100 Best Companies to Work For 2012: Nonprofit Companies


FIRST PLACE: Holy Names Academy

In 1880, the city of Seattle was little more than a rough-hewn timber town, replete with brothels, log booms and saloons—and one all-girls school. Holy Names Academy was founded that year by the Sisters of the Holy Names of Jesus and Mary, and it has been educating some of Seattle’s finest young women ever since.

From the outside, Holy Names today appears to be rooted in its Catholic foundations: The domed exterior of the school’s neoclassical Capitol Hill building remains relatively unchanged from when it opened in 1908. But the structure of Holy Names has been evolving right along with the faculty, staff and student body. Original classrooms have been remodeled into spacious science labs. A gymnasium stands on former tennis courts. And a faculty that, in 1880, was composed entirely of Catholic nuns has evolved into a group of educators as diverse and multicultural as the student body itself.

How does Holy Names differentiate itself from other private schools in the Seattle area? “It’s the diversity of our community,” says Principal Liz Swift. “It’s the ethnic and the economic diversity of our students. And we have worked very hard to increase the ethnic diversity of our teaching staff.”

The academy’s benefits and perks make it easy to attract some of the best educators in the Pacific Northwest. Holy Names Academy’s faculty and staff receive fully paid medical and dental insurance, a ridiculously generous paid time off program and a summer sabbatical program that would make any teacher drool: All school employees are eligible for 10-, 20- and 30-year summer sabbatical grants equaling 15, 25 and 35 percent of their salaries, respectively.

Holy Names’ employees also reap the benefits of the employee-founded Active Club, which organizes healthy outings (hikes, bike rides and trips to farmers markets, for example) and frequent lunches. Add an annual Distinguished Teaching Award (good for a $2,500 stipend to the recipient), two annual retreats and an industry-best professional development program, and it’s easy to see why Holy Names is such a great place to work.

SECOND PLACE: Career Path Services

In healthy economies, job-placement organizations provide an important service. In hard times, they become vital. Career Path Services has been linking employers and workers in the Spokane Valley since 1971, and the organization is now more essential than ever. And Career Path Services doesn’t limit its focus to would-be workers and help-starved employers. It treats its own employees with some of the industry’s best benefits and perks, including full medical, dental and vision coverage; a compressed four-day workweek; excellent health and wellness reimbursements; and an annual team entry in Spokane’s famed Bloomsday Run.

THIRD PLACE: Sightlife

SightLife brings vision to those who need it most. It has been providing crucial cornea-banking services since 1969, linking donated corneas with needy individuals in the Pacific Northwest and California. (SightLife’s donated corneas cure blindness in 30 people each day.) The organization, which aims to eliminate cornea blindness worldwide, is saturated with a spirit of service: In addition to receiving fully covered medical insurance, a generous 401(k) employer match and ample opportunities for professional development, employees are able to donate their paid vacation time to coworkers in need.

On Reflection: Corporate Game Changer

On Reflection: Corporate Game Changer

Gamification software from a UW startup makes biz-school case studies more authentic.

Imagine you’re the CEO of an airline in crisis. Customers and shareholders are unhappy. Your employees have just gone on strike. What do you do? Give in to union demands? Hold your ground and negotiate? Fire all the employees? 

It’s the first of a cascading set of decisions you must make in The Signature Case Study, a new interactive game developed by Seattle-based Recurrence (recurrenceinc.com) in partnership with the University of Washington’s Center for Leadership & Strategic Thinking (CLST). Players take one of five C-suite roles and each player’s decision changes the options available to the others and affects their total scores based on employee, shareholder and customer satisfaction.

The Signature Case Study takes the case-study method, a paper-based system pioneered by the Harvard Business School, and uses game techniques to make it more entertaining and accessible while also giving students and teachers immediate feedback on the quality of their decision making.

Data on 19 variables derived from real airlines on things like lost luggage, fuel costs, stock prices and customer satisfaction are built into algorithms that drive the game and can result in thousands of academically validated outcomes.

CEO and co-inventor Brayden Olson named the company after Friedrich Nietzsche’s doctrine of eternal recurrence, the notion that all life will repeat itself through eternity. The interactive case study, he says, allows people to learn from mistakes and develop critical thinking skills that improve their judgment so they won’t make similar mistakes in real life.

While traditional case studies depend heavily on the skills of professors to engage students, The Signature Game Study’s software uses game elements to require interactivity, says co-inventor Bruce Avolio, a professor of management at the UW’s Foster School of Business and executive director of CLST.

The game shows players how decisions made early on can narrow their course of action down the road. They also learn the importance of teamwork to overcome the toughest challenges. “Great games can be both more fun and more challenging,” says Avolio, who sits on Recurrence’s board of directors.

The product, released early this year, has already been adopted at more than 30 schools, including the UW, Stanford, Penn State, Johns Hopkins and the University of Texas, to teach leadership, organizational behavior and strategy. The cases sell for $47.50 per student; Recurrence is looking to add cases in areas such as operations, finance, marketing and entrepreneurship. It’s also working with the University of Alabama nursing school to develop a case study to teach such skills as diagnosis and health care management.

With more than 15,000 business schools in the world, Olson says the market is huge. He notes that publishers of printed case studies are selling 12 million a year, but they recognize that the interactive case study is the future and are looking for Recurrence’s assistance in developing them.