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Bottom Line’s Justin Strasburger on Sustainable Growth and Building a Roadmap for the Future

Posted by boston
Justin Strasburger (middle) with SVP Boston Executive Director Darcy Brownell (left) and Ted Lapres (right), SVP Boston Partner and co-Lead Partner for SVP’s engagement with Bottom Line, at SVP Boston’s Annual Portfolio Celebration in June 2017.

We are excited to feature Justin Strasburger, Executive Director of Bottom Line -Massachusetts (SVP Grantee in 2007 – 2010 and 2014 – 2017), in our 15th Anniversary profile series. Read on to learn more about Bottom Line’s SVP experience.  

A brief overview of Bottom Line

Since 1997, Bottom Line has addressed the low college graduation rates of low-income and first-generation students. By providing consistent one-on-one support, Bottom Line has helped thousands of low-income, first-generation students get into college, graduate college, and go far in life. Bottom Line currently serves more than 6,000 students throughout Massachusetts, New York City, and Chicago.

Bottom Line re-engaged with SVP in June 2014. Where were you then, and where are you now?

In 2014, Bottom Line – Massachusetts was in the midst of an aggressive five-year growth campaign, and we were at a critical inflection point. Over the last three years, we’ve experienced 50% growth, both in the number of students we serve and our staff size. While the growth is significant, what I valued most about our time with SVP was the focus on adding true organizational capacity and expertise. It’s not just about providing funding to see how many more students we can serve – knowing that we were growing, SVP helped us understand what we needed from an infrastructure standpoint to ensure that we remained a strong organization as we continued to grow. Looking back on the projects that SVP helped us with over the last three years, our time together really reflects that commitment to sustainable growth.

Tell us more about the types of projects you worked on with SVP.

SVP worked with us on a number of internal infrastructure projects to support our growth, including manager training, core competencies for staff, and matching senior leaders with mentors. With a growing staff, we’ve added a range of new middle management roles, which meant that we had an increasingly young group of managers looking for guidance and support. SVP helped us build out the infrastructure to support this organizational shift.

Our SVP Partners also helped us on the programmatic side as we thought about scaling and deepening our program offerings. We had set up a pilot program to explore the feasibility of working with community college students, and our SVP team helped us reevaluate that pilot program to ensure that we could measure our impact moving forward. Because of SVP, we now think differently about pilot program design and impact. SVP was also instrumental in the development of our career program. We have a strong and growing pipeline of talent in our graduating classes of alumni each year, which is a compelling value proposition to the corporate community in Boston. We thought a lot about what it would take to feel like we were authentically preparing our students for the working world. SVP helped us think through the early stages of our career program using a combination of external research, understanding best practices, and bringing their own business expertise to bear.

As you think back on three years with SVP, what do you consider the greatest success of the engagement?

The expansion of our career program was such a critical project, and it will definitely withstand the test of time. Working with SVP on that project really helped jumpstart our thinking on how we needed to adapt as an organization – how we could evolve our programming to actively prepare students for the workplace. SVP helped us lay the groundwork for our career program, and we’re continuing to build on that foundation. It’s still early in terms of implementation and seeing results, but we have a really strong roadmap for the program because of SVP’s support.

Most challenging aspect of your time with SVP?

Through the lens of giving advice to another organization who is considering collaborating with SVP, I’d say that the time commitment is the most challenging aspect. You need to be ready to change and ready to commit. It’s not about sending a group of people off on a task to report back when they’re ready. Our SVP team really wanted to be our partners in this work, and they challenged us to think big. Our leadership team needed to be prepared and engaged throughout the process, and the hardest part was carving out the time. Time is everyone’s most precious resource, especially in resource-constrained nonprofit organizations, but organizational change takes a lot of time and intentionality.

What’s next on the horizon for Bottom Line?

I’m really excited about the future of our career program. We’re using this year as a final planning period to build out the program and hire additional staff, and I’m excited to see the program take off over the next few years. In today’s economy, it’s not enough to just graduate with a bachelor’s degree. If you don’t have a strong career path, and if you don’t have the experience or the network, you’re going to have trouble finding a job. At Bottom Line, we consider it a moral imperative to help our students make the successful transition from college to the working world. Our career program is such a great win-win for everyone involved – we’re creating better outcomes for our students while developing stronger relationships and revenue opportunities with our corporate partners. Five years from now, I hope to be able to say that we’re seen not just as a leader in getting students into and graduating from college, but that we’re also a leader in helping students successfully transition into the workforce.

Some background on Justin…

Justin Strasburger joined Bottom Line in 2009, and became the Massachusetts Executive Director in June of 2016. Justin has steadily built a career at Bottom Line, where he has held various positions, including College Counselor, Team Manager, Director of Bottom Line Worcester, and National Success Program Director. As Executive Director of the Massachusetts office, Justin is responsible for the oversight of all Bottom Line programs and offices throughout Massachusetts. He is in charge of executing Bottom Line–Massachusetts’ Strategic Plan which includes growing the organization to serve more than 4,000 College Access and Success Program students from Boston and Worcester annually by 2020. A graduate of Bowdoin College, Justin is working towards his MS in Non-Profit Management at Northeastern University and recently completed a year-long Institute for Non-Profit Management and Leadership certificate program at Tufts University. Justin lives in Sudbury, MA with his wife, Rebekah.