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EMBAs Transform Nonprofits Through Social Impact Projects

By Grace Beck, student writer

Leading the charge of Spartans making a difference this holiday season, students in the Broad College of Business Executive MBA (EMBA) program partnered with organizations and companies across the state for the EMBA Social Impact projects. When students presented projects to the organizations at the end of the semester, it was clear that the Lansing-based Elder Law of Michigan would be positioned for success as a result of the EMBA partnership.

elder lawer
Elder Law of Michigan (ELM) partners experts with elderly and disabled clients for legal and professional services.

“The projects give our students the opportunity to apply their EMBA learning directly to an organization. Working with nonprofits aligns with Michigan State University’s long history of service and community engagement. We look at organizations that have a significant managerial issue where an independent, outside perspective would be beneficial,” said Greg Janicki, director of EMBA Troy campus.

ELM promotes and protects the rights, health, and economic well-being of older adults and individuals with disabilities through information, advocacy, and professional and legal services. The non-profit firm felt confident identifying its goals before partnering with its EMBA student team, yet identified that it struggled from an “identity crisis” that prevented a solid brand identification and presence with the private sector.

The EMBA students met with Keith Morris, CEO and president of ELM, and Chris Jackson, then-communications and fund development manager, to develop a strategy roadmap for the future of ELM. Together, they set a goal to create a sustainable plan that would allow ELM to efficiently serve their clients, maintain partnerships in the community, and continue to fund their mission.

“Our team worked with ELM to propose a redefined mission statement, perform a SWOT analysis, and provide a framework for ELM to objectively prioritize long term and short term goals for the organization,” said Lyla Ellens (EMBA 2018), park and facility manager at Washtenaw County Parks.

EMBA students brought their professional strengths to the team to strategically guide ELM during the yearlong project, which is expected to have an impact on the firm for years to come.

“My main role was to utilize my fundraising/marketing background. I guided in helping ELM develop a new mission statement. Their initial desire was to work on branding. We felt it was important for them to have a clearly defined mission statement that would help guide them in strategic planning, branding and fundraising,” said Jennifer Barrymore (EMBA ’18), senior director, prospect development and donor strategy at MSU.

In their final project, students transformed their analysis into a five-year plan for ELM to continue its growth strategy:

  • Create name recognition for ELM
  • Increase partnering agencies
  • Diversify funding
  • Standardize processes and systems
  • Leverage information technology for efficiency

Through the analysis and recommendations, Morris expects to use the information presented to make decisions about programming, staffing, communications, and fund development.

“By taking the framework that they have developed, along with the recommendations included in that framework, we have started an overdue strategic planning process,” said Morris. “We have taken the recommendations from the students and we have started our strategic planning process, which we hope to complete in late March. It was extremely helpful for the students to convey the information just like they would a business plan in the for-profit sector because it helped identify several pieces of information that we perhaps need to look at more closely as part of our planning process,” he said.


Eli Broad College of Business

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