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Volunteer Profile: Elizabeth Atkin

One of CCT’s longtime volunteers is Elizabeth Atkin. Elizabeth has worked on seven CCT client projects…three times as a team member and four times as project manager…more than any other volunteer! She has also served twice on the CCT project development team to help screen and evaluate client applications.

MBA: Kellogg Graduate School of Management, Northwestern University

Town of Residence: Weston, MA

Professional Background: Marketing, Communications, Management Consulting

Nonprofit Focus: Arts, Healthcare

Previous CCT Clients: Indian Hill Orchestra and Music School, MyTown, Improv Boston, Press Pass TV, Beacon Hill Village, Danforth Art, Emerson Umbrella

When did you first hear about CCT?

I moved to Weston in 2001 and was interested in resuming my career in marketing or consulting. A friend recommended I contact Carolyn McGuire who was a founding member of a consulting group comprised of MBA alumni. As fate would have it, Carolyn McGuire lives right around the corner from me! Well, life got busy, and it took a year or two, but I finally asked her about CCT.

Why did you decide to volunteer?

After talking to Carolyn, I attended a volunteer information session. I was intrigued with the idea of sharpening my professional skills as well as helping area nonprofits, particularly arts-related organizations. I signed up for a project and was assigned to the Indian Hill Orchestra and Music School.

You have worked on seven client projects over the past nine years. What have you learned are the key ingredients for a successful outcome?

One key ingredient is having an enthusiastic team that works well together. Some teams have a special chemistry. Second, is being organized (particularly as a project manager) and keeping the project within scope and on track. Third, is developing a detailed implementation plan for the client (depending on project applicability).& The client is more likely to implement if the path forward is laid out and the necessary tasks are clearly defined. Prioritization of recommendations can also be helpful for resource-stretched nonprofits. Finally, it helps when the client is passionate and articulate about its cause; this inevitably rubs off on the team and makes the project more fun.

Could you elaborate on that last point?

Sure, my experience with Beacon Hill Village is a good example. The Executive Director was extremely passionate about BHV’s mission (helping elderly Boston residents age safely in their own homes). She had great energy and a fabulous and supportive Board. She was very enthusiastic about the national outreach program CCT developed for BHV and vowed to implement every last piece of our plan (we gave her a two inch thick implementation plan; but she did implement as promised!). The team felt its work was really appreciated. I was particularly pleased when I recently checked BHV’s special outreach website, Village to Village, and saw our program had been successfully implemented and had spawned 90 new villages in 20 states, with more in progress.

What have been the most rewarding aspects of working on a project?

I’ve enjoyed meeting different people, some of whom I wouldn’t have run into otherwise. Getting to know people who are in different stages of their careers and lives is an energizing experience. I also love learning about different nonprofit organizations. Each organization and project has been interesting, and I always learn more than I anticipate.

Plus, sometimes there are unexpected perks and benefits from working on a project.

What are some of these perks and benefits?

On the Danforth Art project our team was given special guided tours of the Danforth Museum and invited to its annual food and wine tasting gala. After completing the Beacon Hill Village project, the Board took our team to dinner at a wonderful Back Bay restaurant for the final presentation. But the greatest perks probably resulted from working with ImprovBoston. During that project our team participated in an Improv training workshop and attended an amazing Improv performance. Several years later, I hired two “mystery guests” from ImprovBoston to attend my daughter’s 21st birthday party…one posed as a heart-broken ex-boyfriend and the second as her flamboyant college professor. Our real guests were stunned when the surprise guests revealed their true identities! This made the event unique and very memorable. I wouldn’t have thought of hiring ImprovBoston performers if I hadn’t worked on the project.

As a four-time Project Manager, what advice would you give to a first-time Project Manager?

It is very important, and sometimes challenging, to keep team members enthusiastic and motivated to participate fully. To generate enthusiasm, I encourage team members to participate in client events, such as attending a performance, so they can better understand the nonprofit and hopefully bond with its mission. I also try to develop the team so it works well together and team members feel stimulated to offer ideas.

With respect to the client, it is important to figure out early how best to communicate with the designated contact and also to set expectations as to what CCT will need from the client to complete the project. Fortunately, as a marketing person, persistence is part of my DNA and these aspects have always worked out fine.

What are your future plans with CCT?

I am volunteering as a project manager for the 2014 project cycle and look forward to participating in my eighth client project working with the Brain Injury Association.

Thanks Elizabeth!