First Alumni Impact Partners program assists Chicago-area nonprofits

Author: Christine Cox

Josephinum Academy
Josephinum Academy

From a Mendoza perspective, it was a trifecta: helping those in need, bonding with fellow Domers and using business expertise to take a bite out of a big challenge. In fact, the inaugural round of the Alumni Impact Partners program launched in May was so successful, a second round is in the works.

Sponsored by the Graduate Alumni Relations Office, the program invited Chicago-area Mendoza alums, both graduate and undergraduate, to work in teams on long-term projects for three nonprofits: Catholic Charities of the Archdiocese of Chicago, the Josephinum Academy and Horizons for Youth. Teams were expected to log around 100 hours on each project’s life span, from May to November.

Nonprofit organizations who are interested in submitting a project for consideration for the 2015 ND Impact Partners initiative can apply online until January 18. Alumni applications will be available in early February.

“The opportunity to bring my skills to bear for an organization that I believe in so strongly, along with other fellow Mendoza alums, was too good to pass up,” said Adam Skibley (BBA ’02), who volunteered to assi st Catholic Charities of Chicago with a strategy to increase corporate engagement and sponsorship. “I was already a volunteer with Catholic Charities, and this seemed like a great opportunity to increase my impact.”

Adam Skibley
Adam Skibley

To achieve their mission, Skibley and the other members of the volunteer consulting team had to gain a deep understanding of the organization’s relationships with corporations. In addition to gathering reports and other data, they exhaustively and formally interviewed Catholic Charities board and staff and conducted external competitive benchmarking of similar organizations in the area.

In the end, the team presented to a diverse group of Catholic Charities representatives, including Monsignor Michael Boland, president and CEO of Catholic Charities of the Archdiocese of Chicago.

Skibley said he was surprised by the amount of time the project took and, even more, by the rewards of assisting Catholic Charities. “I typically spent about five hours per week on the project, and in the end our team devoted hundreds of hours to it,” he said. “But it was fantastic to have the opportunity to meet many passionate people from the Catholic Charities board and staff, and it was truly inspiring to hear so many great stories about how the organization helps so many people in Chicago every day.

“All of the time and energy we poured into the project truly became a reflection of our desire to help the organization further grow and thrive.”

Christina Raddi Vasta, director of donor relations at Catholic Charities, called the alumni team exceptional. “This experience more than met our expectations,” she said. “Like all nonprofit organizations, we are all working so hard just to maintain our programs that it is difficult to get to the next level. This project helped us understand where our priorities should be, what resources we need to focus on and what other nonprofit organizations are doing better or more efficiently than we are.”

Melissa Miller (EMBA ’09) worked on the Josephinum team to develop a strategy to help the girls school grow and diversify its student body. “We delivered a revised vision statement and an action plan,” she said. “We also are currently working on an extended project by working with various groups to do a SWOT [strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats] analysis to help further guide the Academy.”

A graduate of Saint Mary’s College, Miller had a natural affinity for Josephinum and its mission of educating girls. Not only did she find the experience rewarding, but her team also received excellent feedback. “They seem to appreciate the work we've done and agree with our proposal,” she said. “We delivered our recommendations to the board, and we were met with some pushback, which is natural. As a result, we are working on some additional analysis.”

Jenny Driscoll (BBA ’99) volunteered with Horizons for Youth, which provides scholarships, mentoring and programs to children from low-resource areas of Chicago. “We helped create a marketing campaign to celebrate their 25th anniversary in 2015,” she said. “We made recommendations regarding HFY's logo and mission, conducted interviews and did competitive research, and prepared comprehensive email, Facebook and YouTube marketing plans.

“They really seem to appreciate the work we did for them,” she added. “Our marketing plan was intended to be actionable, so we anticipate some follow up phone calls to discuss the recommendations in more detail the closer we get to launch in August. Our team has also offered our services to help them execute parts of the plan if they need it.”

Skibley urges interested alumni to sign up for the next round of Alumni Impact Partners. “Six months is a long time for a volunteer engagement of this magnitude, so you have to make sure your passion and your heart are into it,” he said. “And if this is the right thing for you, it’s a tremendous experience.” Alumni applications will be available in early February.