Ritchie Consulting Inc was selected to partner with a growing successful international nonprofit that provided nascent grassroots organizations with capacity-building grants; and education programs in the U.S. This organization was about to celebrate its 25th anniversary and was experiencing tremendous success and notoriety in the sector. Under the helm of a dynamic and politically savvy leader, the organization had successfully captured the hearts and minds of a significant cultural group of donors and young activists who contributed significantly to the organization around disaster relief, e.g., Tsunami in Indonesia and the earthquake in Haiti. However, with this momentous growth comes normative challenges, for instance: Lack of clarity around mission, lack of clarity around how to invest resources, insufficient infrastructure, straining capacity, and in this case; increasing incongruence between the board and staff about ‘how’ the organization carries out its mission. Ultimately, this last issue raised significant tensions about the long-term desired impact that the organization was seeking to achieve – which had naturally changed and evolved since the organization started just 25 years ago.
While the client organization was seeking to do strategic planning, it was evident early on that the organization needed to align around a common purpose and vision. Through preliminary assessment and document review, Ritchie Consulting Inc recognized the importance of culture in this organization and designed a highly participatory process to engage key stakeholders throughout the process. The first step was to prepare the board members to engage in this change process and then identify individuals who would be part of planning committee. This committee ended up being an unusually large and diverse team of board members and staff who would work with the consultants for the duration of the planning process. A specific intention of the planning design was to help develop leadership capacity at the board and staff levels. For this reason, the consultants worked with the committee so that they could learn to create agendas with clearly articulated objectives and action items. Task groups were utilized throughout the process to conduct research and develop recommendations. In order to facilitate skills-building, the task groups were spearheaded by a member of the planning committee. In addition, the staff developed comprehensive trend analyses (comparable, benchmark, and trend) that are now a model for annual external scans conducted by the staff. The board leaders developed the board agendas to engage board members at the generative level and solicit feedback on strategic questions that emerged throughout the process. A key intervention in this process was the facilitation of a Theory of Change discussion that enabled the board and staff to intentionally wrestle with the questions: “Who are we?” and “What are we seeking to accomplish?”. The Theory of Change guided the development of fundamental priorities, and ultimately the strategic direction of the organization.
The most profound outcomes from this process were:
1) the organization aligned around a core mission and intended impact statement;
2) the organization made a difficult, but strategic choice to work more thoroughly in fewer countries and on a more limited set of issues;
3) the organization decided to expand and align their national program to develop an educated, informed and activated constituency that can respond to key policy issues that further the organization’s mission and ultimate impact.
It is important to also note how leadership emerged and was strengthened through this process. The board is aligned and focused on a clear set of issues, and there is greater internal capacity within the staff and leadership. Their methodology now utilizes rigorous, diligent, participatory processes that root decision-making in data and evidence. This has enhanced the organization’s problem-solving ability and fostered buy-in around proposed strategies. Given the level of integrity and transparency of these processes, the leadership and staff were prepared when they had to make difficult choices about how best to leverage the organization’s impact.