Carlson School Students Partner with MACV to Fight Veteran Homelessness
Friday, April 19, 2019
Minnesota is on the brink of a remarkable accomplishment: In the next year or two, the state could effectively end veteran homelessness. The feat takes coordination from hundreds of people and dozens of organizations in all corners of the state.
One of the central organizations in the fight to end veteran homelessness is Minnesota Assistance Council for Veterans (MACV), a statewide, nonprofit organization with a mission to end veteran homelessness in Minnesota. Since 1990, MACV has delivered housing, employment, and legal services in support of veterans and their families throughout the state.
And for the second straight year, the organization has gotten a big boost in how it operates from Carlson School students.
Improving the Efficiency of Mission-Driven Work
The Graduate Volunteer Consultants (GVC), a team of MBA and Master of Human Resources and Industrial Relations (MHRIR) students, has consulted with MACV on two projects to help the nonprofit run more effectively. The first project set out to improve its strategic marketing and communications plan in an effort to increase awareness of the organization to drive individual donations. More recently, a second partnership between the two groups has students helping MACV develop a partnership network strategy and improve coordination with partner organizations across the state.
With the students’ consulting help, MACV has been able to get ideas from people outside its organization who are unbiased and looking toward the long term.
“We’re living our work everyday so getting an objective perspective has incredible value,” says Brian Peterson, the nonprofit’s CFO. “Allowing great thinkers to learn about our organization and make recommendations to improve our operations has been a fantastic asset.”
Gaining Hands-On Experience
While most experiential learning done at the Carlson School is associated with a class, the GVC is an exception. The student-run group provides free-of-charge business consulting services to nonprofit organizations in the Twin Cities.
This service-minded consulting is what drew Erik Tonsfeldt to join the GVC. A veteran himself, Tonsfeldt served six years in the Army in a variety of roles from operations to logistics to intelligence. During his service, which included two deployments, he says he really enjoyed the strategic planning and wanted to make a career of it in business.
Tonsfeldt served as the team lead for last year’s MACV project focused on bolstering strategic marketing and communication efforts. He and his team were tasked with creating a plan that would help MACV increase awareness of its organization, and in turn, drive more donors and donations.
At the end of the semester, the team built a one-year marketing and communications plan that established messaging for MACV’s social media accounts, made improvements to its website that make finding information and donating easier, and helped it develop strategies for using Salesforce, a customer relations management platform.
Less than a year and a half ago, the organization had never done a newsletter, its Facebook page was barebones and without strategy, and it didn’t have an overall donor database.
“What we ultimately gave them was a concept and framework that they could tweak, and that they didn’t have to spend a lot of time developing,” Tonsfeldt says.
The group’s work was well received, and, immediately following the completion of the project, MACV landed an $80,000 donation to help with some of the objectives put forth by the students.
“It was great to know our project made an immediate impact,” Tonsfeldt says. “This organization is great. They’re doing tremendous work throughout the state, and it’s awesome to be a part of it. Seeing their social media feed as a proxy to how much they’ve embraced our plan is pretty awesome and the fact that they wanted to come back to Carlson and have another team deliver on another project that builds off the first one is pretty awesome, too.”
Connecting Nonprofits Across Minnesota to End Veteran Homelessness
The first GVC group’s success paved the way for a second partnership with MACV in the spring 2019 semester. This time, the student group has worked on building systems to help MACV more effectively work and communicate with partners around the state.
Robert McElroy, an MBA student, is the lead for this semester’s project. The group is organizing MACV’s contacts in a centralized location, building a leadership partner list, building a strategy for the organization's efforts to convene and communicate with partners, and making updates to the group’s website.
MACV has benefited tremendously from the project, Peterson says.
Many of MACV’s employees are focused on the organization’s overall mission of putting an end to veteran homelessness and they don’t have the time or resources to address problems the Carlson School students have helped them with. Now, thanks to the help of the Carlson School, MACV is well on its way to continue helping those in need and reach an effective end to veteran homelessness.
“Veteran homelessness is a problem that is going to be solved,” Peterson says. “We can’t get across the finish line and maintain if everybody is trying to do this in a silo. This project is going to help us make incredible steps forward in more effectively working in partnership with nonprofits, community organizations, corporations, and government agencies throughout the state to coordinate services for every single homeless veteran in Minnesota.“
Carlson Students Learn by Doing
The opportunity to participate in projects such as these were part of the reason why both Tonsfeldt and McElroy chose to get their MBA at the Carlson School. Both eventually want to work in consulting and taking part in projects both in the Carlson Consulting Enterprise and with the GVC have allowed them to sharpen their skills and get real-world consulting experience.
The MACV projects also have allowed students from two different programs to collaborate, something that can be unique and change people’s lives for the better. Combining MBA students’ skills in project management, finance, and general business with MHRIR students’ knowledge of onboarding, understanding organizations, and how to structure organizations to be most effective contributed to the success of the MACV projects.
“That’s one of the great things about the Carlson School,” McElroy says. “You’re able to cut your teeth in real-world experiences with clients, not just projects for class. It’s an actual client that has real business needs and values you.”