“This Fellowship was a case study of incredible success.” – Eric Gurna


When Eric Gurna, CEO of LA’s Best needed a new website to make it easier to donate on mobile devices, he knew he had a big opportunity to do more than build the website. Two years into his tenure as CEO, and two years from its 30th anniversary, he felt it was the right time to remake how LA’s BEST told its story and presented itself. LA’s BEST provides safe and supervised afterschool education, enrichment and recreation programs for the 200 highest need, least resourced schools in Los Angeles. The agency  serves 25,000 kids each day.

Eric knew he didn’t have the internal capacity, and he didn’t want to make a permanent hire as he knew that after the project, they wouldn’t need someone full time. When he heard about Encore Fellowships, it seemed like a perfect fit.

“I ran a consulting business for fifteen years, so I know when it’s useful to bring consultants on. We needed subject matter expertise for this substantial project. The project had a bigger, more open-ended goal than a website. It was essentially a rebrand. We needed to think about our visual look, our messaging, and our story. The field of education had changed and the language of education had changed. We needed to clarify our values and our message.”

When Eric met Joan Goldfeder, it felt like a good fit.

Joan spent over 25 years in advertising, including media planning, account management and strategic planning at agencies such as Benton & Bowles and Ogilvy & Mather. She then built her own consulting business in branding, strategic planning and marketing for agencies and clients; in the last few years, she has consulted largely with nonprofits.

Joan first heard about Encore Fellowships when she met our Los Angeles Program Operator, Judy Bamberger at a lunch. Soon after that, Judy contacted Joan to see if she would be interested in a fellowship with LA’s BEST. The need for a rebrand and associated messaging was a strong match with Joan’s skills.

“My job was to make the visual identity, messaging and website better communicate both the real need and the tremendous impact and importance of the program,” explains Joan.

Joan created a process to help stakeholders talk through and negotiate the issues. She conducted interviews and focus groups, posed messages and language the team could react to, and facilitated hammering out the messaging. She provided a formal report and recommendations on brand positioning and vision statements.  With LA’s BEST leadership and board input and approval, Joan and Eric worked with a copywriter to develop new value propositions and messaging.

The messaging now demonstrates the impact and importance of LA’s BEST work.

“The message became more about the philosophy and real benefits of the program. We captured the idea that LA’s BEST is not just a place for kids to go after school, but rather, a means to discover and develop new ideas, passions, skills and relationships with peers and caring adults, that have profound and long-lasting impact – impact that can be measured in things like higher school attendance and graduation rates, but also in equally critical measures of self-confidence, curiosity and wonder, and enhanced senses of purpose, drive and self-worth in kids. It empowers them with the agency to explore and discover the opportunities in their lives and make their own choices,” says Joan.

“Without Joan, I would have cut corners and had only incremental results. Joan made sure we took the work to the next level,” says Eric.

Ultimately, LA’s BEST received a family of documents for all their communication needs, including value statements, goals, and key messages. The team now has boilerplate they can feel confident using and know they will be on message.

Adds Eric, “It changed how I talk about certain things we do . . . I feel more confident in how we tell our story and explain who we are; why it’s important. We are helping children make meaningful choices because we want them to grow up to have lives full of choices – that is a message that is from the heart. It has given us a toolbox and wind in our sails to recruit staff, students and families, and explain to school leaders what LA’s BEST does.”

To make an Encore Fellowship successful, Eric advises, “Make sure you spend the time to find the right fit. Don’t underestimate the energy needed to create the conditions for the Fellow to be successful. The most important thing is that the Fellow has a strong point of contact and is not expected to just figure out how the organization works. Make sure you acclimate the Fellow. Our organization is a public/private partnership, with 200 program sites and three boards. We had to make sure Joan knew how the organization functioned.”

Joan found herself using her skills in a new and innovative environment as LA’s BEST is a unique partnership between the Mayor’s Office, the Los Angeles Unified School District (LAUSD) and the private sector. Joan learned about City and LAUSD policies and procedures, and the political sensitivity needed to align so many stakeholders within one organization.

“Through the Fellowship I learned that what drives me is the project:  the strategic thinking, figuring out the real benefits and an organization’s story ‒ and not the money,” Joan observed. “I like digging and finding answers, helping an organization get to a better place in their branding and messaging. I intend to keep consulting in the nonprofit area.”

Eric continues, “Encore Fellowships are the equivalent of a grant for gaining professional expertise for a drastically reduced price. I am grateful to have this opportunity and proud we made the most of it. The level of expertise and substance was an incredible long-term value. Additionally, Encore Fellows™ assure that organizations are getting people with commitment to the work . . . we are getting people who really want to help make positive change in the world. That compassionate commitment drove Joan to provide the highest quality, stick with difficult decisions and push through a lot of tedious work. She pushed to make the final product excellent, not just good enough. This Fellowship was a case study of incredible success.”


Published: August 10, 2018


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