Celebrating 30 years of successful community impact, the Stanford Alumni Consulting Team (ACT) has stayed true to its original mission — to provide GSB alumni with an opportunity to use their business skills and experience to help nonprofit organizations in their community.
From 1987 through mid-2017, ACT provided more than $70M in pro bono management consulting services to a wide variety of nonprofit organizations in the San Francisco Bay Area and beyond.
Debbie Cohen, MBA ’87, envisioned the organization while still enrolled at the Stanford GSB. She believed MBAs had a desire and interest to contribute pro bono work to their communities, just as lawyers and doctors have traditionally done. Debbie convinced professors to allow her to develop her idea into a business plan as part of the coursework for two classes, with help from three classmates. Debbie became ACT’s first Executive Director, and continued serving in this role after she graduated from the GSB, while working full-time.
Alison Elliott, MBA ’84, joined Debbie to help bring ACT to fruition in its crucial early stages. Alison worked on the first prototype project, a marketing analysis for San Francisco Performances, and formalized the project process to manage the growing alumni interest. Alison later served as ACT’s Executive Director.
Debbie and Alison formed an Executive Committee, which chose some key strategies that the organization continues to follow today, including:
- Establishing two project cycles per year with six months per project to drive projects toward completion.
- Developing ACT’s project team model, with a group of four to eight alumni who volunteer 10 hours per month.
In recognition of the fact that some nonprofit needs don’t require six volunteers and a full six months to address, in 1995 Ken Kam, MBA ’86, introduced ACT Fast Track projects. These engagements involve only one or two volunteers who contribute fewer consulting hours of shorter duration than ACT’s traditional Full Team projects.
Over time the dedicated volunteers who were running ACT realized that having competent Project Leaders was a critical success factor. As more and more alumni volunteered for multiple projects, ACT focused on cultivating and training experienced Project Leaders.
From the beginning, ACT met a significant need and was a success; alumni volunteers completed 50 projects in the first three years!
Several times ACT served as its own client, engaging teams of ACT volunteers to develop its operational procedures and organizational structure.
As ACT grew, volunteers realized the need for a more official relationship with the Stanford GSB. In 1991 ACT formalized its board and became an affiliate of Stanford GSB Alumni Association. Bernard Coley, MBA ’76, authored the board’s first bylaws and became its first Chair. In 1993 ACT hired its first part-time paid Executive Director.
In 1998, ACT moved under the umbrella of the Stanford GSB and the school began fully funding the program.
In 2010 ACT evolved from what had become a staff-led program with a board of advisors to a joint staff-volunteer led model. Alumni Relations Associate Director Susan Austin worked closely with a committed team of 15 volunteers led by Tony Ramsden, MBA ’70, to create this model, the ACT Management Board, which combines GSB resources with the ideas and experience of volunteer leaders.
Today, ACT continues to be run by the Associate Director and a ten-member hands-on Management Board
, with responsibilities that include marketing, project screening, client development, volunteer development, and evaluation.
ACT serves as a model for linking management skills of business professionals with needs of nonprofit organizations. Nascent pro bono consulting groups in Silicon Valley and throughout the states frequently seek ACT’s advice and support. One of the Bay Area’s largest pro bono resource providers, ACT annually contributes an estimated value of over $3 million in consulting services. From 1987 through 2017, through ACT over 1,400 alumni have volunteered their time and skills.
ACT serves a wide range of industries, including education, health care, youth and senior services, and the environment. ACT mostly serves clients in the Bay Area, focusing on several regions: North Bay, East Bay, San Francisco, the Peninsula, and the South Bay. Currently, ACT supports work of affiliates led by enthusiastic volunteers in California in Monterey, Pasadena, and Sonoma County, as well as in Texas in Dallas/Fort Worth.
ACT has always focused on continuous improvement and innovation. Current examples include piloting brainstorming sessions to address a specific issue facing a nonprofit, cultivating specialized resources to aid teams, and partnering with foundations to provide pro bono consulting to select grantees.