Founded in 1992, Seattle-based FareStart helps homeless and low-income individuals escape poverty by preparing them for jobs in the restaurant and hospitality industries. In its 25th year, the nonprofit has provided support, training, skills, and opportunities in food service for nearly 8,000 adults and youth and its staff and students have served over 9 million nutritious meals to disadvantaged communities.
In August 2016, FareStart faced a transformational opportunity. Amazon, the e-commerce giant, had enthusiastically agreed to donate new training and food service facilities totaling 25,000 square feet, enabling FareStart to launch a paid apprenticeship program and double its reach in the next decade. The new program would help people acquire the skills needed for higher paying jobs. Known as Troy Block, the $2.5 million project would require the nonprofit to double its workforce of 100 and expand its annual budget from $14 million to $20 million.
FareStart's leaders were excited, but also daunted. They'd have to rethink every aspect of the organization, from technology to hiring and marketing. They had just one year to gear up for the expansion, while growing existing programs.
“This is the largest project we'd ever taken on. There was a big mountain ahead of us, and even though we had some conditioning, we knew we were going to need help and oxygen,” says Megan Karch, FareStart's CEO.
The nonprofit needed a partner that would help assess what had to get done and map out a plan of attack.
After considering several consulting firms, Karch selected Forum Solutions. “We realized we needed more than the 'clipboard guy,'” she says. “In addition to managing the complexity, they could help us think deeply about our strategic and organizational capacity.”
Over the course of two months, Forum Solutions' team collaborated with FareStart's leaders to develop strategy for executing the transformation of the organization. Working hands-on across all functions of the organization, Forum Solutions helped the nonprofit identify desired outcomes, risks, dependencies, and key focus areas. The resulting integrated plan provided a clear, actionable roadmap for leading the massive change the organization would undergo.
“The change management plan brought intentionality to our work,” Karch says. “Forum Solutions brought executive-level business skills that helped us see what we didn't even know we needed.”
One example involved the organization's IT strategy. FareStart knew it would need to upgrade its technology, but had multiple unconnected systems. Forum Solutions laid out the business case for executives to rethink their approach to technology and governance. Until then, the nonprofit had adopted tools based on the immediate needs of a single department, rather than the demands of the whole organization. The result was a fractured and inefficient system. “When technology is thought of holistically, you get what you really need because you've spent time scoping it out for the entire organization. It's more cost-effective,” Karch says.
Beyond the plan itself, Forum Solutions cofounder Paul Lambert provided strategic advice leaders could employ immediately. “I have felt like Paul has been our partner on this project, and frankly I've come to depend a great deal on his viewpoint,” Karch says.
Since the project plan was completed in October, it has provided a blueprint for FareStart as it restructured every department in the organization and prepared to launch the five new food service businesses that make up the Troy Block. The framework has created buy-in and accountability for a challenging transformation, while guiding staff through tough moments, Karch says.
“We could never have done it ourselves.” she says. “Forum Solutions got us away from being a deer in the headlights and helped us gain confidence.”
The Troy Block project is on track to open in July 2017, and FareStart has continued to work with Forum Solutions on the next phase: project management and improving business processes.
“Unless we are managing our projects and work together well, we won't serve our students well,” Karch says. “We're increasing the capacity of our organization so we can double the number of people we serve and help get them into living-wage jobs.”