Clearity, Rachel Freeman - Scaling a non-profit to further their program reach


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In this episode of The Business of Non-Profits, we speak with Rachel Freeman from The Clearity Foundation about scaling a Non-Profit to further their program reach. We’ll learn about the challenges they’ve surmounted along the way, how change has transformed the team, and where they are going next!

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Steps Through OC

Clearity Podcast



Stacey Lund:

Hello. You're listening to the business of nonprofits.

With me today is Rachel Freeman from the Clearity foundation. Rachel is a seasoned human resources and operations professional. Today we're going to learn how Clearity scales to increase its program reach. We'll learn about the challenges they've surrounded along the way, how change has transformed the team and where they're going next.

Rachel, thanks so much for joining us. Why don't you take a few minutes and introduce yourself, your role at Clearity, and the impactful work the Clearity Foundation does?


Rachel Freeman:

Thanks, Stacey.

Hi, everyone. I'm Rachel Freeman.

I'm the director of HR and operations for the Clearity Foundation. I started working with Clearity in 2020, right at the beginning stages of the pandemic. I left the corporate scene just a few years before that and was consulting in human resources and project management. After helping the Clearity team for a few months, I was struck by the compassion and the passion that was displayed by each of the people that I worked with. To a person, concern, and thoughtfulness for the women they supported were at the core of every decision and conversation they had, and I just knew I had to be part of the team.

Clearity works to improve the survival and quality of life of women with ovarian cancer. It's one of the most difficult diagnoses to receive, especially since it's typically diagnosed in the late stages. We meet these women and their loved ones where they're at and walk through this journey with them on their terms. That might mean helping them understand the science behind their disease and treatment options, locating an appropriate clinical trial, or managing the stress and anxiety that can be overwhelming in their situation. All our services are free of charge. Our individual personalized support is driven by the needs of each of the teal women that come to us.


Stacey Lund:

It's such an amazing mission and in some cases, heartbreaking. So, I can't even imagine working in that environment and literally impacting lives. Every single participant you touch truly, truly has a change that you can see and measure just from your involvement in their lives. And that's so huge. So, thank you so much for the work you do.

Clearly, the Pandemic was a busy time. It was a busy time for everyone. But Clearity had some non-pandemic-related work that happened. You had a lot of things occur all at the same time while the Pandemic was happening. Tell us a little bit about that, about the landscape, kind of how you came in, the assessments you did, taking on another assimilating, another small startup like. How did that work? Tell me about that.


Rachel Freeman:

Most of the Clearity team was already working remotely and virtually prior to the pandemic, and so part of what I did was help them get set up to be as efficient virtually as they were in the office.

The biggest challenge that they were having at that point is they had reached the point in the growth of the organization where they weren't really a startup anymore, but they weren't big and stabilized. They were right at the beginning of a steep growth trajectory and the Pandemic just adds a layer of complexity to that for sure. But what we were looking at doing at that point was not only getting the team virtual for safety reasons but also looking for ways to find efficiencies and scalability in our processes and procedures so that we could handle the influx of participants that we were really expecting to see.


Stacey Lund:

Okay, so during the Pandemic you also it sounds like scaling was an issue and you had recognized that, but you were also acquiring and assimilating this another program. So, you had additional tech, you were also taking on board. Talk a little bit about that.


Rachel Freeman:

Just prior to the Pandemic, we had been working with a pilot program called Steps Through OC, which provided psychosocial support to women with ovarian cancer. And just before the Pandemic started, we brought them in as a full program of Clearity. And so, they had been operating on completely different technology platforms, and organizational structures, everything was separate because they had been operating as a separate organization prior to that point. And so quite a bit of the scalability that we needed to do was also finding the efficiencies and consistency in the way people are doing their work at Clearity.


Stacey Lund:

Absolutely. You're looking at the scale and you're looking at what you do internally and how they work, trying to come up with a happy medium. So how did you know? What was the trigger for you that something had to change? Was it something from the board? What happened?


Rachel Freeman:

It was a little bit of both. So, the acquisition brought in a number of new participants that have been looking for something different than our core services at that time were scientific support and education around the treatment decisions that women were focusing on. What we found was that adding this new service allowed us to give more holistic support to the women and their families, but it also increased the number of people that were being referred to our scientific program and vice versa. We knew that we needed to scale, and we needed to find these efficiencies because we were looking at such a steep growth in our projections for the participants that we were bringing in.


