When the financial crisis hit in 2008, unemployment reached highs that hadn’t been seen in decades. Although workers at all levels felt the squeeze, Ashlee and Chris Kleinart noticed more top-level employees were being laid off than ever before, while nonprofits were suffering from donors’ lighter wallets.
“My husband’s job revolves around investments in other companies,” Ashlee says. “Occasionally, he would receive résumés from people who figured those companies might need a leadership position. It wasn’t part of his job, but it wasn’t unusual. In 2008, though, it was just crazy how many he was getting.”
Then Ashlee came home one day from a board meeting for a nonprofit that was facing staff cuts just as more people were relying on the organization’s resources. She and Chris wondered if it was crazy to see a connection between the two problems.
Today, Executives in Action has more than 100 projects going at any given time.
After floating the idea of playing matchmaker between out-of-work executives and cash-strapped nonprofits to several associates, the Kleinerts decided that they had the beginnings of something worthwhile.
The couple workshopped with the Center for Nonprofit Management and, in January 2009, launched Executives in Action, a nonprofit designed to place former executives and their skills with nonprofits looking from everything from marketing plans to smoothing out everyday inefficiencies.
A month later, the program began pairing nearly 40 pro bono consulting projects across North Texas. Today, Executives in Action has more than 100 projects going at any given time.
In exchange for working for the nonprofits for free, the executives receive a small service grant from EIA to help them during unemployment. The program claims that each nonprofit sees an average 10-to-1 return on investment for each dollar donated to EIA.
Although the pairings, which are the result of a three-step interview process for both the executives and nonprofits, are designed to be short-term solutions for both parties, sometimes a full-time position comes out of it.
“On our first project, we had a former executive from JC Penney who had been in marketing for 20 years,” Ashlee says. “He did a marketing plan for a crisis hotline and increased their revenue greatly — so much so that the board of directors decided to hire him. And the executive decided he was ready to leave the corporate world and join the nonprofit. We thought, ‘Okay, maybe there’s something to this.’”
Sandra Session-Robertson first heard about Executives in Action when she moved to Dallas to help take care of her dad after more than 20 years of nonprofit work.
“The idea of going to a nonprofit that helps other nonprofits was tremendously attractive to me,” she says. “At the same time, I had done some very surface-level job hunting, but I wanted something flexible that would let me demonstrate my skills and help.”
Session-Robertson was paired with Girls Inc. and the Dallas Children’s Theater after applying and undergoing the interview process. Over 154 hours, she worked with both for a value of $30,000. It cost the nonprofits nothing.
At the end of her time with the Dallas Children’s Theater, the program decided to hire Session-Robertson full-time as the senior director of communications and philanthropy.
“The head of DTC called me in and said, ‘We can’t afford to hire someone, but we can’t afford not to hire someone with these skills,’” she says. “They felt comfortable with me because of my previous work, and I knew what I was getting into.”
Session-Robertson says that some executives might feel discouraged because of an unfruitful job hunt, but working at EIA gives them something to look forward to.
“Trying to fix your resume to pop out, that part feels demoralizing,” she says. “But the volunteering part is just rewarding. For many of them, they see the potential to work in nonprofits even though pay scales are different, because of how they end up feeling as opposed to the private sector. Nonprofits are, by and large, grateful for people that want to give time.”
As EIA moves into its fifth year of matchmaking, there is no sign of slowing down. There are more executives, including lawyers and doctors, coming to the organization for opportunities. In the next year or so, EIA plans to introduce a program aimed at partnering returning veterans with nonprofits.
“Any time you make a donation [to EIA], it goes directly to the organization,” Session-Robertson says. “It has removed barriers to fundraising. Giving to this is supporting people in transition, yes, but it’s supporting organizations that are understaffed, under resourced and it translates to uplifting human beings.”