For forty years, FamilyWise has been keeping children safe and helping families lead stable, healthy and productive lives.
At Strategic Consulting & Coaching, our mission is to provide clients with the resources, skills, and tools they need to live out their missions to the very best of their ability. No matter the length of project we do, we consider our relationships with our clients to be long-term. Not only do we seek out feedback in order to refine our processes, we want to ensure our clients’ goals continue to be met long after we’ve completed our work together.
FamilyWise educates, empowers and enriches families who are struggling with poverty, substance abuse, mental health issues, homelessness, and domestic violence. FamilyWise worked with SCC’s Renae and Cheryl to update their strategic plan as well as their mission, vision, and values statements. We asked Ann Gaasch, executive director, to provide some feedback on the experience.
SCC: Please describe some of the key factors that led to your decision to create a strategic plan.
Ann: We wanted to be energized, refresh our focus, and be engaged in a more (formal) strategic planning process than what we’ve had.
SCC: Why did you decide to work with a consultant on this process?
Ann: Like most nonprofits, capacity is always an issue. We don’t want to pull staff off their duties to do this. Part of it was an expertise issue. Invest in someone who understands the process, can ensure all voices are heard, and knows about the industry you’re in so you have a plan that is ready to go.
SCC: What part(s) of the strategic planning process did you find most helpful?
Ann: We talked with Renae and Cheryl on the scope, our goals for the process, and what we hoped to get out of it. We were pleased with the level of feedback they got through surveys and interviews. We were able to reach a variety of stakeholders including the families we serve, our community partners, board, and staff. A lot of the information we got really dovetailed together; there weren’t any surprises in the information that came back to us.
It was good to have someone who would keep us accountable and nudge our leadership team toward action-oriented steps. We worked with our staff on how to approach our clients (families we serve) and decided to use a written survey which was administered by the staff person whom they normally work with which gave them a greater sense of comfort and trust in talking about their experience with our organization. It was important that they know their feedback would help us to learn how we might better serve other families.
One of the things we looked at was the wording of our mission. We decided to change it. The board was really open to it. One of our founders (who is still very engaged with us) also participated in the process. She wasn’t worried about us changing the wording of our mission and values or talking about how our mission has changed. That was a great outcome.
SCC: Is there anything about this process that surprised you?
Ann: There were a lot of things that were affirming for us. One of the focus groups was done with the board. We learned about the clarity they have in understanding the work we do, the complexities of it, and the metrics involved. They have integrated this into their psyches and are able to bring it forward. It was a very gratifying experience. It was surprising that there were really no surprises; nothing about the strategic planning process came out of nowhere. There was a lot of synergy and consensus about where things are and how they fit together.
SCC: What advice would you have for another nonprofit considering developing or updating a strategic plan?
Ann: It’s important to really think through the process and make sure you have the right things in place to deliver on the plan. I really valued what we heard from our community stakeholders; the interviews with thought leaders and experts in the field really enriched the process.
A lot of our staff have taken this as a stake in the ground and are ready to go full force ahead; it’s been fun to see how they are operationalizing it and living it out. Our board is excited about it. It’s given us a tool to talk about process. We’ve developed a board report on the metrics of the strategic plan that will provide us with what we need to know we are being successful. This will help our board better understand how we are moving the needle on some of these issues.
I’ve worked in nonprofits for 30 years. I was always skeptical about the strategic planning process. You can spend lots of money for something that is nothing more than a nice bound document that sits on the shelf or it becomes a really big effort that ends up weakening the core competencies of the organization. When I started this process, I wanted to make sure it was something meaningful. It’s become our road map, or maybe our compass, and tells us which direction we’re going.