After Plaza Community Services got a $3 million federal grant, the East L.A. non-profit offered child care to 350 kids – up from 60.

Gabriel Buelna, executive director of Plaza, which provides health, education and other community services to low-income children and families, said he got the grant thanks to a Deloitte LLP program that’s designed to help non-profit executives improve their business skills.

“It was a lot of the training from Deloitte that made me regroup my team in the middle of 2008, and go for an additional $3 million to expand our child care program,” Buelna said.

Buelna’s training was provided by the Deloitte Center for Leadership and Community. It holds free seminars for non-profit executives to help train them on such issues as talent management, board governance and succession planning.

It was launched in 2007 by two executives in Deloitte’s downtown L.A. office. Since then, the accounting and consulting firm has expanded the workshops to 16 U.S. offices. In December, Deloitte launched the program in Hyderbad, India, the first step in taking the center’s activities to the rest of the world.

“It was a simple idea that started in Los Angeles with two guys walking down the street,” said Tony Buzzelli, managing partner of Deloitte’s downtown office who started the center with David Porges, head of community involvement for the company’s Southwest offices. They came up with the idea while on a stroll together.

“Now it is operating in India, and I have no doubts that we will extend to other places around the world,” Buzzelli said.

The recession has made the program more valuable, as non-profit executives have to operate on smaller budgets due to a decline in donations, and the weak economy has created a greater demand for the services that non-profits provide.

As a result, non-profit executives need to find ways to run their organizations better. A 2009 study commissioned by Deloitte showed that 40 percent of non-profit executives surveyed said they planned to spend about $50,000 on outside consultants. The program is designed to give non-profit leaders that same expertise – without the fees.

“Problems are growing. The budget crisis and joblessness in this economy have created extraordinary demands for basic needs,” said Regina Birdsell, chief executive of the Center for Nonprofit Management in downtown Los Angeles, which offers comparable training programs. “So now, being able to use those business skills is especially important as executive directors are trying to meet those exploding needs with 30 to 40 percent fewer dollars.”

Birdsell has consulted for the Deloitte Center.

It’s important to customize management training for non-profits, said James Ferris, director of USC’s Center on Philanthropy and Public Policy. Not only are they different from corporations, but they vary widely in size and mission. A workshop may not help a non-profit executive acquire the appropriate business skills to help solve their specific problems.

“The challenge is that not all non-profits need the same thing,” Ferris said. “A grassroots non-profit that relies on volunteers is different than one that pulls in multimillion-dollar contracts.”

Intellectual capital

Deloitte has traditionally made corporate donations to non-profit organizations and encourages its employees to sit on the boards of non-profits. On the first Friday of the company’s fiscal year in June, Deloitte asks its employees to volunteer at a non-profit organization, a company event called Impact Day.

But the Center for Leadership and Community program is much more ambitious. It allows Deloitte to offer similar management expertise to non-profits as the consulting company gives to its corporate clients.

“We have the opportunity to share in the community the same skills and talent that we share with our clients every day,” Buzzelli said.

When they were setting up the program, Buzzelli and Porges reached out to local non-profit executives to find out what business issues they needed help with most.

The first workshop addressed how to coach employees effectively and drew about 50 participants, including executives from the California Science Center, Los Angeles County Economic Development Corp. and United Way of Greater Los Angeles.

Buelna of Plaza has been attending the training programs since the Deloitte center’s inception. At the time, the non-profit had an operating budget of $3 million – that’s grown to $6.5 million thanks to increased fundraising of about $500,000 and the grant.

Once the grant was awarded, Buelna had to tap into his newly acquired management training in order to ramp up the child care program’s expansion. He only had three months.

“In part of the management training, there was training on how you focus to get an almost impossible task done in a possible way,” Buelna said.

While other organizations and programs help non-profit executives improve their business skills, those who have attended Deloitte center workshops said the programs are different because of the emphasis on organization and management.

“It provides a forum, regularity and a routine that you can count on and there aren’t that many forums like that in the region for people who lead organizations,” said Paul Vandeventer, chief executive of downtown L.A. non-profit Community Partners, an incubator for non-profits.

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