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Building a Tool to Help the Community...And a Better Way to Work Virtually
Faced with a challenging request from a nonprofit, a JPMorgan Chase team built a brand new real estate tool and figured out new ways to work remotely.
In January, Mathew Jacob found himself on a phone call with four strangers.
Months earlier, all five people on the call—Jacob, Natesh Arunachalam, Mariah Cleveland, Carol Goldstein and Adrian Hui—had applied to JPMorgan Chase's Virtual Service Corps (VSC)—a program that matches the bank's employees with nonprofit organizations in need of support. The five volunteers shared one common trait: They wanted to use their technical skills to help communities in need.
Now they had their chance.
It was a diverse group. The volunteers lived in different parts of the country, and represented a range of ages, races and genders. They also had a variety of different jobs and skills: One worked in consumer cards, another in global technology infrastructure, still another in corporate risk. But VSC had brought them—and their complementary skills—together for a shared mission: helping the Urban League of Greater Chattanooga (ULGC) find a new headquarters.
ULGC works closely with the Southeastern Tennessee community, helping people build economic self-reliance and fight for equal rights in their communities. In the face of the growing COVID-19 pandemic, the ensuing economic disruptions and the impassioned demonstrations for justice and racial equality in cities around the world, the success of their mission has become more necessary than ever. But finding a new headquarters is a daunting task, especially for a nonprofit organization that is already stretched thin by the community's needs.
The JPMorgan Chase team's mission was to build a financial model that would help ULGC make an informed decision when they chose a new location. It was a big project with a short timeline—the group only had about three months to create a new type of tool, specifically designed to meet the needs of a nonprofit that was about to face some big challenges of its own.
Mariah Cleveland, Global Technology Associate for JPMorgan Chase.
The search for a technical partner had begun months before Jacob picked up the phone. In 2019, ULGC Program Director Vickye Bone found out that the Urban League needed a new headquarters. When she realized the full size and scope of the task, she knew the organization would need some help.
At a conference that year, ULGC learned about VSC and contacted JPMorgan Chase. A few months later, in January, Bone was explaining ULGC's needs to Jacob and the rest of the team, and asking them to develop a customized real estate financial model that would help the organization find a new home at a price it could afford.
“We were looking to create a simple but highly customizable model that would serve as a tool to project future property costs," says Chicago investment banker Adrian Hui, a member of the team. “We built it in a way such that ULGC could easily include or remove specific cash flows, which they would have more clarity on."
A Wish List
Over the next three months, the VSC team learned more about ULGC's needs and financial resources. One major question was whether the organization should rent or buy. Like most nonprofits, cost was a major concern, as every dollar they saved on their building could be put back into the community.
Other factors included the accessibility of the new space, the proximity to public transportation, the technical capabilities and any needed building maintenance. The VSC team assigned a value to all of these factors—and more—when they built the assessment model.
In a matter of weeks, the VSC team had a customized model ready to go, and by April the team was training the ULGC's leadership on how to use it. To demonstrate its application, the team worked with a local real estate agent to find four properties they could use the model to compare. While none were a perfect match, each showed how ULGC could use the model to evaluate new buildings.
“The tool will allow us to develop a financial justification for moving forward with specific options," says Bone. “It is invaluable as we create a pitch for our Board of Directors and funders."
A Virtual Team Effort
While ULGC's new tool is helping transform its search for a new headquarters, the way it came together also proved increasingly relevant. Designed as a virtual engagement from the start, Jacob and the VSC team were easily able to move forward with their work, even as COVID-19 began to affect the way businesses operate. “We did it all virtually before virtually was really a thing," says Carol Goldstein, a team member who works for CCB Card Services in Wilmington, DE.
In the end, the team built the tool from start to finish without holding a single face-to-face meeting or sharing a single handshake. VSC demonstrates that a team can grow—and help communities in need—even when its members are outside of the workplace. “Looking back, it's amazing to think we were all strangers a couple of months back, driven by a common desire to give back, and now we're a tightly integrated team," Jacob says.
While ULGC's search for their new headquarters continues, Bone says they're approaching the search with newfound confidence thanks to the work from the VSC team.
For the employees who stepped up to help, the appreciation goes both ways.
Natesh Arunachalam, a New York-based team member.