Impact at Work: Wheeler Mission Ministries Project Spotlight
This National Volunteer Week, we’re excited to highlight a project with a talented team from Charles Schwab and its nonprofit partner, Wheeler Mission Ministries (Wheeler), whose mission is to meet the short-term and long-term needs of homeless, hungry and other people in need in central Indiana. Wheeler's Center for Women & Children operates Restored Creations, a social enterprise run by women from their various long-term programs that produces and sells hand-poured, scented, soy blend candles. We paired Wheeler with a team of Schwab volunteers to develop an interactive financial model that informs the development of a financial and operational strategy to promote sales growth for the Restored Creations Program.
O'Nealya Gronstal, Program Director of Restored Creations, speaks to the impact this project had on her both her program and Wheeler.
1. Why does this project matter?
Our work at Restored Creations is not about the physical candle the women are pouring, but rather seeing candle as a conduit for change. When people come into a shelter – whether through addiction recovery or a homeless situation – there is usually a lapse in their resume. We can provide meals and beds all day long, but if we don’t teach transferable job skills the cycle just keeps on repeating. My goal is to teach both hard and soft skills so that when a girl spends 8-12 months in an addiction recovery program, she doesn’t need to go back to a job that pays minimum wage.
When Wheeler first heard about this project opportunity we were eager to understand how to invest long-term in each of our guests and reduce the rate of recidivism. We had hopes that creating a sustainable financial and operational strategy could ultimately help engage these women in a more productive way. We had the concept and a passion, but there was slow program growth and lack of business expertise to drive our work forward.
2. How have you implemented the solutions provided by your Schwab volunteers? What impact has the project had on your organization?
Sometimes, you can’t see the forest through the trees until someone from the outside points it out and that was exactly what the Schwab volunteers did for us. I like to call this our “duh” moment! Our men’s program also has a social enterprise that makes and sells wooden pallets for shipping, which launched in 2001 in Bloomington, Indiana. It took them about 7 years to make a profit, but one of the turning points was when a consultant came into work on establishing a cost analysis to confirm the cost of goods. When I joined Restored Creations, I didn’t have a comprehensive understanding of the cost of goods or what our bottleneck was because there were no records. One of the Schwab volunteers asked me why we weren’t using the same cost analysis model that was developed for the men’s program, but instead of wood and nails, you replace that with wix and wax. The volunteers allowed us to see things clearly and understand where we could share resources across the organization.
The impact of this experience has been tremendous for Restored Creations. We are now very cognizant of the cost of goods and how to control it to drive a profit. Additionally, as we continue to do our planning and forecasting for sales, we are able to think outside the box about our marketing efforts, whether it’s through selling our candles as corporate gifts or integrating them into fundraising events. Wheeler’s fiscal year runs from June 1- May 31 and this January, we completed our end of quarter report that included the sales through the end of the 2nd quarter. With sales only we are 61% above our projected income, but when you add in financial gifts we have received from donors, we are at 218% over our projected income! We have also moved into our new location and have begun to increase production of our candles and maximize the growth of our program.
3. What was your favorite moment during the course of the project?
This engagement provided me with the opportunity to connect with the business community and learn how to manage, operate and financially sustain a successful business. This experience allowed our organization to stretch our knowledge, share our learnings and connect with one another, which can be the lifeblood of a nonprofit. To be able to work with incredibly business savvy volunteers and glean from their corporate expertise provided us an opportunity to lift our heads up and see beyond the trees of our every day.