Otterbein University students are teaming up with the Westerville Area Resource Ministry (WARM) to help shape the way the nonprofit identifies needs, allocates resources and implements best practices.

Otterbein University students are teaming up with the Westerville Area Resource Ministry (WARM) to help shape the way the nonprofit identifies needs, allocates resources and implements best practices.

Through the fall Capstone Consulting program, master's of business administration students will meet with representatives from WARM regularly to help create a "metrics dashboard" data WARM will look at first when trying to determine poverty and need in the community.

The Capstone Consulting program has been part of Otterbein's MBA program since its inception in 1997, said Don Eskew, MBA program director and chair of the Business, Accounting and Economics Department.

Through that program, MBA students nearing the end of their studies team up with central Ohio organizations to serve as consultants, addressing an aspect of the business requested by the "client."

During the fall, the group selects a nonprofit organization. During the spring, a for-profit business is chosen.

Eskew said 90 percent of recommendations made to organizations by students in the Capstone Consulting program have been adopted.

"They actually put those into policy, and we're very proud of that," he said. "The students really give a bang for the buck for the organization. The organizations are very pleased."

In the past, the MBA program has worked with the Boy Scouts, the Red Cross, Cardinal Health and Wendy's, among others, but Eskew said the partnership with WARM is significant because it allows the university's students to work so closely with a local organization.

"WARM is one of the first nonprofits that's so important to Westerville that we've worked with in a while," Eskew said. "We're delighted to work with them."

WARM representatives met with Otterbein's MBA program staff to determine how the MBA students could be used to improve WARM's operations. The "metrics dashboard" was what they came up with.

The "metrics dashboard" would create a scorecard of community data to help WARM identify poverty levels and the areas in which services are most needed, said WARM executive director Scott Marier. Monitoring those indicators also will help WARM see which programs are effective.

Many small nonprofits, like WARM, monitor data such as food pantry usage to determine needs and usefulness of services. However, Marier said, having the metrics dashboard in place would help WARM determine need before clients come through their doors.

"They're all lagging indicators. They're all things that happened yesterday, last month, last year," Marier said of the data that are currently used. "A lot of organizations get so caught up looking in the rearview mirror that they don't see the train coming down the track."

The metrics dashboard also would help WARM officials assess programs as they go, allowing them to tweak as needed to make programs more effective.

"A lot of times, it gets to be too little too late. Those programs aren't as effective as they could be," Marier said.

He said the Otterbein students' work also has the potential to reach beyond Westerville, because similar tools generally aren't used by nonprofit organizations similar to WARM.

"We haven't found a lot of organizations our size or who do what we do who have something like this. We see this as implementing best practices," Marier said.

He said he's excited to be able to participate in the Capstone Consulting program because it provides WARM with valuable consulting services that it otherwise would not be able to afford.

"This is something I could never pay a consultant to do on the open market," Marier said. "They get to further their experience with a local, high-quality organization, and we get the benefit of some of the best business minds around in a way that's important to our organization."

The students will work on the metrics dashboard throughout the fall and will present their final recommendations to WARM around Thanksgiving.