Case Studies

Child Trends

Child Trends, a non-profit, non-partisan research center that provides information and insights on the well-being of children and youth, needed a more flexible organizational structure to enhance collaboration, encourage employee development, and position the organization for growth. Lisa Karlisch of Sparkfire Strategy was hired to refine goals and objectives, determine a restructuring plan, and establish resource sharing practices. And, all this was to be done without damaging the organization’s existing culture of collegiality and professional autonomy.

Lisa began by conducting stakeholder interviews and focus groups to develop an understanding of strengths and weaknesses of the current organizational model. Using her knowledge of organizational development, Lisa implemented an organization redesign that encouraged sharing of knowledge, collaboration across content areas, and more efficient use of resources. She also identified a number of infrastructure investments that would position Child Trends for sustainable growth.

In the end, Lisa established a delicate balance of creating change while maintaining the positives of the organization’s culture. She helped Child Trends evolve without losing what was vital to their culture. Today, Child Trends is able to attract more senior researchers who bring in new business and raise profile of the organization; to retain employees, both researchers and support staff; and to grow 10-15% each year in an environment where competitors are contracting.

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Corcoran College of Art & Design

The Corcoran College of Art + Design is the only dedicated art and design college in Washington, DC. Long part of the Corcoran Museum, the college recently merged with George Washington University. Before this radical change, Lisa Karlisch of Sparkfire Strategy was hired to work with leadership and staff to determine how to significantly grow college enrollment.

Lisa researched similar art schools, enrollment trends, and student decision factors. With this information as context, Lisa evaluated the Corcoran College’s relative strengths and weaknesses around program and support service delivery. This combination of research and analysis identified several opportunities to spur growth. The college was determined to be more attractive to graduate students than undergraduates, so expansion efforts were focused on the graduate program. New majors were launched to broaden the portfolio of degree programs. To improve recruitment, Lisa helped launch a new website within a short deadline.

Based on the addition of new programs and more compelling recruitment tools, the Corcoran, within three years, was able to grow enrollment to fill the capacity of its current facility. Going forward, George Washington University will use the Corcoran College of Art + Design as the core of the university’s new art school. Lisa’s work helped the Corcoran College, in the midst of uncertainty, develop a plan for enhancing programs and growing the ranks of prospective artists.

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National Resident Matching Program

The National Resident Matching Program (NRMP), a national non-profit that matches medical students with residencies, had historically outsourced all of its support functions to a partner organization. To grow effectively, NRMP would need to become responsible for its own back office operations, including information technology, human resources, and finance. Lisa Karlisch of Sparkfire Strategy was hired to analyze the implications of ending the current outsourced relationship, determine which functions should be brought in-house and which should be outsourced, and build any needed infrastructure.

With significant knowledge of operations and outsourcing options, Lisa carefully studied the organization’s capacity and helped implement a solution. Lisa worked closely with NRMP to outsource HR, bring finance in-house, and hire an in-house IT person. Lisa also laid out the workplan for the organization’s move to new space to accommodate growth and underline independence.

The result of Lisa’s work was decision-making autonomy. Until the completion of the infrastructure project, NRMP relied on the partner organization for several integral functions. Afterwards, NRMP was able to control IT, HR, and finance as well as build and manage critical external relationships. NRMP became a strong, independent entity capable of determining its own direction for achieving mission.

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  • Lisa was hired to evaluate the business aspects of terminating the contract with a vendor that had provided our entire organizational infrastructure for more than twenty years. She was able to analyze the costs and benefits of the options for building our own infrastructure, highlighting especially the challenges that would be faced by employees in a small business environment. Lisa expertly guided the Board of Directors and staff through the decision-making process, and I’m delighted to say that three-plus years beyond contract termination, ours is a more vibrant and financially-stable organization.

    – Mona M. Signer, Executive Director, National
    Resident Matching Program
  • Lisa Karlisch helped us design and implement a new organizational structure that better met our needs as we grew in size and in the scope of our work. This was challenging work, since we were pretty entrenched in our old ways of working. We were frankly astonished at how well and quickly Lisa “got” us. She offered important insights into how we might work together more productively, and she delivered them in a direct yet respectful manner. She also rolled up her sleeves and worked with us throughout the process of putting a new structure in place, providing concrete suggestions, examples and adjustments as we put our new plan into operation. Lisa helped set in motion changes that to this day continue to make us a stronger and more effective organization.

    – Carol Emig, President, Child Trends
  • Lisa displayed her intellectual and strategic acumen as a consultant on a number of projects in which I was involved either as a co-consultant or as a client. Many of those projects required quick turn-around and delicacy in the successful handling of personnel with diverse agendas and strong, differing opinions. Lisa stays focused on the client giving them real value on their investment. She delivers a work product that will make a critical positive difference in an organization’s future. She gets the client to the bottom line with the appropriate mix of delicacy and pragmatism. Lisa Karlisch is one of the most remarkable people and intellects with whom I have had the great privilege of working in my 50 years in various business endeavors.

    – Fred Bollerer, former CEO, The Corcoran Gallery of
    Art and Corcoran College of Art and Design
  • Lisa has been a highly valuable resource for Jubilee Housing. She has a keen mix of business and relational savvy. She quickly learned our mission and culture and helped us zero in on our most pressing needs. She then set about supporting key staff in these critical areas to help us solve problems and build enduring capacity. We have been so pleased with the results!

    – Jim Knight, Executive Director, Jubilee Housing