Fluvanna Faces: Donald Jennings, SCORE, Central Virginia

By Harvey J. Sorum

Tell us what SCORE stands for and what SCORE does.

The acronym came from name “Service Corps of Retired Executives”, it is now just SCORE, meaning you don’t have to be retired or an executive to join SCORE.

Small business success across America is SCORE’s mission. Since 1964, SCORE volunteers have donated their expertise in more than 600 skill areas to aid entrepreneurs.

More than 9 million entrepreneurs have been mentored by SCORE or attended SCORE workshops. With 364 offices for face-to-face mentoring and Ask SCORE for online advice, SCORE serves the needs of today’s entrepreneurs.

SCORE mentors entrepreneurs through one-to-one business advising sessions on a full range of business topics. In the 1970s, when SCORE chapters were formed, SCORE expanded its services to offer workshops and seminars on a variety of business issues. In 1996, SCORE ventured online and began providing small business advice via email to meet the entrepreneur’s need to have service on an around-the-clock basis.

Donald, tell our readers a little about your background before joining SCORE.

After studying Chemical and Nuclear Engineering at the University of New Mexico, and two tours of duty in Vietnam, I pivoted to telecom systems design and deployment management.

My international projects included the Royal telecom systems for the King of Saudi Arabia, the Presidential Microwave system for president Anwar Sadat of Egypt, and the National Iranian Radio and Television system for the Shah of Iran. I was a resident management consultant for Alcatel HQ. in Paris, and worked for the government of Malta, Romania and designed the Mediterranean BoatPhone system. 

Domestic programs included managing the buildout of business broadband systems for a company called “Broadstream” in the top 10 cities in the US. I held the position of Principal Engineer for “American Satellite Corporation” at the time when we had four orbiting telecom satellites providing wide area communications to military and commercial ventures.

My passion evolved from telecom systems engineering to business process analysis and re-engineering.  This is a natural part of project management and allows one to apply it to any business. With this newly acquired skill I worked for the Bank of America managing their LMS (Learning Management System), helped re-organize TEDS software development processes and managed the Network Architecture and Security initiatives for Altria Corporation. 

Why did you join SCORE as a volunteer?

When I retired I did a computer search for volunteer opportunities in my area and SCORE came up as a possibility. I had used SCORE myself when I started one of my companies, but I was not sure I would qualify as a business mentor for SCORE. For the first year I did not take many clients but now I enjoy conducting workshops and mentoring all kinds of start-up and struggling businesses.

Does each SCORE “mentor” specialize in their field for helping entrepreneurship?

We both specialize and mentor by being generalists. We have over 10,000 mentors nationwide to call on for a specific issue if we need help or specialization. So we all have our particular background or experience. All that is listed and searchable by all our mentor and by our clients who can either find a local mentor or request a specific mentor from the list of 10,000. Many people don’t know they can do that wide specific search – it takes some digging, but it is possible through the score.org web site. The default is to route the request using the clients zip code to the nearest SCORE chapter.

What are the qualifications of a
 SCORE mentor?

Time and interest in helping businesses to flourish. https://www.score.org/volunteer

SCORE volunteer roles are varied and the qualifications for each are different. The roles are: Business Mentor, Local Workshop Presenter, Subject Matter Expert, Chapter Support, Marketing support and Community Outreach.

Basically, you can help us no matter what your experience or background. The essential thing you need is some time and desire to help small businesses or the help us help small businesses. 

What is involved during the first meeting?  Is it by e-mail or a personal meeting?

There are no fixed rules, every mentor has the freedom to conduct their mentoring sessions as is best for the clients. Before COVID we generally asked a few questions via e-mail to prepare for a first “in-person” meeting. Sometimes all it takes is one meeting. Other clients want our input for a longer period, which we are glad to accommodate. 

At the first meeting we find out what the client’s goals are. We use the SLATE methodology. Stop and Suspend Judgement. Listen and Learn, Assess and Analyze, Test ideas and Teach with Tools, Expectation Setting and Encouraging the Dream. 

Small businesses just starting out usually appreciate an experienced mentor helping them with strategy. 

Is there a cost involved?

Mentoring is always free. Most chapters charge a small fee for workshops, especially “in-person” workshops. We often must pay for the venue and materials. We receive a small stipend from the national organization but most of our budget is fed by local donations and workshop fees.

Is help from SCORE short or long term?

Either short term or long term. We see clients coming back to us over and over again or asking one simple question and we don’t see them again.

Does SCORE sponsor advertised workshops for the public dealing with certain aspects of business?  For example, “How To Start A Business.”

Yes we do. We are currently re-vamping our workshops and will be announcing a new series of improved workshops designed to help businesses flourish with the opportunities here in Central Virginia. In addition, there are on-line “webinars” you can access free workshops and webinars from our website: https://centralvirginia.score.org/

Have you ever had introductory meetings in Fluvanna County?  If so, what was the subject matter?

Yes, we have worked with businesses in Fluvanna County quite a bit. We have been a resource partner at the Fluvanna Correctional Center for Women. I have personally attended all day resource sessions there in the past. ~ 2018, 2019, 2020 … cancelled 2021 due to COVID.

So far this year we have had 12 sessions with 4 new businesses in Fluvanna County. In 2021 we had 63 sessions with 16 new or startup businesses in Fluvanna County.

The subject matter varies, but I can say for most of our meetings we ask our clients “What is the main problem you are solving for your customer?” The other concepts we dive into is “value” and how to gain and use your “power” in the sense of business power. 

If help is needed by a business after finding out the benefits of consulting with a SCORE mentor individually, how do they contact you?

Drop me an e-mail at: Donald.jennings@scorevolunteer.org

You can see other mentors at: https://centralvirginia.score.org/content/find-mentor-157

Anything else?

We are always researching tools and techniques for small businesses or startups. We initially took a look at the curriculums of five of the top-rated graduate and undergraduate business schools in the U.S. We charted the subject matter and textbooks and found what was most important and common to these programs. We found was there is a clear methodology to starting a successful business. This, along with our business experience, is what we use as a basis for our mentoring and workshops.

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