Vicki Graeve-Cunningham wanted to practice medicine, helping people heal through skills as a doctor. While working toward a bioscience degree at the University of Nebraska at Omaha, she took a project management class, which started her on a path of healing in a different way.
“I’ve always loved organizing,” Graeve-Cunningham explained. “Even in high school I had color-coded charts and calendars.”
She switched degrees to sociology and psychology and became involved in the Volunteer Program Assessment organization at UNO. The organization’s mission is to provide quantitative and qualitative data and feedback to nonprofit organizations from the perspective of their volunteers. Within seven months of starting, Graeve-Cunningham became the assistant director and was instrumental in increasing the number of clients from four to 15 per semester.
“One thing I saw was that issues at these organizations pop up, and then they go away,” Graeve-Cunningham said. “We would ask them ‘what have you implemented [in] year two?’ and they would respond ‘nothing.’ Nonprofits are stretched so thin.”
Volunteering was a value instilled in her by her parents, Tom and Debra Graeve, who both worked in public service. Through VPA, Vicki found that nonprofits had a problem with retaining volunteers, especially first-time volunteers. People’s time is precious, and if they do not feel engaged with their service work, they are likely to quit. Graeve-Cunningham worked with a variety of nonprofits to improve their volunteer programs, primarily through analysis.
Graeve-Cunningham graduated from UNO and then worked as a project manager at the University of Nebraska Medical Center, which satisfied her interest in medicine. She moved on to AIM Institute, where she became the director of Lean Operations. Lean is a set of standard practices created through science that make an organization run more efficiently. She did not just work as the director; she thrived at this job.
“Vicki has an uncanny ability to analyze processes and make improvements,” said AIM Institute President and CEO Kandace Miller, Ph.D., in an email. “She is both strategic and detail-oriented. She can conceptualize a big idea and also take it to execution, a rare talent.”
While at AIM, she thought of a method to help nonprofit organizations alleviate their volunteer retention problem. One of the biggest ways to make a company lean is to hire skilled professionals. This is exceptionally challenging with nonprofit organizations, which often have limited budgets and rely on volunteer resources.
She put this method into action when she served on the Greater Omaha Young Professionals Council the next year. She initiated a project that connects people to various councils and boards that can assist them professionally while allowing young professionals to further develop their skills.
“She worked closely with our chair, and was instrumental in finding those resources,” said current Y.P. Council chair Andrew Prystai, CEO and cofounder of Event Vista. “She was willing to do the work of manipulating the data as well as creating a personal connection to the organizations. She worked with WordPress and the chamber to set up the site.”
Her passion for getting people involved in the community combined with her data research experience in strategy creates the perfect skillset for helping other individuals and organizations thrive. That is what her business, Thrivinci, founded in January 2016, is about.
Graeve-Cunningham’s organization identifies motivated professionals willing to provide skilled services to nonprofits, using data and intellect, just as Leonardo Da Vinci used intellect and data to solve problems during his time.
The idea is to give volunteers a chance to gain career-related experience, develop themselves personally or professionally, and enhance their skills and competencies while providing organizations with needed skills such as social media strategy or database design and management.
In one instance, Thrivinci worked with On Your Feet Foundation in Evanston, Illinois, to strengthen their board of directors. Graeve-Cunningham and her colleagues conducted an analysis to develop job descriptions for the board and auxiliary board members.
Thrivinci also worked with Omaha Area Youth Orchestras to conduct an organizational audit of staffing resources through job analysis, gap analysis, and assessment of stakeholders.
The design is holistic. As Thrivinci gives hiring managers and companies a more skilled workforce, it also enables people to gain career-related experience so they can advance on the job and in executive boardrooms.
“Omaha needs more skilled labor,” Graeve-Cunningham said. “You can learn theory in school, but until you apply it, you don’t know what you do not know.”
That far-reaching gaze is helping Graeve-Cunningham help organizations and businesses across the metro and beyond.
“She is someone who continues to be a contributor to organizations across the board, and we’re lucky to have her in Omaha,” Prystai said.
Visit thrivinci.org for more information about Graeve-Cunningham’s organization.
This article was printed in the August/September 2019 edition of B2B. To receive the magazine, click here to subscribe.