Developing a New Vision and Strategic Plan after 125 Years
By Maicharia Z. Weir Lytle
Maicharia Z. Weir Lytle
In 2017, United South End Settlements (USES) celebrated its 125th Anniversary and unveiled Vision125, a five-year strategic plan, to better meet the needs of our community through high-impact programming and a more sustainable business model.
USES has long served families in need of support in Boston, dating back to 1892, but we had not addressed the demographic changes in the South End and surrounding neighborhoods in recent years and a growing need to focus on a holistic approach to supporting families.
Despite an influx of higher-income neighbors and gentrification in recent years, 36% of children in the South End live in poverty, 19% of residents over the age of 25 have not graduated high school, and 11% have less than a ninth-grade education.
Historically, USES provided programs for different audiences and our programs were siloed. Today, our target audience is children and parents/caregivers, and we have a clear goal of helping low-income families in the South End and neighboring communities access resources, become more resilient, and build a diverse and supportive network to break the cycle of poverty.
Weve adopted an integrated approach to programming to support the whole family. For example, children can participate in our early education and out-of-school programs, including Camp Hale in New Hampshire, while parents engage in workplace readiness with one-on-one coaching. When families are fully supported they are more resilient and able to cope with lifes ups and downs.
Additionally, USES faced financial difficulties for many years due to a variety of factors, including limited resources to support the siloed programming model over the long-term and the cost of maintaining our facilities. The status quo was no longer working. While financially solvent, we realized it was critical to change the model so that USES could be financially sustainable for the next 125 years.
Prior to starting the strategic planning process, initial feedback from participants in our programs, staff, donors, and community members made it clear that USES was at a pivotal moment in its long history.
We then spent approximately six months engaged in a strategic planning process. This included reviewing existing programs and resources, soliciting feedback from various stakeholders, taking a hard look at our financials, prioritizing steps forward, and, finally, implementing the strategy.
Here are a few core elements that helped make the effort a success.
Caveat: Get the Board On Board
Its not uncommon for nonprofit organizations to go through a strategic planning process only to put the results and research on a shelf, skipping the last step of implementation all together. At the beginning of this process we recognized getting commitment from our board of directors was critical, not only to develop the plan, but also to implement new programs and initiatives.
Throughout the process, feedback from the community helped inform our new vision and programming changes. We knew community input as well as our transparency about the process would be vital to ensure a comprehensive understanding and appreciation among our various stakeholders as to why we were engaging in a strategic planning process and making changes in the first place.
Throughout the strategic planning process, we looked to our peers at other organizations for guidance during the strategic planning process. Their insight and advice has been invaluable.