Nonprofits Utilize Student Programs for Mission-Critical Projects

S3-proj-teamSavvy nonprofits tap into all the resources available to them. Those resources include the skills, passion, and energy of Berkeley-Haas MBA and other grad students. Nonprofit organizations can benefit from two major community-based programs; Berkeley Board Fellows (BBF) and Social Sector Solutions (S3), both of which are accepting applications.

The Berkeley Board Fellows program is, at it’s core, about board excellence. Selected nonprofits simultaneously meet a critical board need, and provide a learning environment for future board leaders. Two grad students join the board as non-voting members. They complete a project through a board committee and receive insight into board service from a mentor. The Social Sector Solutions program provides accessible management consulting to tackle complex, strategic questions for nonprofits. Consulting teams are guided by experienced faculty and aided by McKinsey & Company coaches.

  BBF   S3
  • 2 fellows serve jointly   • 5 person consulting team
  • Oct – May (8 hrs/month)   • January – May (15 weeks)
  • Located in the Bay Area   • Any location (incl. int’l)
  • Provides board member training   • Provides team coach
  • 30 nonprofits   • 10 nonprofits
  • Free   • Fee-based
Board members at financial management training.

BBF nonprofit partners at financial management training.

How Students Help the Nonprofits

In Berkeley Board Fellows, the two fellows serving on the board will lead a project as part of the board committee they attend. BBF projects fall into 1 of 4 categories: 

  1. Performance measurement/assessment
  2. Business strategy/planning
  3. Financial management
  4. Marketing

Some sample projects from past Fellowships include:

  • Research and analyze three earned income ideas to support core mission.
  • Determine appropriate pricing for 2 afterschool programs.
  • Develop social media strategy recommendations to increase effectiveness of the organization’s profile.
  • Develop a board member dashboard to compile and display data to track progress on a new strategic plan.

Social Sector Solutions projects can be in any area, but must be of key, strategic concern for the organization and “big enough” to fully engage a team of 5 for 15 weeks.

Some examples of previous Social Sector Solutions projects include:

  • Develop a national program expansion strategy.
  • 10-year program impact evaluation.
  • Brand evaluation and improvement recommendations.
  • Create a sustainable financial model for a program or organization.
Students brainstorming an S3 project.

Students brainstorming an S3 project.

Which program is right for you?

Having a hard time deciding which great program can best propel your nonprofit toward mission success? The key may lay in the type of project you have in mind. Try asking this question: If we are not accepted into one of these programs, who would be tasked with executing the project?

If the answer is “another board member“, Berkeley Board Fellows may be right for you.

If the answer is “an external consultant/firm“, Social Sector Solutions is probably a fit.


Raise Your Hand to Show Your Interest!

The success stories from both programs abound. You can read some of them on this blog by clicking on the Berkeley Board Fellows or Social Sector Solutions content tag.

Full Program details and applications can be found at the Berkeley Board Fellows or Social Sector Solutions program pages. Questions related to these programs can be directed to:

Berkeley Board Fellows: Cathy Garza at

Social Sector Solutions: Andrik Cardenas at

Student discussion a project plan.

Student discussing a project plan.


Social Sector Solutions: Experiential Learning with a Social Purpose

Acumen-teamEach year, 10 nonprofit organizations are chosen to participate in our experiential program, Social Sector Solutions (S3). Applications for these 10 slots are currently being accepted. Below is some background information which sheds some light on its mission, structure, and success.

apply-now-stickyQ: When the S3 program started, what was the need/opportunity you were responding to?

A: CSSL sees itself as a bridge between mission-driven organizations and leaders looking to use their business skills and expertise to have a positive social impact. Social Sector Solutions provided a vehicle that could meet the needs of these two groups. Nonprofit organizations get the passion, energy, and talent of a team of Cal graduate students, and the students get training from exceptional coaches and management consultant experience.

Q: How is the student team selected for each project?

A: Each consulting team has a CSSL hand-picked team lead. This is a student with previous management consulting experience and/or specific industry knowledge relevant to their project. The other team members fill out a questionnaire detailing their professional experience, personal projects, and other items. The 10 consulting teams are then assembled based on specific skills needed for each project in order to maximize the chances of success.


Q: Who are the key stakeholders (faculty members, practitioners, funds/investors, social change agents)?

A: The program is led and developed by Dr. Nora Silver, Faculty Director and Adjunct Professor at CSSL, and Paul Jansen, Adjunct Professor at Haas and Director Emeritus at McKinsey & Co. Their leadership, tireless dedication, and insight into the skills and experiences necessary to be a successful social sector consultant have shaped S3 into a program that delivers to both nonprofit clients and students.

S3 is funded by client fees, which are applied on a sliding scale based on the nonprofit organization’s budget. This ensures that there is buy-in and accountability on both sides of the program. The student consulting teams negotiate and sign off on the final deliverables, and the nonprofit clients dedicate appropriate executive-level resources to the project.

