The Seattle-headquartered business and technology consulting firm, Slalom, has a pretty bold philosophy when it comes to giving back.
Under an umbrella program that Slalom calls Partners for Good, the firm operates monthly fundraisers, volunteer events, and one particularly unique strategy called its Philanthropy Fellow program.
The Philanthropy Fellow program sets up Slalom consultants to do full-time pro bono work for local nonprofits. Launched in 2013, the program has partnered with 18 King County organizations including HopeLink, Rainier Scholars, Mary’s Place, Special Olympics, Technology Access Foundation, Friends of the Children, Stolen Youth, United Way of King County, and Eastside Baby Corner.
Slalom started out supporting three to four nonprofits annually, and now supports five to seven organizations each year. Partnerships range from three weeks to three months. The company estimates its consultants have contributed approximately 9,000 hours through the program.
Jessica Allen, a consultant with Slalom, recently participated in the Philanthropy Fellow program. For three months, Allen did pro bono work for a Kirkland-based nonprofit called Imagine Housing, which builds affordable housing units.
“They’re trying to double in size in the next five years and they provide supportive services to the residents,” Allen said. “All of their processes around that were in paper. And since they wanted to double in size, that was not going to be sustainable.”
Allen worked full-time for Imagine Housing at a discounted salary paid by Slalom.
First, she tried to understand the nonprofit’s needs and “pain points.” Then, she did research into technology that might help the staff.
According to Allen, Imagine Housing’s supportive services team was having to spend 2,800 hours annually on manual paperwork related to case management. Similarly, Imagine Housing’s Director of Supportive Services, Derek Delvalle, was spending approximately 1,200 hours a year on manual spreadsheets.
To reduce some of that paperwork time and to improve other operations, Allen helped the staff put into use a program called CiviCore, cloud-based technology developed specifically for nonprofits.
“Jessica helped us select and implement a system that we’ve found to be user friendly, time-saving and great for providing accurate reports to our funders. Now that our supportive services team has adjusted to it, we are trying to find new ways to use it to report outcomes and evaluate our programs,” Delvalle said. “Overall, our staff members have been amazed by the ease of using the case management system and how much easier it is for them to do their jobs.”
“It’s really given them more time to step back and look strategically at the services that they provide, and how they can leverage their limited resources as a nonprofit in the most effective way,” Allen added.
This was Allen’s first pro bono fellowship with Slalom. Prior to joining the company about four and a half years ago, she worked in the public sector for almost her entire career.
“When this opportunity came up, it was a perfect fit for me,” she said. The company’s dedication to giving back was one of the reasons Allen joined Slalom in the first place, and a big part of why she wants to stay.
“Slalom is the best organization I’ve ever worked for. They really listen to their employees,” she said. “I intend to retire from this firm because they are so good at paying attention to their people and paying attention to their community. They are much bigger than just a business.”
The Philanthropy Fellow program not only provides help to nonprofits, Allen explained, it also allows consultants to see how their work directly impacts other people’s lives.
“We just don’t view ourselves as augmenting their staff. We want to come in and actually make a difference,” she said. “I can tell you that I was really sad when my fellowship ended.”
Allen’s advice to other companies who might be thinking about implementing a program like Slalom’s? “Make sure it has meaning to the organization and to the employees. If there is a culture of wanting to give back, a pro bono or fellowship program is an excellent way to do it,” she said.
The fact that Slalom provides a salary to their employees while they go through the program full-time is huge as well, Allen said. “I don’t think I could have been as effective if I had been working part-time.”