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​Rhode Island College management major Naomi Franzen looks on while Corrie Butler, facility manager at the Rhode Island Parrot Rescue, embraces Tango, a male scarlet macaw parrot. 

A chorus of ear-piercing squawks cuts through the air at the Rhode Island Parrot Rescue in Warwick.
From small and medium-sized conures to long-taile​d macaws, the noisy, motley crew are beloved by the rescue’s facility manager Corrie Butler. 

With help from a lean group of volunteers, Butler has spent the past six years overseeing operations at the rescue, which rehabilitates and offers adoption services for 50 parrots; in prior years, the rescue’s in-house population has risen to as many as 150 parrots.

For Butler, being chief bird keeper is all-encompassing. So when a team of four Rhode Island College business majors offered to produce a plan examining the strengths and challenges of the rescue with an aim to improve the nonprofit’s business practices, Butler welcomed their insight with open arms.

“I was looking forward to hearing their fresh ideas and a different perspective,” she said. “We didn’t have anything to hide. In fact, we’re always trying to be better than we were yesterday, so I thought it was a cool process.”

The team – Naomi Franzen, Jazmin Madrid, Stephanie Lane and Bernd Van Der Lande – enrolled in Marketing 455: Global Logistics and Enterprise Management, a course taught by Assistant Professor of Management Leslie DiManna, linked with nonprofits to create SWOT analyses. About 20 additional business majors enrolled in the course partnered with other local nonprofits, such as College Crusade and the ARC of Blackstone Valley.

SWOT is an acronym for Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities and Threats, an analytic measure that businesses use to identify and evaluate favorable and unfavorable factors – both internally and externally – that impact the business’ success.
For two months, the team examined the rescue from top to bottom, researching its history, culture, human resources, financial outlook and marketing and sales.

​​​ Tango the parrot playfully relaxes in Butler's hands while she speaks to him.

“We saw firsthand a passionate and hard working woman [Butler] put her all into this nonprofit,” Franzen said. “We learned about the organization’s many successes and watched it pull through during times of struggle.”

The students praised the rescue for its strengths, which include community outreach, dedicated volunteers and a welcoming social media presence. However, they urged the rescue to reduce utility expenses, explore alternative distributors for parrot food, create a universal system for tracking donations and secure more hands on deck by welcoming internship opportunities.

Butler said she intends to implement many of the team’s strategic insights. 

“Thanks to the students’ suggestions, we’re looking into more grants to help with our funding and we’re exploring the possibility of bringing on interns,” she said. “I might add that the students were always prompt and very professional. The plan they presented to us was pretty awesome.”

​“This was an experience that couldn’t have been acquired in the classroom,” said Franzen, who’s aiming for a master’s degree in operations management. “It promoted professional growth, strengthened our communication skills and allowed us to practice research and analytical techniques extensively.”

School of Business Dean Jeffrey Mello praised the experiential learning opportunities for the students.

“Our students gain hands-on experience working with organizations on actual challenges faced by nonprofit executives and their boards,” he said. “The organizations gain from having engaged students provide objective, outside perspectives on their operations, applying the latest techniques of strategic management analysis at no cost. These kind of activities enthusiastically support the School of Business objectives of civic engagement and community partnership development.”