Stacey Lund:

Excellent. A lot of people will say getting started is the hardest part. So how did you start, what did you take on, and how did you parse the work? How did you approach this?


Rachel Freeman:

The biggest and most important pieces of these transitions is the change management and actually doing that prep work before you get started.

Because there were these distinct teams that had been operating independently from each other, it was really important to have the buy in of the leadership team and to make sure that not only was everyone accepting what needed to come up, but they really understood the benefits to it and they wanted this to happen. Because it's one thing to say, theoretically I'm on board, I want to grow this program by 500% in the next year. But when that means that now you've got to have a request that you put in for something that you just did quickly yourself, that gets hard very quickly. So it was really important that we had the why really established before we got started.


Stacey Lund:

Absolutely. And I think the more competent you are in your field, at your work, the harder it is to feel uncomfortable and sort of incompetent and make that shift. Nobody likes to feel like they're not good at what they do and this just compounded it over time, right?

Let's talk specifics about one of the improvements that you made and you did it fairly quickly, was centralizing sort of operational support. Talk about that specifically in terms of how did you get the buy in on that and how did you announce it, what did you do there?


Rachel Freeman:

So that was actually one of the simpler but most foundational pieces of what we did for the scalability and efficiency analysis was establishing this centralized operational support for the organization They were all operating independently. There wasn't any efficiencies between them. If two different departments were looking for similar support, they would have to be two different skill sets or two different people, or at least one person trained in two different processes. And so the buy-in was actually fairly simple. We're going to take some stuff off your plate. You guys are going to get to focus on the things that got you into this business to begin with.

It was the implementation of that that saw the challenges.


Stacey Lund:

Absolutely. I think that's a good segue into what were the challenges you saw and how did you work them out? Or maybe you didn't.


Rachel Freeman:

I think the biggest challenge is just that people have a different environment that they work in when they're working independently of each other. One department calls the women that we support participants and we have another one that might call them patients or that might call them teal women, or just the terminology all of the normal things that are just part of everyday work. And the challenge was really that they were all functioning well. There were no issues. And so we were really going in specifically to fix something that wasn't broken.

And so it's really important to bring it back to that big picture to remind of the why and just because you have to send in this request that you could do yourself in 30 minutes. If you send in a request and it takes somebody else 15 minutes and it saves somebody in a different department an hour, it's still worth it. And so really just kind of putting it into perspective and getting everybody to take a step back and look at that bigger picture and the benefits that will come out of it.


Stacey Lund:

I know data was a huge impetus both for some of your changes but also some of the discomfort. But in your case, every group knew their data like cold. You could ask someone specifically how many participants were at a certain stage or how many participants enrolled in. So, talk a little bit about the data challenge and the specifics of feeling of the loss of control of data. How did you try to partner with them to let them know it would be okay? And how did you work that?


Rachel Freeman:

The data is actually still in process. This is a transition that we're going through right now and it's a loss of control for the data. But I don't think that that's the motivation behind it. It's the lack of personalization that causes the frustration. So, you're right. We have a scientific team that's working with some medical records and then we have our psychosocial team that's working with people's mental health even though they're not providing therapy. They were always keeping their data very separate and private as they should as well. And then our development team has financial information from people and that's different but equal level of privacy. And so all three of them were very separate in their databases but had such a high touch and a connection to the people that they were working with that they didn't need a database. They could tell you each and every one. And so as wonderful as that is and as much as that contributes to the environment and to the level of support and connection we have with the people that we support, the scalability factor of that is a little tough because there's only a certain number of people that you can connect that deeply with.

The ability to let technology support the scalability of the data and the storage of the data and the efficiency of the data management, it's difficult because it feels like it's less personal. There's a lot of it that we're looking for ways to have that technology help and augment the personal connection so that it's not something that's taking away that control, it's something that's giving more control.


Stacey Lund:

I love that, right? Because the whole point of a business, any business, but especially a nonprofit, should be connection, it should be a really good customer experience. That's frictionless, right? It's all about the people we serve. So I love that it came from that heart of service, right. It's not just cost savings or even fundraising. It's truly, it's truly from a place of service. Talk a little bit about your successes. What were they and how did you communicate them to the team to get more support and get buy in that it's working?


