Common Impact, Sustainable Food Center and the Charles Schwab Pro Bono Challenge

Mar 14, 2019 7:00 AM ET
Blog

After one year implementing the strategies they learned at the 2017 Charles Schwab Pro Bono Challenge, the Sustainable Food Center is reporting some big impact. Its Farmers’ Market WIC program has grown three-fold. The organization has even brought on another staff member to manage the expanding program

The cross-sector collaboration that led to this success story was facilitated by Charles Schwab and Common Impact at the annual Charles Schwab Pro Bono Challenge - a skills-based flash consulting event where Schwab volunteers apply their talents and expertise to support local nonprofit organizations in building capacity to serve the community. In 2017, close to 400 Schwab employees completed 65 projects for nonprofits across nine US regions - delivering over $500,000 in value. It’s one of the largest annual skilled days of service, according to the Stanford Social Innovation Review.

SFC’s mission is to cultivate a healthy community by strengthening the local food system and improving access to nutritious, affordable food. To this end, SFC manages a robust portfolio of programming, some of which is revenue generating, such as Farmers’ Markets and Farm to Work program. The Farm Direct program is SFC’s core “seed to table” philosophy at work. By organizing weekly SFC Farmers’ Markets, Farm Direct gives local growers direct access to urban residents looking to buy freshly harvested produce. These neighborhood markets operate in traditionally underserved areas of Austin. Access is extended to all socio-economic groups, as the markets accept Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) benefits, Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children (WIC) fruit and vegetable benefits, and WIC Farmers’ Market Nutrition Program vouchers.

When SFC first contacted Common Impact to discuss a potential project idea for the Charles Schwab Pro Bono Challenge, they were finding that a large portion of their clients were only accessing one or two of their programs or accessing them on a one-time or infrequent basis. One of their signature programs – the Farmers’ Market Nutrition Program (FMNP) – had a large number of shoppers who attended only one or two times without returning. SFC wanted to convert those shoppers into more regular customers. In order to achieve this, they sought recommendations from Charles Schwab volunteers on improving their customer retention for this specific demographic of first-time, low-income market visitors. The ultimate goal was to deepen their client engagement and ultimately increase impact in the community.

A team of six Schwab employees developed recommendations on converting one-time or infrequent shoppers of the Farmers’ Market Nutrition program into longer term, repeat customers. The team discussed and documented gaps in SFC’s current client relations strategy and developed high-level recommendations for improvement. With Schwab’s support, SFC developed an innovative way to retain WIC customers in the low season, October through March. The Triple Dollar WIC Day program generated three-fold growth of the Farmers’ Market WIC program and increased access for previously underserved urban residents looking to buy freshly harvested produce. 

In addition to the positive impact for WIC clients, the WIC office, and local farmers, this project also had a tangible impact on the local economy. Amy Gallo, SFC’s Farmers Market Programming Manager, described the impact, “It has been wildly successful, and we are really indebted to Schwab for helping to develop this marketing push – something that WIC could be excited about, something that our customers could be excited about, and ultimately something that is really great for our farmers and ranchers.”

SFC has continued to increase its impact through collaborations with Charles Schwab and Common Impact. In 2018, they joined the Charles Schwab Pro Bono Challenge once again, this time to find support analyzing their finances to make better business decisions. They wanted to better understand the costs and benefits of various growth opportunities, but did not have the correct financial tool in place to forecast different scenarios. SFC sought a team’s support in creating a financial model and sharing general financial expertise to support the organization.

A team of five Charles Schwab employees worked with SFC to understand the organization’s current financial procedures, identify challenges translating and analyzing their financial performance, and develop a model that incorporated key data for improved analysis. The final deliverable was an interactive financial model that included customizable components for SFC to utilize to inform future business decisions and growth opportunities. The financial tool was paired with recommendations around incorporating general financial management best practices to guide SFC in next steps in utilizing the data to inform their strategic decisions. The financial model and accompanying recommendations allowed SFC to make more informed, strategic decisions on how to grow their Farmers’ Markets, maximize grant funding, and ensure more sustainable operations.

Now in its fifth year, the Charles Schwab Pro Bono Challenge is a skills-based flash consulting event where Schwab employees can apply their business talents and expertise to help build capacity for nonprofits in their local communities. For more information and to see the teams in action, please visit www.aboutschwab.com/citizenship/community/pro-bono-challenge