When five students from The University of South Florida’s Executive MBA program were tasked with developing a marketing plan for their Marketing Management course, their vision went beyond simply earning an A grade for the project. They aspired to make a difference by offering their insight to the local wing of a national non-profit organization.
“We didn’t want all of that work to simply end up in the professor’s filing cabinet,” said Austin Cline, one of the group’s members. “We knew that Habitat for Humanity Hillsborough needed help and we wanted to contribute to their mission.”
The team consisted of first year Executive MBA students Sarah Arnold, Austin Cline, Andre Kirwan, Tighe Sefcik and Bob Woerner. Together they developed a plan that centered around 28 recommendations focusing on four key units of the non-profit: the ReStore, Donors, General Awareness and Operations.
“The goal of our plan was to raise awareness of the organization and drive sales in the organization’s ReStore,” said team member Bob Woerner. The ReStore accepts donations of new and used furniture, flooring, cabinets, Tools, Paint, Plumbing and a number of other items that are then refurbished and resold to consumers and businesses at affordable prices. The profits are then put back into operations and projects with which Habitat Hillsborough is involved.
The team members individually interviewed executives within the organization to gain insight into the operations. Since Arnold was the only member with a significant degree of familiarity, the rest of the team members visited the various facilities several times to get an idea of how they operated.
The group split up the work according to their professional specialties. Arnold provided all of the preliminary information about the organization and orchestrated all of the meetings with staff. Kirwan’s background in the financial industry allowed him to deal efficiently with fundraising and donor efforts. Woerner dealt with internal process and software, and Cline and Sefcik concentrated on the “guts” of the project as well as the overall strategy focus.
After enduring sleepless nights, countless hours of compiling data, and juggling personal, professional, and academic responsibilities, the effort finally paid off. The presentation to marketing professor Paul Solomon was a success, but the group members were not sure that gaining an audience with decision makers at Habitat Hillsborough to present their findings would be as simple a task.
Fortunately the team had a secret weapon. Sarah Arnold’s position as the head of the construction department at Habitat Hillsborough gave the team the opening that they needed to persuade the CEO and his colleagues to listen to the group present their findings. Through her connections the team was able to gain access to aspects of the organization that only an insider could.
“Sarah could give us unfettered access to the staff and other pertinent material that would have been much more difficult to obtain,” said Cline. As the project progressed, Arnold was working behind the scenes to secure a meeting with the CEO Brian Hastings, Board Chairman Rob Martin, and Retail Director Kent Bell. It turned out that the executives were as eager to hear what the team had to offer as the team was to present to them.
“At their request, Sarah provided them with copies of the main document,” said group member Tighe Sefcik. “They then requested to meet with us to discuss our findings and ask follow-up questions regarding our analysis and action plans.”
The team organized a meeting outside of class to go back over the original presentation that they had given in class. Tweaks were made to shift the focus from presenting for a grade to presenting a plan to a group of executives that were interested in potentially incorporating the concepts into the organization’s actual marketing plan.
Arnold opened the presentation with a summary of the group’s objectives and an overview of the topics that they would present. The rest of the members took turns, each presenting a different section of material to the panel. The response was very enthusiastic.
“Our presentation drove a lot of discussion and it became very interactive and was very well received,” said Sefcik. “They talked about making our plan a working document, which they would market the business around in the future.”
Funding for non-profits can sometimes prove difficult to acquire. The development of a marketing plan can be too time consuming and costly a project to undertake and is not always feasible, especially to produce a workable plan with the care and expertise that the students put into their project.
“Based on the feedback, our plan will become their operating marketing plan,” said Cline. “They really didn’t have one prior to this.”
The combination of the knowledge that the students gained while involved in the marketing course and the years of professional experience that each offered allowed the students to turn their project into a working marketing plan for a respected non-profit organization. Not only did the success confirm the validity of their findings, but it provided the hope that their efforts would help raise awareness of the work that is being done by Habitat Hillsborough and bring joy and hope to other’s lives along the way.
This article was brought to EMBA World by its author Anthony Gaenzle writes for the University of Southern Florida Executive MBA. You can learn more at: http://business.usf.edu/programs/emba/