UW Retirement Association

March 9, 2015

Weldon Ihrig: Continuing Public Service

501 commonsFor many individuals, a career of giving back through public service doesn’t end with “retirement” from a demanding job.

Weldon Ihrig had a long, distinguished career in higher education, culminating with 12 years as UW executive vice president. He retired in 2008 but consulted nationally within higher education and also advised the Seattle Chamber Music Society, where he had been a long-time board member.

“While I enjoyed the national consulting, I wanted to give back more to the Seattle community,” he says, “so began a search of opportunities locally. I also was becoming of tired of long airline flights around the country that national consulting entailed.”

His search led him to 501 Commons, a Seattle-based organization that works to build the capacity of nonprofits so that may thrive and serve the community more effectively.  Over its 25-year existence it has worked with more than 500 nonprofits all over the state. It has engaged a large group of volunteers with varied backgrounds and expertise who typically work in teams to help nonprofits who have come to 501 Commons seeking assistance.

In addition to matching nonprofits with the appropriate kinds of expertise from among its volunteers, 501 Commons provides both on-line background materials and classes for their consultants.

Ihrig, who signed up with 501 Commons in 2011, has worked with a variety of organizations, including: Music Works Northwest, which provides music education to adults and young people; ArtsEd Washington, an arts advocacy organization that works to assure that every student receives an arts education; Solid Ground, which fights poverty and racism; and Balagan Theatre, a community-based theater group focused on attracting the next generation of theater-goers.

“All these organizations are very different in what services they provide,” Ihrig says, “but the commonality in our consulting efforts has been to assist each organization in developing plans to achieve specific goals toward advancing their organizations.”

As a long-time administrator who has led countless projects that helped to sharpen his organizations’ strategic focus, Ihrig has found that his most gratifying experiences working through 501 Commons have been “assisting an organization’s leadership/board to clearly identify a couple of goals that will advance the organization along with clarifying with them their steps toward achieving their goals.”

“Seeing the leadership come together in defining their goals and commit to achieving them is what makes for an interesting adventure,” he says.

The staff of 501 Commons are essentially the brokers between nonprofits that have identified specific needs and its stable of consultants.

The staff “define the projects, identify the consultants and keep track of the hours and schedules,” he said. “It is up to each consultant team to identify the steps to achieve the goals as well as adjust the goals, if necessary, set and meet the schedule and arrange for the meetings with the clients. The 501 Commons staff also review the draft work product for quality control as well as provide interventions if they become necessary.”

Ihrig has become a big fan and supporter of the work of 501 Commons and believes that many different kinds of people could be successful in this setting.

“From my experience people with all types of skills can be excellent consultants, whether or not a person’s professional work directly relates, since experiences beyond one’s job might be of assistance to some organization. That is the beauty of working with 501 Commons.  They find the right mix of consulting skills to meet a wide variety of clients’ needs.

“Also, many of the consultants begin working as 501 Commons volunteers while they are employed, which provides an opportunity to see if such consulting is of interest. Whether one is a generalist or specialist, there are opportunities available and my suggestion is that if one is interested, contact 501 Commons and discuss with them your skills to learn about the opportunities to give to our community.”