The Critical Role of Pro Bono Consultants in Nonprofit Strategic Planning

June 11, 2015Alec Green

How does a nonprofit with 6 full-time employees find the time, resources, and expertise to develop a long-term talent management plan?  In our ongoing interview series with Foundation partners, we caught up with Megan Chery, Manager of Development and Special Projects at The Alliance for Water Efficiency about her first consulting project through the HR Pro Bono Corps (HRPBC).   Chery was paired with Ginger LaBine, an organizational development expert, who volunteered her time and expertise to help the team at The Alliance for Water efficiency develop a strategic plan to guide the future hiring and professional development of the organization.  Here are some of the highlights:

Tell us about the Alliance for Water Efficiency.

The Alliance for Water Efficiency was founded in 2007 and today is the only North American nonprofit organization dedicated solely to the efficient and sustainable use of water.  We are involved in advocacy, education and training, development of resources and technical support to help communities, business and individuals use water more efficiently, and finally we conduct research on issues related to water efficiency.  In 2014, we were awarded the U.S. Water Prize for innovating and leading on this important component of sustainability. 

What is the structure of the organization?

We have a team of 6 full-time employees located in Chicago and in California.  We also work with a network of consultants around the country.  Each team member here is responsible for a different function.  Certain administrative functions fall under the purview of Operations, and our President is primarily responsible for the areas of recruiting and talent development.  As a small team, HR strategy was not an area we could devote significant resources to in the past.  

How did you learn about the HR Pro Bono Corps?

We were first introduced to the Cornerstone OnDemand Foundation and HR Pro Bono Corps through the Gift of Learning portal (now    When we went through our strategic planning process with the help of a third-party consultant, we identified some specific challenges around talent management and growth, and knew we didn’t have the HR expertise on staff to solve them.  The HR Pro Bono Corps seemed like a great opportunity to bring in an organizational expert to help us work through these challenges.

What were some of these challenges?

As a small organization, we began to be concerned about how to efficiently manage our growth.  We knew that as we brought on new team members, our organizational structure may need to change.  In addition, we wanted to prioritize new roles based on the specific competencies that would be key to achieving our mission.

Most importantly, as a small team we knew that each staff member is the owner of a wealth of institutional knowledge.  Therefore, any change in staffing could have a significant impact on our ability to provide services to our members and achieve our mission.  We wanted to be very well prepared for any unexpected change in staffing and ensure our organization could carry on seamlessly under any number of scenarios.

How did you arrive at the scope for this specific project?

As we proposed the project and in conversations with our pro bono volunteer, scoped it out with our volunteer, we began to think about the entire organization, staffing, and resources.  We had an idea but in working with our volunteer, we hammered out the specific deliverables, and tasks to achieve each of the stated goals.

Tell us about your Pro Bono Volunteer.

First of all, Ginger was fantastic and went way above and beyond our expectations.  She is a talent development leader for a state agency and also for an environmental agency.  So there were quite a few parallels that helped make this project a big success.  She really understood the substance of our work and her experience in diverse corporate environments also equipped her really well to work with a team of our size. She had incredible patience considering we had just a basic understanding of the subject matter and limited resources within the team here.   

What types of deliverables did you receive?  And how have you put these recommendations into practice?

From the outset, we put together a specific scope with specific deliverables that we were working toward.  For the most part we followed the scope, but there were a few things that came up as we went along.  Our bi-weekly meetings kept us on track and Ginger was fantastic about helping us work toward these deliverables. 

We came out of this project with a few key deliverables were very important to demonstrate the impact of this strategic planning process to our board and to other stakeholders.  For example, we now have documents that give us a better sense of what our future organization will look like as we grow and expand and what specific roles are needed to expand our work and achieve our mission.  We also went through a number of exercises to determine how current staff fits into those roles.  As a result, we have a very clear plan to both develop current staff and be more targeted in filling needs for new roles.  We also have a game plan for major changes in staffing.  Should something happen to one of our staff members, we have a plan in place to manage that transition seamlessly ensuring we don’t miss a beat in providing services to our members or achieving our mission.  

These are tools we are actively putting into practice now to fuel our growth planning.  We are using these tools for developing current staff potential, we are making important changes to our performance appraisals, and looking at ownership of different needs in the organization in different ways.

What advice would you give to a nonprofit professional considering a project with the HR Pro Bono Corps?

1.  Make sure you have staff resources to invest the time and energy in the project. Although you have engaged a pro bono volunteer to spearhead the process, your staff is going to have to do the lion share of the work to make it successful.   And the best result will come when staff has ownership in the deliverables.

2.  You have to find the right balance between having one point person and engaging all the other stakeholders, colleagues, and board members.  Getting internal buy-in and involvement from my full team and board was critical for us and validated this work.   But you have to be careful about having too many cooks in the kitchen and pulling resources away from more programmatic priorities.  With the support of Ginger, we were able to strike that balance and complete a project that positions our organization for continued growth in the years ahead.


Thank you to Megan for sharing her experience with the HR Pro Bono Corps.  And a big thanks to Ginger LaBine for giving so much of her time over the past year to support The Alliance for Water Efficiency.  Learn more about the HR Pro Bono Corps today and stay tuned for more stories from our nonprofit partners and volunteers.

About Alec Green

As Chief Marketing Evangelist, Alec Green is responsible for developing the overall marketing plan and strategy for the Foundation, executing all outbound communications, increasing visibility of the Foundation’s programs, and building engagement with our partners... more


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