The American Society for the Protection of Cruelty to Animals estimates approximately 6.5 million companion animals enter animal shelters in the United States each year. Thankfully, the majority of these animals get connected with dedicated and compassionate shelter staff members and volunteers who work hard to find them loving forever homes.
As an independent, nonprofit animal shelter located in Washougal, Washington, the West Columbia Gorge Humane Society (WCGHS) has been dedicated to the welfare of animals and the betterment of the local community for more than 27 years. The small but mighty WCGHS staff and their dedicated volunteers invest countless hours each year into saving the lives of pets and providing the community with the resources to keep pets and their people together.
When Michelle “Micki” Simeone, executive director for the WCGHS, connected with the Business Growth Mentor and Analysis Program (MAP) in the Carson College of Business at WSU Vancouver, she expressed interest in working with a team of students to gain insight into how to strengthen the organization’s business processes without further taxing their limited resources. “As a nonprofit, we’re always struggling for resources,” Simeone says. “Money can buy you resources, but if you’re trying to preserve your funds to ensure you can save animals and pay your staff, you cannot really afford to hire consultants for each area you want to improve.”
Simeone and her colleague Delaney Edison, director of operations for the WCGHS, thought working with the Business Growth MAP student consultancy might bring much-needed energy and a fresh perspective to their organization. “It was a very intriguing opportunity to have a team come in from the outside who had zero idea about our organization but were currently learning industry standards and best practices that aligned with the areas where we were struggling,” says Edison.
Students’ Business Suggestions Impressive and Achievable
Over the 16-week semester, a team of four students, guided by two volunteer mentors, worked through a highly structured assessment process that helped identify pain points and growth opportunities for the organization, before developing solutions and detailed recommendations. As Jim Costa (’20 Hum.) says, “Ultimately, we narrowed it down to three solutions, but we tried to be sure they could address some of the other pain point areas.”
The student consultancy team identified three areas—budget, strategic planning, and data collection—that would have the greatest impact on the success of the WCGHS. In the end, the students went above and beyond what was expected by developing a complex budget spreadsheet, a WCHGS-branded strategic planning workbook, and a survey to help the WCGHS staff collect much needed data from donors and clients who adopt from the shelter.
While all three of the resources the students developed are significant, the WCGHS team is especially grateful for all of the time and energy the team invested into the workbook tailored to their needs. “To have the students come up with the strategic planning workbook was amazing!” Simeone says. “It makes sense to us, and it is pretty and organized in a way that isn’t intimidating or overwhelming. It’s achievable.” Simeone and Edison are eager to dig into the workbook further and incorporate feedback from their volunteers and board of directors.
As an experienced Business Growth MAP mentor who has worked with more than 10 student teams, Cirith Anderson-Sebree was especially impressed with the student team and their client. “When you have a client who is so honest and willing to say, ‘We do a lot of things really well, but if we can do more things really well, we can fulfill our mission and serve the community even more fully,’ it creates the perfect dynamic,” she says.
Student Consultancy Projects a Win–Win Situation
Anderson-Sebree identified four things that helped make this project such a profound success: the geographic alignment, since the nonprofit is located in the team’s community; alignment with the WCGHS mission; alignment with the client’s personalities; and the extraordinary amount of time the students spent working alongside the client.
Business Growth MAP student consultancy projects are often viewed as win-win by all parties involved. Working with a small business or nonprofit clients allows each student consultancy team to apply what they have learned throughout their undergraduate career toward solving real-world challenges, while the small business and nonprofit clients who open their doors and minds to the recommendations the students propose leave with a detailed roadmap for implementation.
Reflecting on her experience working with the WCGHS as a student consultant, Miriam Staykov (’20 Accounting) says, “I learned so much through this unique and awesome experience. In the real business world, everything you learned in class really does come together. It was really cool getting to apply and connect so many different things you’ve learned in class to a real company.”
It was really cool getting to apply and connect so many different things you’ve learned in class to a real company.