Strengthening Relationships to Set the Foundation for Economic Stability

Our pro-bono client, a non-profit organization headquartered in St. Louis, MO, and with independent locations nationwide, has served families and individuals for the past four decades. It acts as a connector to match at-risk residents with services for economic stability and advancement. Today, it assists more than 100,000 people in 19 cities by providing help with housing, health, education, economic mobility, and policy influence.

Focused on setting a strong foundation for economic stability, our goal was to enhance how the organization creates and nurtures business relationships to create a consistent pipeline of family-sustaining job opportunities.

Client Situation

Securing long-term employment has been a continued challenge across the populations the non-profit serves. For example, the average unemployment rate for St. Louis residents is 35 percent. Building relationships with local companies has been the most effective method for our client to acquire long-term employment opportunities. Yet, this has proven challenging due to:

  • The national stigma often placed on neighborhoods of color created a lack of employer interest.
  • Shifts in direction due to a new CEO influenced team dynamics, communications, and strategic focus.
  • The non-profit had not fully developed alliances with local employment organizations to share coordinated training and hiring efforts. 
  • The organization lacked a focused agenda to reduce employment barriers including transportation, daycare assistance, and access to training.
  • Longstanding community misperceptions, stemming from the non-profit’s close relationship with one partner, underscored the need for brand differentiation and a more diversified portfolio.
  • A gap in understanding how to improve economic mobility processes and build productive corporate partnerships. 

Our Approach

North Highland applied growth assessment, data & analytics, program delivery, and people-centric change management methodologies to equip our client with a three-year strategy roadmap. Anchored on economic stability, we developed nine strategies and enabling tools and processes to support key objectives.

Following an in-depth evaluation of the organization’s business practices and resources, we gained insights from local corporate and civic leaders to gauge perception of the organization and existing biases that prevented the hiring of low-income individuals. We combined interviews with existing and potential partners with research into best practices in non-profit and corporate affiliations.

We then completed an analysis of factors preventing residents from securing meaningful job opportunities. Our analysis shed light on 20 factors, including those not readily visible but which had significant underlying impact on residents. By identifying ways to eliminate or greatly minimize these hurdles, we showed that removing obstacles, as well as promoting a clear path forward, are the keys to lasting change.

In addition, because the non-profit was a national organization with a local footprint, our analysis uncovered alignment challenges with local organizations. Using our Experience Design capability, we conducted a brand audit and delivered brand recommendations that will amplify the organization’s visibility, rectify common misperceptions, and build community trust through authentic engagement.

Value Delivered

Ultimately, we armed the client with an unbiased, strategic view into one of its most important service values: economic mobility. Our engagement culminated in the adoption of several foundational changes by the non-profit’s leadership:

  • Senior leaders will increase the level of active participation with their St. Louis team to underscore the importance of securing employment for residents.
  • The organization will pursue actions to further differentiate and diversify its relationships with long-time partners. Empowered by lasting capability, the non-profit is now equipped to “lift and shift” examples of successful business alliances across its other U.S. offices.
  • Bolstered by our action-forward strategic plan, the leadership team has applied our recommendations in a pilot community. Through alignment and collaboration with employment partners, the local team has increased the income of residents by 20 percent and employment by 25 percent.