Studies show nearly 70 percent of veterans experience transition stress upon leaving the military due to difficulties finding employment, housing, and a new network of friends. This puts veterans at risk of a less successful civilian career and at disproportionate risk of entering poverty. In 2018, there were approximately 148,000 total veterans in the greater Charlotte and surrounding areas, including 9,000 at-risk, unemployed, and/or homeless veterans. Our pro-bono client is the leading Veterans Services Organization (VSO) in Charlotte, helping veterans and their families smoothly transition to civilian life. North Highland served as a change and transformation consulting firm in this pro-bono engagement to help focus and mobilize the VSO’s growth objective of serving more veterans and empowering the community to join them.
The non-profit client serves as a convener of veteran service needs. It coordinates a wide range of services such as housing, employment, community engagement, mental/behavioral health, food assistance, family support, and education in partnership with over 60 service providers (e.g., Goodwill, Salvation Army) and over 200 employers in the Charlotte metropolitan area. In 2018, the client received 3,300 service requests and impacted nearly 1,400 veteran families, with more than half of the requests related to housing and employment.
The organization has grown considerably since inception. In the past year, it served more veterans and military families than similar VSOs in 15 other metropolitan areas across the country. To continue to serve more veterans and their families, the client engaged North Highland, a leading change and transformation firm, to assess its ability to expand its footprint within and beyond the Charlotte metropolitan area.
The North Highland team mapped the client’s value chain and conducted a gap analysis around each critical element enabling its goal of impacting more veterans. This value chain visualized key activities, stakeholders, and relationships integral to that goal. We interviewed over 25 stakeholders – including key staff, board members, employer partners, foundations, peer VSOs, and community partners – and surveyed over 200 veterans and 40 employers to understand the client’s strengths and opportunities, the future state vision, and the veteran service journey. We identified and evaluated the strength of the client’s mission against the six elements in the value chain and categorized our findings into “Favorable” and “Not Favorable” towards enabling the client to reach its goals. Our current state assessment allowed us to answer the following questions:
- What progress has the client made in driving impact?
- Is this a differentiated model from other VSOs in the region?
- Which elements in the value chain should be amplified and what barriers must be overcome to grow impact and scale?
We articulated four focused opportunities that played to the client’s strengths and powered its growth objectives:
- Strengthening marketing capabilities by focusing on service differentiation and value articulation
- Expansion of a recently established program that trains volunteers to serve as ambassadors of the organization within the community
- Geographic expansion beyond the Charlotte metropolitan region through intentional partnerships with regional VSOs and communities
- Business network growth by developing professional relationships in Charlotte and strengthening collaboration with Veteran Employee Resource Groups
For each opportunity, we developed realization paths and built growth models to quantify the investment and impact with conservative, likely, and optimistic outcomes charted over a five-year period. Partnering with our client in a day-long prioritization workshop that convened 15 stakeholders from diverse backgrounds, we aligned on current state challenges, future state needs, and growth opportunities. The engagement resulted in a backlog of prioritized work that phased delivery over three growth horizons:
- Six months: Strengthening of mission
- 6-12 months: Building and scaling in the Carolinas
- 12-24 months: Engaging and expanding locally and regionally
The resulting roadmap established an actionable path forward for the client to improve and scale its impact on the veteran community.
As part of North Highland’s continued aim to build long-term philanthropy value focused on economic empowerment – rooted in our belief that the most impactful work occurs through long-term client partnership to disrupt root causes of poverty – we will be working with this client over the course of the next year