We knew we wanted something other than a traditional strategic plan. Our existing strategic plan was expiring in 2023, and we needed something to take its place. But what could it look like and how would we develop it? As NEW’s Chief Strategy and Programs Officer, I started by exploring our WHY for a new plan and envisioning WHAT it could do for us. Working with CEO Yodit Mesfin Johnson, I laid out our wishlist and desires for this new plan. Our wishes:
- A strategic plan to serve as a roadmap to our vision (see the blog post Yodit wrote in January to learn more about this vision)
- A tool that would provide clarity and direction for our board and staff during this period of transformation and growth. It would provide the foundation to identify, implement, and adjust strategies to help NEW achieve its mission. It would build on our theory of change, and leverage the community feedback we’ve received.
In late fall 2022, we put the word out that we were seeking a consultant to help guide us in our journey. Yes, though I have led others in strategic planning work, I wanted to be present in the process, not facilitate. I personally find it hard to guide others in generative discussion and be active in the exchange myself. I was also concerned about bringing my bias into the process, giving more room for ideas that aligned with my own. I knew I was too close to the work to lead the process in an open manner. NEW needed someone who understood our desire for intentional growth and deeper impact, while holding true to our values and approach. Thank you to JFM Consulting Group for being a great partner in this process!
The process leveraged much of the work we had already done – our updated mission and theory of change, our 10 year vision, and our fundraising manifesto. It also leaned heavily on feedback from our community survey and Community Advisory Council. We needed to ground the new plan in our community’s perspectives, centering the people most impacted by our work. As we share with our clients, an equity-centered approach to strategic planning. Their voices guide the process.
The biggest hurdle for us, (and perhaps the reason why we are releasing this plan in 2024 and not in 2023) was developing this plan, while also working on our annual goals and budget. It has been a challenge to reconcile our dashboard and goals while overlaying a new strategic framework. I am admittedly still trying to figure out how to mesh these together in a way that doesn’t confuse everyone. The transition period between the old and the new one is a little bumpy, but nothing that we can’t get through.
In the end, I am so excited and proud of the plan we have developed. I can’t wait to go on this journey with you, our community members and partners! Here are the main areas of focus for NEW in the years ahead:
- Organizational Culture, Strategy, and Structure: Determining how to structure ourselves to share leadership, power, and decision making. We are also exploring alternative leadership options and ways to support pay equity among our staff.
- Scale & Geography: Examining how to grow in breadth and depth. Providing new value-added services , exploring partnerships and alliances, and attending to communities that are underserved in our area.
- Programs and Services: Centering the perspectives of our community members as we adapt and grow our programs and services. Trying out new ideas based on what we hear, and getting greater clarity on who we can best serve. And of course, bringing our community together by transforming our building and physical environment.
- Financial Resilience: Pursuing a financial model that grants stability and the flexibility to adapt to meet our community’s needs. We want to be able to respond to the unexpected and invest our resources in alignment with our values.
- Influence, Advocacy, and Systems Change: This is the first time we have articulated this focus in a strategic plan at NEW. This isn’t accidental – we are ready to address the need for a nonprofit sector in the first place. We are intentionally pursuing a strategy to change unjust policies and structures. Influence, advocacy, and systems change are necessary to advance our vision for the future.
In support of these focus areas, one community member (who asked to remain anonymous) shared this perspective in our recent community survey:
NEW is answering the questions we all have and don’t know who (or how) to ask. Community care, pathologies of fundraising, what does justice *actually* look like in the big picture or the intensely granular, is there any hope for my dysfunctional board…so so many nonprofit leaders are asking these questions while lying awake at night, and it is so helpful (and refreshing) to be invited into real conversations and trainings that tackle these very things. I also like the cross-pollination of meeting leaders in other sectors who face the same set of challenges/hopes.
For me, this quote affirms that NEW is actively pursuing the strategic future that we want to see.
This new plan isn’t something to sit on the shelf or just check the box that it is done. We developed this plan to guide our staff and board on our every-day decisions and long-range planning. We will use it to keep us focused and are committed to keeping our community in the loop about how things are going. We welcome your questions about the process and final plan, so please don’t hesitate to reach out!