Q: What are the key focus areas for your program?

A: The 15-week program progresses like a traditional management consulting project. Students are provided with lectures, frameworks, and tools to help their project in its concurrent phase. For example, the first deliverable is a signed Scope of Work letter and the first class discusses how to negotiate a strong project Scope of Work. Later classes include nonprofit financial models, theory of change, consulting communications, and client management, each occurring when the topic is most relevant to the teams.

Q: What are the learning and career outcomes for your students?

A: We have a wide range of anecdotes detailing the positive impact S3 has on students’ lives. Our satisfaction rates for both nonprofit clients and consulting students are high. In 2015, we received an 88% “Yes” response to the question: Do you think that you have acquired the skills or tools needed to effectively serve as a social sector consultant?


Community Partner Spotlight – Cal Shakes

logo blueCalifornia Shakespeare Theater (Cal Shakes) is a 41-year-old nonprofit theater company with programming on stage, in classrooms, and with communities throughout the East Bay.

Cal Shakes attracts 45,000 audience members annually to its season of 100+ performances of Shakespeare, other classics, and new plays offered May through October at its outdoor amphitheater located in Orinda.

Through its bold, contemporary productions, and casual outdoor environment, Cal Shakes strives to defy preconceptions of Shakespeare and theater. Continue reading

Community Partner Spotlight – San Francisco Office of Financial Empowerment

sf ofe logoThe San Francisco Office of Financial Empowerment (SF OFE) helps the city’s lower-income residents gain greater financial security and enter the “financial mainstream.” A private-public partnership housed within the Office of City and County Treasurer José Cisneros, the SF OFE uses the strength and influence of the City Hall as well as of its nonprofit partners to help the City’s underserved communities access financial education and counseling, low-cost checking and savings accounts, college savings accounts, electronic pay solutions, responsible payday loans, and more. Continue reading

Faculty Spotlight – Cleveland Justis

Justis, Cleve_010Having been raised in a family of entrepreneurs, Cleveland Justis recognizes the power of entrepreneurial approaches to solving problems. In particular, he has been interested in the places where business, government, and nonprofits work together in entrepreneurial ways to solve problems and create opportunities, and has been working with the Center for many years to explore that interest. In the past, he has hosted two S3 teams and a Board Fellow and has spoken at a number of Haas classes, and currently, he teaches the Social Entrepreneurship course, an experience that he finds memorable.

“The students are so talented, motivated, and willing to engage in the material and with our guest speakers,” he said. “This semester we’ve had some high profile speakers and the students have engaged fully and asked thoughtful questions and, at times, respectfully challenge the speakers.”

Due to Haas students’ motivation, willingness to question the status quo, and passion for making the world a better place, Cleveland has seen numerous successful startups emerge from his classes.

“There’s nothing more fulfilling than seeing [my] students create a successful enterprise to solve a pressing problem,” he said.

Outside of the Center, Cleveland serves as the Board Chair of the Marin Community Foundation, one of the largest community foundations in the country. He believes that serving on the board allows him not only to bring in the lessons from philanthropy into the Social Entrepreneurship course, but also to put into practice what he and his students discuss in class.

Community Partner Spotlight – YMCA of San Francisco

ymcaYMCA of San Francisco

With a focus on youth development, healthy living, and social responsibility, the YMCA of San Francisco strives to nurture the potential of every youth, improves the bay area’s health and well-being, and provides opportunities to give back and support neighbors.  The YMCA of SF builds strong kids, strong families and strong communities by enriching the lives of all people in spirit, mind and body.

To achieve their mission, The YMCA of SF has embarked on reaching an ambitious Vision and in order to do so they knew that they needed an external analysis of both partnership and defined structure around what it means to be healthy.  They sought the expertise The Center for Nonprofit and Public Leadership and worked with two of the Center’s signature programs, Berkeley Board Fellows (BBF) and Social Sector Solutions (S3).

What is the YMCA of SF’s 2020 Vision?

“The healthiest children in America will live in the Bay Area, building the skills and habits for a healthy life, being empowered to reach their highest potential and make valuable contributions to society through the strength of the communities the YMCA of SF serves.”  Read more about the YMCA’s Vision as well as their 2014-2017 Strategic Plan.

Involvement with the Center

“We were fortunate enough to have two projects with the Center.  Both projects [were] very different but both heavily impacting the future of our work and future impact on the communities we serve”, states Marketing and Communications Executive, Jane Packer.

