentoring Series, a two-week event that matched Propeller consultants with nonprofit partners. The goal was to help these exceptional nonprofits address some of their toughest, most urgent business challenges. We matched 20 of our consultants with 17 nonprofits, many of whom were feeling the downsides of a pandemic that changed work as they knew it and affected their operational health. 

“In an era of growing needs and shrinking government resources, nonprofits are being asked to do even more with less, placing additional strain on their already limited resources.” — The Aspen Institute

Propeller Helps Nonprofits Tackle Two Trending Business Challenges


When we reflected on the challenges these 17 nonprofits experienced, our consultants identified two common themes; the same trending business issues we see our for-profit clients working through.

Theme 1: Improving productivity and efficiency—sustainably


The impact of the pandemic affected corporate productivity in two different ways: some organizations experienced surges in productivity, while others experienced reductions. With employee burnout common in both the nonprofit and for-profit worlds, a new focus looks at how to inspire employees to do great work—sustainably. In fact, one of our nonprofit leaders had the goal of increasing work efficiency within their new remote work environment while living out her mantra for the year: “Doing Kickass Work Sustainably.”

Two of our consultants reflected on the productivity and efficiency work they did for two local nonprofits.    

Anne Horlacher: community bicycle access and repair
“I felt my greatest value add was helping the non-profit leader reframe what success looked like for both him and the business. We were then able to work together to design the operational processes he needed in place to help him realize those goals.” 

Maithreyi Shankar: food bank
“I was surprised by the care the food bank’s operations team showed towards others within their organization—as much as for the beneficiaries of the food bank. They are empowering and developing an internal, scalable team focused on the challenging work of merging regional entities now, for a big payoff in the years to come. It is inspiring to see this effort from a more established nonprofit in the area.” 


Theme 2: Scaling effectively in a remote/hybrid work environment


Figuring out how to effectively operate within a remote or hybrid work model is a challenge that impacts businesses of all sizes. For example, one organization we partnered with was on a multi-year growth trajectory to scale to greater than 100 locations within three to five years. They were actively navigating the challenges of identifying the rights tools, processes, systems, and practices to build a robust team culture in a remote/hybrid work environment.

Another organization needed help identifying operational and system solutions to support their growth from 15 to 25 locations within a remote/hybrid work environment.

Our consultants shared their insights—the same best practice approaches they use with clients—to help these nonprofits lay a critical foundation for a new way of working and growing. 

Alex Barra: children’s cancer organization 
“My extensive background in change management and cultural transformation allowed me to help this nonprofit return to what they value as an organization. We talked a lot about the pre-pandemic and post-pandemic impact on the organization. And we honed in on the values and norms they wanted to take with them moving forward, including creating a consistent experience across all the hospitals and making sure the team felt connected to each other. I am very touched by the work they do. I felt like if I could do anything to help them move the needle forward, I was all-in.”
Jenny Niec: children’s mentorship advocacy program 
“It was gratifying and inspiring to partner with a group of professionals doing such great work. The ideas I identified for them sparked “aha” insights and helped them prioritize improvements to their meeting collaboration, communication, and employee onboarding.” 

Conclusion

Propeller’s commitment to bringing the same level of dedication and know-how to the way we proactively reach out to our local nonprofits makes me proud to be a part of the Propeller family. Yes, the partnerships we create benefit these vital organizations, but they also connect us to something deeper; a desire to love our neighbors well through the sharing of our time and expertise. My fellow consultant Anne Horlacher said it best:

“I tend to have those reflective moments: who is my work helping? How am I contributing to the world? This in some small part is a way that I get to help somebody in a unique space.”

Are you a nonprofit wondering how Propeller can partner with you to solve some of your organization’s challenges? Maybe you’re curious what it could be like to work for a consulting firm that prioritizes the health and sustainability of these exceptional organizations. In both cases, we hope you’ll reach out to us!