Rachel Freeman:

in the last two years, we've increased the capacity for our emotional support sessions by 44% with the same counseling team. But being able to be that much more focused on supporting the women at the way that only they can and taking the things off of their plate that they don't need to be doing.

And then we've also cut our operating expenses by 28% in the last year. And that's even with the investment in technology that we've been making.


Stacey Lund:

Rachel, that's huge.

And I think one of the other interesting things, because I know a little bit about the inside of this organization, it's not just the numbers, right? You have that and I know the counselors feel it. They feel that they're doing more and they're reaching more people, which is so gratifying for them. And your C suite and your board probably love the cut and operational expenses in addition to that.

So if you had one nugget of advice, one little pearl of wisdom for somebody who was looking at I'm not even talking the same redesign that you've done, but just maybe a digital transformation or a tech project, what would your piece of advice be?


Rachel Freeman:

Start the change management early and spend more time on that than you do on the implementation. So make sure that you've got the buy in, the leadership all the way down, and that you have a very clearly articulated why behind the change. So that when it does get tough and frustrating, you have something to point back to, to say, this is why this is worth it.


Stacey Lund:

You had talked in our prep meeting about the team transformation. That along the way, as you do a digital transformation or a big change project, the team itself reacts differently. Talk to us a little bit about that because I think that's important.


Rachel Freeman:

At different stages of an organization's growth, there are different environments that you're working in, and people gravitate towards those environments. So some people really like to work with a startup organization. They're very entrepreneurial. They like the fast pace, the immediate impact. And some people like to work in a more fully grown, stable organization. They like the consistency. They like the structure, and there's pros and cons to both ways. And so when you start with the role, you are drawn to where that environment is when you're looking at the organization and you're looking at the job, and as the organization grows, the team may or may not transform along with it. So as we move into a growth phase and we're looking at building that structure and the stability, you have to have the right people in the right positions at the right time. And that, at the right time, is the piece that a lot of people forget.


Stacey Lund:

Yeah. And it isn't personal on either side. Right. It truly is. It is a personality fit, and some people just recognize it right away. That's the remarkable thing. And I think that is big because I think a lot of organizations assume everyone is going to be along for the ride, right. And everyone is not. They're not


Rachel Freeman:

And the best thing that the organization can do for themselves and for their team is to acknowledge that and assist people in finding the role or the niche that's right for them


Stacey Lund:

Okay. So I want to give you a minute to talk about Teal Woman because you have these exciting once a year events for your participants and their families and to recognize people. So talk a little bit about that and then tell us how we can learn more.


Rachel Freeman:

Absolutely. So September is Ovarian Cancer Awareness Month, and we have a number of different activities. We're out there. The Clearity team is out there. Our ambassadors are out there just making sure to raise awareness around ovarian cancer in our communities. And we've had a number of government buildings that have been light up in teal for us, which is just wonderful. We also have our flagship Gala in September, which is called Teal Woman. And we have just a wonderful program lined up. There's an in person local event at the Fairmont Grand del Mar that will allow for people to bid on live auctions. We have a speed painter who is always very popular. I just love watching her do her work. And then we also have a live broadcast on the 22nd that is nationwide. And there's an auction in there as well and a lot of just really wonderful speakers and just getting the community together to celebrate the successes and comfort each other's losses and really look towards the future of ovarian cancer support.


Stacey Lund:

Excellent. So for the rest of you listening, Clearity is at if you'd like to donate. And I can't stress again what an amazing organization this is that's Even if you don't know someone who's an ovarian cancer survivor, I really recommend if you know anyone who's been touched by cancer, check out Clearity's website. My mom had about a horrible bout with lung cancer and I really wish that I had found this discussion. There's a podcast that Clearity puts out that talks about all sorts of psychosocial things and as a caregiver, it would have been so gratifying and just so grounding to have some of those resources. So please, even if you're not ovarian cancer survivor or you don't know someone who is, but you've been touched by cancer, it's a great place to start. And I know if you're interested in ovarian cancer support, Clearity is a great resource. So please check them out.

Rachel, I can't say enough how awesome it is to work with you. Rachel is ferocious. So if you'd like to talk to her, you can also reach her through the website and find out more about their efforts.

Thank you so much. I can't say enough what a pleasure it is to work with you. And for the rest of you listening, please subscribe. If you like what you heard, review us. And if you'd like to be a guest, please go ahead and send us an email at We'll see you next time.

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