SHU’s Center For Not-For-Profit Organizations Aids Project Return

News Story: December 21, 2008

Project Return has a big-enough challenge in providing care for troubled teen girls, but that didn’t stop its computer and business systems from adding a layer of difficulty to its daily mission.

But the Westport-based not-for-profit group got a big boost from the John F. Welch College of Business’s Center for Not-for-Profit Organizations in the spring of 2008 when they were contacted by Deacon Daniel Ianniello and Mr. William Joyce, executive advisors and founding board members of the Center.

The College requires MBA students in their final semester to write a significant research paper. The research project and subsequent paper are intended to incorporate all of the principles of management that graduate students learn in the MBA curriculum as part of a course called “Management Integration.” The students often use this project to work for a not-for-profit organization in Fairfield County that is in need of assistance in planning or marketing its organization or its business systems.

In the spring of 2008, MBA students surveyed Project Return’s computer systems; the organization was using multiple, uncoordinated software packages for each business function, and its accounting system was unable to interface with its donor management and mailing list system. None of the systems were capable of integrating with one another, which decreased efficiency.

Some of the software systems were so old that the companies who authored them no longer provided technical support. Sacred Heart’s MBA students began researching ways to standardize Project Return’s data collection and worked with software vendors to determine how they could integrate accounting systems and several off-the-shelf donor tracking systems. In fact, the students were considering using Peachtree for Project Return’s accounting until they learned that QuickBooks is capable of working with many of the other common donor systems.

Project Return’s staff members were “quite impressed with what the students did,” Deacon Ianniello said. “It was more than they had expected and more than they had asked for.”

At the completion of their project, the students are asked to generate a list of next steps for Project Return to implement best practices. In the past, the Center has done over 70 projects for many not-for-profit organizations, some for many semesters.

This semester, the Center is developing a marketing plan for “Heal” — one of Project Return’s new programs that gets troubled teenage girls into charitable work, which subsequently improves their own rehabilitation process. Project Return previously piloted “Heal” and was very satisfied with the results. As part of the marketing plan, MBA students have also developed a web page to promote and publicize the “Heal” program to teen girls.

Many not-for-profits get involved with the University’s Center through word-of-mouth or because they have been referred by colleagues. The Center heard about and approached Project Return, which then filled out an application on the Center’s web page.

The Center has done work for Catholic school systems, a battered women’s shelter, homeless shelters and the Valley United Way, to name a few.

“Our biggest challenge is getting not-for-profits to know about us,” Deacon Ianniello said.