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The History of ESCH

Mission: To Promote Best Management Practices Within the Nonprofit Sector

A Powerful Idea Inspired by the U.S. Peace Corps

The Executive Service Corps of Houston was created in 1984 to enable the local nonprofit community to tap into the abundant talent and experience of our area's retired corporate executives.

During the succeeding decades, ESCH has grown into a diversified volunteer organization delivering more than $1.5 million of consulting services annually and serving over 1,000 Houston-area nonprofits.

Nationally, however, ESCH traces its inspiration to 1964, when President Lyndon Johnson authorized the International Executive Service Corp, an organization modeled after an idea attributed to entrepreneur/philanthropists David Rockefeller and Sol Linowitz, themselves inspired by the Peace Corps.  The ICES's emphasis was on sending senior executive volunteers to emerging nations, on programs shaped by the United States Agency for International Development, to assist in creating prosperity and stability through principles of private enterprise.

Recognizing that retired executives and business professionals represented a resource to nonprofit endeavors in the U.S., a National Executive Service Corps was established to serve New York City in 1977. The idea spread to other major cities, as well. Today, independent Executive Service Corps affiliates operate in 23 states. All of these ESC organizations - including our own -- are dedicated to improving the quality of life in the communities they serve. They accomplish this by providing high quality, affordable consulting services and other technical assistance to nonprofits, schools, and government agencies.

Executive Service Corps of Houston Launched by Energy Industry Leaders

The move to establish an ESC locally was begun by Ken Jamieson, who had retired in 1975 as chairman and CEO of Exxon Corporation. He recruited Houston executives Randall Meyer, president and CEO of Exxon Company, USA, who in turn enlisted Roy Trusty, retired secretary of Exxon USA to serve as interim executive director without pay.

Under Jamieson's auspices, ESCH was then chartered and incorporated on September 10, 1984. Its Board of trustees included Jamieson as chairman, Meyer and Trusty, as well as Howard Boyd, retired chairman of El Paso Company; M.A. Wright, chairman of Cameron Iron Works; V.G. Whittington, VP of employee relations for Shell Oil, and J. Hugh Roff, Jr., chairman of United Energy Resources. Glenn Westman, VP of finance of Gulf Oil, was named treasurer.

The board accepted the major challenge of obtaining funding, and began to establish a network of retired executives as consultants, and to develop a list of potential clients. In addition, they approved the following mission:

  • To assist nonprofit organizations, educational institutions and units of government within the Houston metropolitan area by providing free consulting services to help solve problems, improve effectiveness and efficiency, develop capacity to implement new, more effective programs, and
  • To work with leaders in business, government and not-for-profit organizations in helping solve significant socioeconomic problems in the greater Houston area.

Their hard work led, by the end of 1985, to ESCH's boasting of a consulting list numbering 36, charitable contributions totaling $14,000, and growth of the Executive Service Corps being "limited [principally] by the availability of good projects."

Refining the Original Concept, Heading toward Maturity

Thereafter, the adolescent years for ESCH were erratic, with demand, funding and consultant pools rising and falling. The board eventually felt the need to refine the niche that ESCH was to fill. Collaborations were formed with other organizations offering management consulting to nonprofits, and discussions were held with United Way, to explore ways of cooperating more closely.

Deciding to no longer provide all services pro bono, the board adopted a $45 fee in 1994, but in practice would waive the charge if any client could not afford it. The goal of the charge was to increase the commitment of ESCH clients.

Concurrently, new management sought strategies to enhance the visibility of ESCH as a vehicle for community service and to recruit new members with specific, much-needed technical skills. Volunteers made things go, because only one staff member could be paid.

In 1999, with the ascendency of Michael Grasley, former chairman and CEO of Shell Chemical, to the ESCH chairmanship, more changes commenced.  New committee chairs were named. Marketing was given a higher priority, and skills training was deemed mandatory for consultants. At the same time, volunteer recruiting was accelerated and a major fundraising program was mobilized.

Burt Hering, a former VP for engineering and construction for Amoco Power Resources, agreed to head training and led a team in developing a curriculum of five courses for consultants. Basic training was made mandatory.

Things would never be the same.

A Reinvigorated ESCH Enters the 21st Century to Serve

The array of ESCH services now included consulting in 20 areas, including board training and development, accounting, financial planning, marketing, human resources, strategic planning, and even assistance in starting a new 501(c)(3) organization. Suddenly ESCH was providing $1.5 million in free service to the Houston area's nonprofit community.

Under the leadership of Gayle McNutt, formerly VP for public affairs at Baylor College of Medicine, ESCH continued evolving dramatically. The staff grew, a monthly newsletter began circulation via the Internet, and fundraising improved significantly. By the close of 2001, ESCH had a board of 17 gifted members; a budget of $150,000; two paid, full-time staffers; renewed momentum, and a simplified mission: to provide management consulting services to the nonprofit community of Greater Houston.

The number of clients was climbing annually, too.

Based on a national survey of ESC organizations, ESCH was well on its way. Even against organizations with larger staffs and budgets, ESCH now ranked among the nation's leaders in projects performed and clients served.  Moreover, a great advance was about to be made possible by Houston Endowment Inc., which donated $75,000 - the largest single grant ever made to ESCH - and included a $45,000 "Stakeholder Project" and $10,000 a year for operations in the years 2004-06. Strategic research among nonprofit leaders, donors and volunteers, all undertaken as part of the Stakeholder Project, brought ESCH's strengths, weaknesses, perceptions and priorities into clearer focus as the organization prepared for its second 20 years.

And the best was yet to come. Read more about all of the nonprofits served by ESCH.

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