Treatment and Learning Centers

 Treatment and Learning CentersThe Treatment and Learning Centers is a highly visible, leading-edge organization with strong collaborative and advocacy relationships, and  plentiful resources that support quality programs, staff, and facilities for individuals with special needs. After completing the Brochure and Performance Management Service Grants, TLC participated in a Taproot Foundation Powered by Pro Bono workshop designed to help nonprofits through the four stages of pro bono - scope, secure, manage and scale to the goal of acquiring 20% of their budgets through pro bono resources. We spoke with Director of Development, Debbie Ezrin, about the type of projects they have accomplished using pro bono resources and what she and the organization have learned along the way.


TTLC Service Grant Client Case Study

What does TLC do?

The Treatment and Learning Centers has been serving the community since 1950. Our mission is to improve the lives and expand possibilities for individuals with special needs through therapeutic, educational, and employment programs. We support children and adults with learning differences, autism, developmental delays, hearing loss, and other problems that interfere with development, learning and active participation in the community.

What is your experience with pro bono support?

Over the past few years we have used pro bono for marketing, HR, IT and legal support. Once you know what you’re doing, you realize how much you have to gain through pro bono. 

What are some of the problems you faced that pro bono resources have helped you solve?

I have a few examples. For 20 years, we had the same employee performance management system. It needed to be updated to better meet the needs of our staff of nearly 200. We received a Performance Management Service Grant from the Taproot Foundation to revamp our system and bring it up to date with a more modern competency-based approach to performance management. The experience of a team of external HR professionals was really valuable because it gave us a broader perspective based on their range of experiences with other organizations. It was also invaluable in terms of how quickly the project was completed. Our current HR staff of two people would have been challenged to accomplish this large of a project in a timely manner given their significant day to day responsibilities.

We also just moved into the end of a three-phase IT project. A team of Johns Hopkins graduate IT students came in to conduct a needs assessment for upgrading our outdated clinical database. I’m sure many nonprofits can relate to this. So, Phase 1 was the needs assessment. Phase 2 utilized a second group of students to narrow down providers to two which was not an easy task. With this support, we just hired an IT company. We are entering Phase 3 with tremendous confidence in our decision. 

Was that the biggest project you took on using pro bono resources?

It’s hard to say. We undertook a board development project with Compass which had a tremendous impact. TLC’s former Executive Director held the position for 28 years. As TLC was transitioning to a new Executive Director, the team agreed that it was a good opportunity to focus on board development with the help of a pro bono team. This team enabled us to strengthen the board and identify best practices to maximize their efficiency and effectiveness.

Using the Board Development project as an example, what would you have had to pay for those services with a fee-based consultant?

$60-70K of consulting time.

How long did the Board Development project take?

This project took 6 months. We were concerned that working with pro bono consultants could be slow, but this was a very reasonable timeframe given the magnitude of the project.

Are your pro bono resources secured through grants?

Sometimes yes, sometimes no. Our board development project was through a grant with Compass and we have had two Service Grants from the Taproot Foundation, Performance Management and a Brochure.  The Johns Hopkins students were secured through contacts of our Executive Director. And, our Board has been invaluable in the final phase of the IT project as well as on-going legal and financial counsel.

Even after several pro bono engagements you joined Taproot Foundation for our Powered By Pro Bono workshop; an in-depth look at how to get from where you are to achieving 20% you’re your budget through pro bono resources. What more were you hoping to learn?

Having worked with Taproot Foundation and Compass, I was in the mindset of realizing how much you can do with pro bono support. I came to the workshop with lots of ideas floating in my head. Attending the workshop was enormously helpful, because it made me feel very energized not only about what we were already doing pro bono but also about other things we COULD be doing. Looking at Taproot's matrix assessment of impact vs. investment1 really gave me a solid framework to evaluate projects.

What have you personally learned from working with pro bono consultants?

External perspective and expertise can be used beyond the initial pro bono project. Not long after Taproot Foundation’s brochure project, we launched a new website. The team members’ perspective influenced our content about TLC’s programs and services on the new site.   

Why do you think some nonprofits don’t use pro bono support?

Often nonprofits don’t consider pro bono resources as a possibility beyond legal consultation. Even if they think that pro bono resources could help solve a problem, they are not sure how to connect with qualified and interested professionals.

What’s your best advice for nonprofits who are considering bringing pro bono into their organizations?

Before getting started, have well-defined goals and expectations for the project to ensure a successful outcome. Your staff should be prepared to devote the time and resources to support pro bono projects. Choose committed pro bono volunteers who have the time, expertise, and leadership skills to see a project through to completion.

1 Powered by Pro Bono: The Nonprofit's Step-by-Step Guide to Scoping, Securing, Managing, and Scaling Pro Bono Resources, San Francisco: Jossey-Bass, 2012, 28.