The Social Sector Solutions (S3) project also contributed to the Y’s strategic planning process by assisting the organization perform high level diagnostics of child health in the Bay Area, as well as identify priority areas for improvement. Because the YMCA is a complex organization with many partnership throughout the organization, its branch structure leads to local and city-wide partnerships which sometimes can overlap. The S3 analyzed this partnership landscape, which in turn led the YMCA of SF to a pilot collective impact initiative with its focus on “An Early Start to the Healthiest Self.” Through this initiative, the YMCA of SF could examine current and future partnerships to determine their fit. The S3 project, in creating the initiative, helped the organization understand the landscape of effort already underway in the Bay Area and that in order to be successful in collective impact, complementary partnerships are key.

The work of S3 has helped us to leverage a network approach through identifying stakeholders and common need in communities we serve,”  says Chuck Collins, President and CEO, YMCA of San Francisco.

The Berkeley Board Fellows (BBF) program assisted the YMCA of SF in defining the key dimensions of physical, social-emotional, mental, and spiritual well-being that characterize the “healthiest children” – an integral piece of the strategic planning process. Working with the organization’s staff, the BBF team developed a logic model to help the organization determine how to clarify its intended impact and the relationships between inputs, activities and desired outputs, and outcomes.   This logic model has since served as the guidepost when thinking about existing and future YMCA programs.


Alumni Spotlight – Dana Ledyard

Dana LedyardDana Ledyard, MBA 12, has always valued the importance of having a social impact. This value stems from three main influences in her life.

As the daughter of two Peace Corps volunteers, Dana grew up with the idea that service is both incredibly important and an expectation. Second, a generous undergraduate scholarship led her to explore ways to “pay it forward” for future generations. Third, the “Leave no Trace” philosophy has instilled in her the idea of leaving a place better than when you arrived.

“I see my career in the social sector as trying to achieve that philosophy, even if on a relatively small scale” says Dana. Her current role as Managing Director of Girls Who Code (GWC) touches on all these values. Continue reading

Community Partner Spotlight – MOUSE Squad of California (MSCA)

Mouse Squad logo

MOUSE Squad of California (MSCA)
Jan Half, Program Founder and Director
Dr. Crystal Jensen,  Program/School Relations Manager
Rebecca Levy, Grant Writer/Fund Development

Photo courtesy of Mouse Squad

Photo courtesy of MOUSE Squad

MOUSE Squad of California’s (MSCA)  mission is to empower under served youth to learn, lead and create with technology, preparing them with skills essential for their academic and career success. “We believe every child should be ‘connected,’ not just to technology, but to learning, innovation, self-esteem, job skills, life skills, community, and leadership opportunities,” says Jan Half, Founder and Program Director.  MSCA’s award-winning Student Tech Leadership program accomplishes this by training students to become the “tech experts” in their community. Students in grades 4-12 receive high-quality STEM education, project-based learning activities and confidence-building experiences designed to support their academic, personal and social development and improve their potential for future success. Continue reading

Twelve MBA Teams Kick-Off Nonprofit Consulting Projects

On January 24th, 61 students gathered at the McKinsey & Company office in San Francisco to kick off the spring 2014 semester of Social Sector Solutions. Student teams made up of Haas MBAs as well as other graduate and undergraduate students set to work on various strategy consulting projects with 12 nonprofit and social enterprise clients. Student teams are coached by McKinsey consultants throughout the project timeline. This event also welcomed back alumni of the program now serving as coaches and previous clients who returned to S3 with new projects.

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This marks the ninth year of the Social Sector Solutions program. Social Sector Solutions is a part of the Haas BILD Program. Below is a slideshow of the projects that were accepted as part of the 2014 program. For more information, including applications and program timeline, visit the Social Sector Solutions website.


San Quentin Inmates get Entrepreneurial with Help from MBA Course


How do you communicate with 120,000 people spread across California who are denied ready access to computers, phone calls, emails, and texts? You have to start with a plan to make it financially sustainable. Social Sector Solutions for Social Enterprises (S3SE), a fall course at Haas, drafted this plan working with entrepreneurial inmates from San Quentin prison. The Daily Californian highlights the importance of the San Quentin News, the only inmate-run newspaper in California and the struggle inmates face to financially support their work. The S3SE team has crafted a business plan that focuses on financial sustainability to enable the inmates to continue writing for years to come.

“According to Dr. Nora Silver, [Director of the Center for Nonprofit and Public Leadership and the co-instructor of S3SE,] the the plan involves a multifaceted, multiyear process. To finance its goals, the inmates must earn revenue from newspaper subscriptions to subsidize the free issues provided to prisoners and corral more outside volunteers to help in writing grant proposals. And in order to obtain subscriptions — which might come, for example, from recent parolees or San Quentin’s 3,000 volunteers — they need to turn the paper into a well-known brand.”

Dr. Silver also notes that, “the field of social enterprises is pretty new and evolving, and this is a fairly unusual project within the field. This certainly stretched [the team].”

Read the full article at The Daily Cal.