Our guest on this week’s episode of CFO Weekly is James Schleck, the Chief Financial Officer at Community Solutions Inc., which seeks to eliminate homelessness by taking data-driven, for-profit skills to the nonprofit world. Along the way, they have worked with 80 cities and counties across the U.S. to make a solution to homelessness a reality. But James didn't always work in nonprofits.
Before making the jump to nonprofit work, James was in the U.S. Army and held senior leadership positions in corporations, but felt pulled in the direction of making a difference. He joined us to talk about how his experiences in business have allowed him to gain success as the CFO of a nonprofit.
The Transition From For-Profit to Nonprofit
The jump from the for-profit world to the nonprofit might seem jarring to some wondering if their skills are sufficient. There are plenty of people who carve out quite a nice career for themselves in the corporate world and make the switch, only to find themselves disoriented from the proverbial whiplash.
But for James, the mission behind Community Solutions came on the heels of another life-changing moment, one that cemented his desire to work in the nonprofit space. While on a business trip to Las Vegas, he encountered another veteran, like himself. This veteran was parking rental cars at the airport at 4 a.m., and simply wanted something more for his life upon returning from deployment.
If that weren’t enough, he struck up a conversation with a homeless veteran on the streets of Las Vegas, and it was at that moment that something clicked. He knew that it was time to transition from the business that he loved, into something different. Something bigger than himself.
But he wasn’t disillusioned with the corporate world. In fact, he realized just how crucial the for-profit space was in allowing the nonprofits in the country to thrive and pursue their goals. It was the for-profit companies that were allowing the nonprofits to operate.
“If there are no for-profit companies, there are no nonprofits. Those for-profit companies make it possible for nonprofits to exist," Schleck said.
Leveling Up to Make a Difference - On a Mission to Eliminate Homelessness
At Community Solutions, they’re all about "leveling up". What does it mean to level up? It’s a take on Jim Collin’s book, “Good to Great.” Essentially, you take what you’re best at, what you’re most passionate about, and you only do that thing.
So for James and his team, it meant taking a look at their mission, which for them was to create a lasting solution to homelessness, leaving nobody behind. It meant weighing every single thing about their day-to-day operations against that end goal.
Ultimately, things like opening mail, cutting checks, dealing with vendors, answering phones, and even accounting were all secondary things. They were all things that weren’t at the core of what they were trying to do.
So, those things were outsourced. They were optimized. And that allows Community Solutions to truly put all their efforts into changing the world.
“I do wish I had acquired the nonprofit experience before moving to the for-profit world, because the nonprofit world is focused on impact - on an end goal," Schleck said.
What does that mean for your company, if you’re looking to level up? It means to interrogate every internal operation and ask if it is core to your business. If it is, keep doing it. If it is not, can it be outsourced? If the answer is yes, and you’re not outsourcing it, you're just distracting yourself from accomplishing your goals.
A Human-Centered Approach
Think about DisneyWorld. From the moment you drive onto the property at DisneyWorld, the team at Disney is committed to making your experience extraordinary. From the parking lots to the restrooms, from the monorail lines to the pay stations, it’s all designed to give you the best possible experience.
So James asked, what about somebody experiencing homelessness? When you’re at your wit's end, is it helpful to have to fill out 20 pages of paperwork? To navigate a complex phone tree? If an office shuts down at 2pm, but you need to get into a shelter, and that shelter is a bus ride across town and you have no money for a bus, what then?
James and his team are trying to eliminate homelessness with for-profit skills in a nonprofit world from a data perspective. What are the things that cause homelessness, and how do they take somebody from homelessness to housing as efficiently as possible. They’re asking themselves, “How do we streamline this around the individual to get them from point A to point B in as little time as possible?”
Homelessness exists for a variety of different reasons. There is no one way to solve it, and there is no magic cure. James and his team are committed to treating the homeless with dignity and doing everything they can to eliminate homelessness. You can find more information at Community Solutions, or at the nonprofit consulting firm Pantala Strategies.
Do you have something you want to share with our community of thousands of CFOs and other financial and business leaders? Talk to CFO Weekly host Megan Weis about joining us as a guest on the show.