- Research By Topic
- Student Programs
- Executive Programs
- GSB Social Innovators
- Community Engagement
- About CSI
Skip to Content
Change lives. Change organizations. Change the world.
The Family Service Agency of San Mateo, a social services organization, has been helping families and children for 59 years. It has plenty of experience delivering educational and financial services to thousands of low-income recipients, but what it didn’t have was in-house business expertise.
A program of the Stanford Center for Social Innovation has helped change that. The Center’s board fellows mentorship program, which puts together business school students with Bay Area nonprofits, started working with the agency in 2006.
The challenge was to design more efficient systems to deliver services on a limited budget. The Center appointed board fellow Shan Jee Yeh to the task.
In the program, business school students sit on the boards of nonprofit organizations as non-voting members, getting first-hand exposure to how they operate. In return, the board fellows offer their business knowledge as volunteer consultants.
The mission of the Family Service Agency, which serves 19,000 people a year, is to empower people—those characterized as the working poor—to achieve self-sufficiency. With 185 employees and an annual budget of $7.5 million, it must carefully assess how to best allocate funds to reach the greatest number of people.
Specifically, Agency President Laurie Wishard and her team were grappling with the problem of how to staff the early childhood education program. Years of experience had taught them that with too many staff members, they couldn’t deliver optimal care at a reasonable cost, and with too few, the organization could endanger its license.
Shan tackled this problem by helping Wishard construct a model that would show how changing the number of students, staff and group size would impact costs. “It’s also a tool we use as we go forward to evaluate any new programs that we might start,” she says. “He developed it a year and half ago, and we still use it all the time.”
The agency also provides services to children of families affected by divorce, substance abuse, or domestic violence through its Family Visitation Center. At the center, parents can visit children in a supervised, safe situation even if they don’t have formal custody.
Wishard wanted to examine the staffing, schedule, and other parameters that were hampering the center’s efficiency. The year after Shan shared his financial model with the organization, Blake Adams and Stephanie Wilson joined as board fellows tasked with making recommendations to help the agency make adjustments to the visitation center program.
“We had them look at what we were and analyze the patterns of usage and staffing to help us become more efficient, both to increase the amount of service we provide and perhaps help decrease our cost,” Wishard says. “What they did was really observe and look at what was needed for each component and what our current staffing pattern was. And then they looked at the usage of putting together the staff, parents, rooms and several other requirements to running the organization and came up with some recommendations for how we might deliver more service for less cost, and that’s been very useful.”
She adds, “The students come in with skill sets that we haven’t had. They have also been able to put some time on a specific problem that we could not focus on because of lack of time and resources.”
Wishard and her leadership team are already looking forward to working with the next Stanford board fellow in an elder care program.