1. Vida Verde
Vida Verde is a nonprofit that promotes educational equity by providing free, overnight, environmental learning experiences for students who don't otherwise get the opportunity.
Learn more at https://www.vveducation.org/
Increased income by an average of 25% across 13 years, going from $75,000 in 2005 to $1,175,000 in 2018
Increased staff by 500%; the team doubled in size in the last three years
Analyzed programs and participation to determine ideal duration and size of programs
Increased the number of students served by 20% in last ten years
Received superior ratings across four program objectives by their participants
For Laura and Shawn Sears, the founders of Vida Verde, following their passion was the easy part; prioritizing the planning aspects of a growing nonprofit was the challenge. That challenge is one that they have conquered and continue to hone through the alignment of their work and a strategic planning process.
The Simplicity Principle
A common misconception of a strategic plan is that it has to be a lengthy document that includes a lot of content. Their facilitator oversaw a series of exercises to help Laura and Shawn clearly define the categories of their plan, which ended up being captured on one page. Laura agrees that simplicity is key and provides the foundation for other principles: “By separating the plan into categories and keeping things simple, it gave us the ability to organize thoughts and it gave us a framework to follow. We were all on the same page as a team, and most important, it felt achievable.”
Vida Verde has seen tremendous growth attributed to the strategic plan over the last 13 years. The organization has the tools, financial security, and time to dedicate to the vision for the organization—a vision that once looked like a far-off dream drawn out on a piece of paper, an exercise that Eric had Laura and Shawn complete during one of their early strategic planning sessions.
Reflecting on the pictures they drew in the first planning retreat that illustrated their vision-- a place for animals, housing for staff, a kitchen, sleeping structures for the students-- Laura says they no longer have to look at that piece of paper to see the dream, it’s unfolding in front of them: “It’s not just the dream of a couple of people anymore, it’s an entity that is going to live beyond us.”
“STRATEGIC PLANNING WAS AN ENJOYABLE PROCESS. IT WAS FUN AND WE LEFT FEELING ACCOMPLISHED, PROUD, DRIVEN AND EXCITED FOR THE FUTURE.”
— Laura Sears, Co-founder and Director of Development, Vida Verde
About-Face arms girls with the knowledge and tools they need to fight back against a culture that diminishes and disempowers them.
Learn more at https://about-face.org/
As a result of its strategic planning work, About-Face had the following results:
Clarified programming focus and target market
Expanded brand and marketing strategies
Stopped using independent contractors and added two team members
Doubled board members, increasing diversity and experience
On the verge of closing, About-Face was struggling through the day-to-day work of a small nonprofit and wasn’t able to find the time to focus on goals or make future plans. Executive Director Jennifer Berger knew she needed to take a hard look at the successes and, more importantly, the failures of the organization to focus on key areas of improvement. That’s when she turned to strategic planning.
As she explains, the process was an empowering one: “I went into strategic planning with a completely open mind because it was important to me to hold on to the idea that it might not work out and the organization may fail. This made the strategic planning experience valuable to me because we focused on not just surviving. We wanted to thrive and make a deeper impact. It gave us a sense of reinvention.
After completing the strategic plan, the organization relaunched in Fall 2017 with a clear focus on programs and target market with a fresh brand identity. What followed the relaunch was a big jump in fundraising.
Their strategic plan is one that Berger and About-Face plan to revisit every year. She sees that clarity is paramount to getting anything else done and a strategic plan is the process to reduce the noise and focus on the crucial aspects of an organization, including future goals.
“There is something extremely powerful about being able to push pause on your organization and take a breath, step back, and take a good hard look at it and move forward with clarity.”
— Jennifer Berger, Executive Director, About-Face
3. Good Shepherd Gracenter
As a result of their strategic planning work, Good Shepherd had the following results:
Increased revenue by 17% in the last year
65% increase in grants in last year
67% increase in fundraising income in last year
Increased board members by 120%, expanding experience and diversity
Overhauled process of strategic assessment which includes formal and informal reviews
Increased effectiveness and impact of board by creating committees that serve a particular focus
Sister Marguerite Bartling is a devoted servant who dedicates her time and talents to serving others. When she found herself in a new role-- executive director of Good Shepherd Gracecenter, a nonprofit that provides resources to women to help them overcome drug and alcohol addiction-- she recognized the potential areas for growth but was uncertain on how to achieve those goals.
When Sister Marguerite took over as executive director, the center did not have a strategic plan. Development and fundraising were stagnant due to the lack of a systematic way of acquiring additional funds. Additionally, members of the board wanted to find ways to be more effective in their roles. Overall, the organization needed a programmatic vision to clarify goals to the team.
Their finances have improved across the board with an overall revenue increase of $573,000 in 2017 to $670,000 in 2018. The largest areas of increase came from foundation grants, which jumped from $82,400 in 2017 to $136,000 in 2018, and their annual fundraiser which raised $30,000 in 2017 to $50,000 in 2018. Some of this growth can be attributed to the goals set forth in the strategic plan for fundraising and development.
In the end, the confidence and comfort that the strategic plan provides is the most invaluable aspect to Sister Marguerite and the board: “I'm more comfortable because through our plan we have a direction and new board members have more direction and clarity on what to do.” She says that the strategic planning process “has helped me as a leader become more experienced about what to look for in ways of leadership assistance and growth potential.”