Our Strategic Advising practice advises leaders and organizations on their most pressing strategic and operational issues. We help our clients maximize their impact on underserved students and address inequities, especially for black, Hispanic, low-income, and other students who have been historically denied opportunity. Our work ranges from supporting entrepreneurs through business plan development, to partnering with established organizations on growth and performance improvement, to assessing new opportunities for impact as the field evolves.
Bellwether's team includes former teachers, school operators, policymakers, government officials, and nonprofit leaders. Three-quarters of our staff have worked in the classroom. Because of this direct operating experience, we understand work “on the ground” in schools, districts, and education organizations.
Members of our team also come from top-tier management consulting firms such as Bain & Company, The Boston Consulting Group, McKinsey & Company, and Deloitte. The tools and training developed in those firms inform our work, as do the experience and perspective gained in the field as teachers, funders, nonprofit leaders, and board members. Having worked with consultants as clients ourselves, we recognize the challenges associated with hiring outside professionals to meet the unique needs of organizations in this field. For that reason, we have developed a highly collaborative process that ensures relevant work and gives clients real ownership of the results. Our experience as executives in the world of education reform minimizes our learning curve and maximizes our understanding of the issues our clients must confront.
Our advising capabilities directly address many commonly faced challenges and opportunities in the education sector. These include:
Strategy and growth
- Strategic planning and goal setting: We work with organizations to determine how to increase their impact and better serve black, Hispanic, low-income, and other students who have been historically denied opportunity. Our planning includes clarifying their theory of action and equity-focused impact goals, identifying opportunities to improve the impact of current activities, planning for new initiatives, and helping growing organizations determine where, how, and how much to scale. We co-create plans through inclusive stakeholder engagement processes and we leave clients with detailed, actionable plans that enjoy strong support and buy-in from their leadership teams and boards.
- New opportunity evaluation and start-up business planning: We work with entrepreneurs to turn ideas into effective organizations. We help these leaders clarify initial concepts, determine a theory of action and equity-focused impact goals, define specific product and service offerings, determine their business model and philanthropic needs, and craft an actionable implementation roadmap.
- Market assessment: We help organizations understand how trends in the field of education impact current and potential future markets. We support organizations in assessing entry into new markets and advise on building out specific, effective approaches to driving impact in current and new markets.
- Grant writing: For high stakes, strategic grant opportunities, we support clients in developing a competitive application, including concept generation, stakeholder engagement strategies, program and budget development, implementation planning, and grant writing. Our record of success in grant competitions demonstrates that we are best-in-class at understanding grant requirements and guiding clients in the design of a successful application.
Organizational design, effectiveness, and decision support
- Organizational design: Any organization’s plan is only as strong as the people who will implement it and the organizational structure that supports them. We work with clients to evaluate their starting point on structure, culture, roles and responsibilities, decision-making processes, and communications, and then develop solutions to strengthen assets, shore up weaknesses, and deliver more equitable outcomes.
- Communities of practice and facilitation: We host and support high-impact gatherings designed to enable leaders and leadership teams to learn from diverse groups of experts on critical topics and from one another. We also provide facilitation for leadership teams and boards who need structured conversation and an outside perspective on critical strategic topics.
- Organizational effectiveness: A bold and detailed strategy is necessary to achieve ambitious goals, but it is not sufficient. Organizations also need strong, efficient organizational systems and practices to drive better outcomes for kids, especially those who have been historically denied opportunity. Bellwether works with organizations of all sizes to plan and build their capacity across a number of areas, including human capital, operations, finance, academics, programming, external relations, and governance. This can include conducting financial analysis for greater equity, efficiency, and sustainability, undertaking targeted research into national and local best practices, and defining and clarifying organizational roles and responsibilities. We always leave our clients with a set of tailored recommendations to deepen and extend their intended impact.
- Implementation support: Launching complex projects requires attention to details, communications, and change management. We help organizations design and execute a breadth of initiatives, providing project management expertise and extra implementation capacity to position critical initiatives for long-term success. When new projects or initiatives require financial backing, we can also help clients develop competitive grant applications for federal and other funds.
Academic and program strategy
- New school planning and support: We support the planning and development of new schools that are bringing innovative learning models to students. With in-house expertise in school founding and design, we bring knowledge of the multi-year planning steps, best practices, and potential pitfalls as we help new schools thrive.
- School improvement support: Running high-quality schools is not an easy task: Some schools may experience dips or gaps in student results, challenges with adult and student culture, or competing priorities when implementing initiatives. Other schools may strive to push performance from “good to great.” With experience managing full-scale school turnarounds and sustaining school improvement, we help schools develop nuanced plans to refine instructional systems and practices, strengthen leader capacity, and ensure execution with fidelity. In all projects, we create a tailored plan to get at the heart of improvement challenges, keep issues of educational equity front and center, and support inclusive stakeholder engagement and change management strategies necessary for success.
- Scaling impact: Whether your goal is to serve more students or identify components of your current model for focused improvement, Bellwether can support tangible action planning to increase your impact. We use a school health assessment to discover program/school strengths and areas for improvement. With our deep experience operating and leading schools, our team can strengthen your current school program or pinpoint program elements to maximize over time.