Since 2016, United Way of Central Carolinas has expanded its support of local nonprofit organizations to include smaller, grassroots agencies led by people of color. This initiative, known as Unite Charlotte, has provided more than 50 organizations with funding and capacity-building training to help them increase their impact and achieve long-term stability. However, providing these agencies with volunteer support has been more complicated.
Because these agencies were smaller and typically early in their life cycles, many didn’t have the bandwidth to utilize volunteers on an episodic basis. They needed volunteers who could offer more consistency, and more customized support to address agency-specific needs. With this objective in mind, United Way met with Accenture, a professional services company specializing in information technology services and business consulting, to explore solutions.
“As Accenture and United Way of Central Carolinas were discussing partnership options, we thought about what each organization brought to the table,” said Christina Murtaugh, Accenture manager. “For Accenture, we can provide teams of people, all with different skillsets and areas of expertise, to solve business problems. Unite Charlotte provides small, grassroots organizations a runway to develop business and organizational capacity to expand impact in our communities. Combining these two was an opportunity to bring our best together for the community.”
Sam Smith, Jr., United Way of Central Carolinas director of external engagement, saw the partnership of Unite Charlotte executive directors and Accenture volunteers as a potential game-changer for the agencies. “We provide our grantees with a lot of training to help them operate as a nonprofit,” he said. “But Accenture can teach them how to operate as a business. It’s a wonderful complement to United Way’s menu of agency supports.”
The program that Accenture and United Way co-created involved pairing teams of five to eight volunteers with executive directors of a handful of agencies. Over the course of ten weeks, they worked together to identify, understand and provide solutions to issues that were hampering the agency’s growth. The team approach, as opposed to one-on-one engagement, was a key component of the program.
“Given the breadth of specialties, industry knowledge and skills that Accenture employees have,” said Madison Hensley, Accenture management consultant, “a group-based model allows for well-rounded perspectives and solutions to collaborate with our partners.”
Courtnie Coble, the founder and CEO of The Academy of Goal Achievers, agreed that it was helpful for Unite Charlotte grantees to work with a group. “The team approach was awesome because the process was very streamlined,” she said. “It allowed more individuals to bring their expertise to the experience.”
While United Way connected with agencies interested in participating, Accenture recruited its volunteer teams. “We used a variety of channels to push out requests through local office programming, promoting to local account teams, advertising through Employee Resource Groups, direct support through local leadership and word of mouth,” said Hensley. “By the time we kicked off, we had gathered local Charlotte volunteers, volunteers from other regions and even international volunteers.”
One of those Charlotte-based volunteers was Nick Stoneburg. He said that the chance to work with a local organization was appealing to him. “For me, I am often not working with clients within the Charlotte Metro region,” he said. “But I find [volunteering] to be an important aspect of supporting the community I live and work in. This was a tangible way for me to use my consulting background to help support and transform a growing nonprofit in our area.”
For The Academy of Goal Achievers, whose mission is to develop youth leaders and prepare high school students and their parents for post-secondary education and careers, a barrier to growth was the need to increase capacity for training Career Coaching volunteers. Through the Accenture program, the group was able to create a Career Coach Playbook that standardized the training for those Coaches.
“The Accenture team was able to help us flush out our Career Coach framework for our volunteers,” said Coble, who founded The Academy in 2015. “This will allow us to train volunteers and ensure they have ample resources at their fingertips to be effective in their integral role. Now we can serve more students who may not want to participate in our mentoring program, but would prefer our Career Coach program.”
As is the case with many volunteer experiences, there is a lasting impact not only for the recipient agency, but also for the volunteer. “I was able to develop a new perspective for the challenges that are on the forefront of our community leaders’ minds,” said Stoneberg. “One particular experience that shaped the way I spent our 10 weeks together, was from one of our first calls. Our agency partner CEO had arrived a few minutes late, but had just gotten off the phone with community members who were processing a tragedy that had happened the night before. He shared this story and how it impacted how he would focus his week, but it ultimately impacted how I entered into the work we had ahead of us. It was important to create a plan forward, but it was certainly more important to be empathetic and compassionate to ensure we capture this essence into who they hope to be in the next few years as a nonprofit.”
Both United Way and Accenture are looking forward to the continuation of this volunteer program, and enhancing the impact of dozens of additional small nonprofits. According to Murtaugh, “Accenture’s corporate citizenship approach is evolving to expand our impact in the communities we live. The historical model of one-off volunteer events created point in time impacts. Where we want to grow is longer term investments.”
This story was included in a Charlotte Business Journal special section highlighting corporate volunteerism, printed in April 2022.