Arts and Science Council Culture Blocks program leadership sought support in improving their business processes.
The Culture Blocks program brings arts and culture activities to the community in recreation centers and libraries in nine different areas of Mecklenburg County. They reached out to Apparo for support in improving their processes as they had experienced exponential growth in their program and wanted to improve their grant application process.
They were matched to a volunteer team from Jabian Consulting that conducted a business process analysis and provided recommendations for improvement. This project was facilitated by a volunteer Epic Change Agent, Jonathan Phillips, formerly with Midtown Consulting Group.
The project impact has already been incredibly valuable.
We checked in recently to Eboni Lewis, Culture Blocks Program Director to ask about the impact of their work with Jabian and Apparo. Eboni explains that they have already begun implementing many of the recommendations from the plan and are reaping the benefits. “We knew we needed to make process improvements, but we did not have the time to conduct the interviews. Having a volunteer team do that for us was so valuable. They asked all of the right questions because of their neutral perspective. If we had conducted the interviews ourselves, I’m not sure the results would have been as meaningful because we would have been more limited in the questions we asked. They identified low hanging fruit and we’ve been able to act quickly on it,” she says.
Today, facing new, time-intensive COVID-19 related programming and budgeting complexities, these process changes have been fundamental to Eboni’s ability to fulfill her role and organizational mission. “I keep thinking how wonderful it is that we made these changes. They have been a godsend. Otherwise, we would be overwhelmed and that would have a negative impact on the program. Now we have the time to focus on making smart decisions with our budget, programming enhancements and emergency response,” she shares.
Streamlining of application process has cut staff time spent on application review by nearly 2/3 and, as a result, allowed time to be shifted to other mission-focused activities.
“We are much more efficient with our time, now that we have already implemented the recommendation to move to an annual funding cycle. Previously, we accepted funding applications from Providers (those who deliver creative content through the Culture Blocks programs) at any point in the year and worked with them individually to get their application in approval-ready form. Many of these Providers have not submitted funding applications before and they need a lot of support. Now, we can conduct webinars and conference calls to educate many of our applicants at once. This process took 40-45 hours each year before. Now that we have moved to an annual cycle, with a 6 week application window, this effort is down to 15-20 hours a year. It’s given us the gift of time.” explains Eboni.
“We can now dedicate time to in-person observations of our programming and outreach to our communities. The program is rooted in serving our communities. Now we can take the time to get feedback on their needs and whether our programs are fulfilling those needs. We can also learn about the impact of our programs on lives.”
Eboni shared three stories she heard recently:
- A mom who moved to Charlotte recently and signed her daughter up for a Culture Blocks ballet class shared how the program has helped her daughter make friends and build her confidence. The experience of seeing her daughter on stage at the Ballet was very powerful.
- A senior citizen wife/caretaker shared that she signed herself and her husband up for a Culture Blocks dance class. The exercise has been so good for his health and she is so happy to get out of the house and do something she enjoys. It’s eased her caregiver burden.
- A homebound man who can now participate in dance class because the programming is being delivered virtually.
Eboni and her team are now also able to dedicate time to focusing on other program enhancements. For example, they are working with local artists and Mecklenburg County’s Senior Nutrition Homebound Program to add art activities to a weekly food delivery for residents who are homebound. She shares, “We can now reach our neighbors in ways we have not been able to before.”
Streamlined processes and changes to the application improve Provider satisfaction in the program.
“Through Jabian interviews, we learned that our Providers were dissatisfied with the length of time it took from submitting their funding application to hearing back from us. With the new application process, it’s much faster for them. Now that we are calendar-based, we can also plan time into our process to provide more support with the application process. Now our applicants feel supported and that is a priority for me,” explains Eboni.
Jabian interviews with Providers also yielded insights which led Eboni and her team to streamline communications and the application itself. “They were also frustrated in our email response time and communication processes. Based on project recommendations, we’ve also been able to make changes address their frustrations and also save us a lot of time:”
- Streamlined communications – minimized email back and forth by creating general emails covering information needed by all applicants, which has been incredibly important with COVID given the number of updates that were needed with the changing situation
- Simplified application – removed historic questions that were no longer needed
As a result of these changes, budgeting capabilities and funder relationships have also both improved.
Eboni explains improvements to their budgeting process, “We now see all of the applicants and their funding needs at once per cycle. We can fine-tune our programming spending in real time in a way that we could not before.”
She continues to explain the positive impact on their relationship with the County, “We’ve explained to our funder, Mecklenburg County, how we have been working with Jabian and Apparo to improve our processes and we’ve gotten a lot of very positive feedback. They like to know that we are establishing application windows, allocating dollars per window and being very accountable with their funds.”