Big challenges and big opportunities for the arts community

The arts have never been more important than they are today. They bring joy, act as a healing force, and educate the young and old. The arts are a key component of the economy and an important community partner as we recover and reinvent our world after the pandemic.

On May 22, Capacity Partners Founder and President Mary Robinson was honored to join Anne Corbett of Building Creative and Linda Sullivan, President & CEO of ARTSFairfax  for an ARTSFairfax webinar focused on planning for what’s next in the Fairfax County arts community in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic.

The challenges that organizations have faced over the last two months are extreme.  Arts organizations, and really most nonprofits, are losing revenue, facing staff layoffs, and shifting strategies in how work gets done.  However, with every challenge comes an opportunity.

As Mary Robinson noted during the webinar, to maintain organizational viability over the long term, organizations should use Dynamic Planning to create three, six, and twelve-month plans. Starting with the formation of a Dynamic Planning committee, organizations would then use the iterative Dynamic Planning process to reaffirm their mission, asses their strengths and weaknesses, and conduct scenario planning, identifying multiple scenarios and solutions.

For example, Capacity Partners client Arts for the Aging was committed to keeping their teaching artists on salary during the pandemic, despite cancelling all in-person workshops. The team of teaching artists has now activated multiple distance and virtual programs to continue serving their audience of older adults and their caregivers. Although the method of program delivery has changed, Arts for the Aging’s mission remains front and center.

Anne Corbett stressed arts organizations have a unique opportunity to be leaders in community resiliency and reinvention, utilizing multiple partnerships, audience engagement, and advocacy opportunities.

Some of the ideas discussed on the webinar include:

  • Partnering with a food bank to include art kits in food boxes
  • Partnering with real estate developers to bring outdoor art or performances in a socially distant and safe manner
  • Producing virtual theatre or art shows and partnering with a restaurant or catering company to deliver a meal to patrons participating at home. (This would also work for virtual fundraising events.)

Webinar participant Lisa LaCamera, Senior Director, Communications & Marketing at Wolf Trap Foundation for the Performing Arts, said, “People are realizing the healing nature of the arts in times of crisis. People all over the world appreciate the need for the arts to get through this.”

Capacity Partners encourages arts organizations – and all nonprofits – to embrace the opportunities, confront the fear, create the plan, and move ahead to our next normal. The canvas of opportunity lies in front of all of us, and Capacity Partners stands ready to support you if you need a jump start.


How Dynamic Planning Can Help you Chart a Course During this Unprecedented Time

Dynamic PlanningBefore coronavirus, a strategic plan was enough to navigate the future, but now that we’re dealing with a pandemic and recession (or even a depression), nonprofit leaders need a different way to think about planning that builds in the agility and creativity required during these extraordinary times. And that different way is the fast-paced, flexible Capacity Partners® Framework for Dynamic Planning.

Dynamic Planning sets up a process of regular reassessment during a time of significant change; COVID-19 now, but it could also be unexpected leadership turnover, security breaches, or a sudden major drop in funding. It may seem like two steps forward, one step back for a time, but through an iterative process, boards of directors and staff can use Dynamic Planning to lead their organizations through a rapidly-changing environment and onto the “next normal.”

We’ve identified four stages in Dynamic Planning. In Stage One, you quickly develop a Response Plan that enables your organization to react to a crisis in a purely tactical fashion. While Mission, Vision, and Values still ground your organization, this is the “oh no, what is happening?” stage. During the current COVID-19 crisis, organizations transitioned to telework, assessed cash flows, and set up a response team to keep the organization functioning.

Some organizations are now in Stage Two, or Monitoring. During this stage, you remain flexible to manage ongoing change and adjust your response plan quickly. Focus tends to be operational, and board leadership is critical as your organization figures out funding and strategic direction. You may need to make hard choices about staffing and delivery of your services. Don’t forget to keep your funders and key stakeholders in the loop—communication remains vital to relationships, especially as you continue to pivot.

While adjusting operations and serving the immediate needs of your stakeholders can be all-consuming, at some point you must focus on your future—your “next normal.”  This is what we call Stage Three – Planning Ahead. For some, planning ahead will involve moderate changes to an existing strategic direction; others will need to reinvent their business models significantly.

Your board and key staff will create a series of scenarios based on hypotheticals about what the future holds and different courses of action. You will lay out plans for multiple options since projections in this unprecedented time will often be wrong. Will we have a winter spike or a quick vaccine? When will people be comfortable attending in-person programs and meetings?  Will the financial impact of one scenario vs. another be so great that we will need to revise our services, consider a merger, or dramatically reimagine our future?

The end result of this strategic thinking will be a Dynamic Plan lasting six to twelve months. Those organizations that think strategically and are open to reinventing themselves as necessary will be the ones that not only recover but rebound.

Finally, in Stage Four, Transition, you are ready implement the Dynamic Plan you created in Stage Three. Since the path of COVID-19 and the economic recovery remain so uncertain, you will likely unfold your Dynamic Plan in stages, staying flexible and prepared to pivot as the world continually changes.

Organizational VitalityAs you work your way through the four stages, it is critical that you examine the impact on all facets of your organization, including your culture, stakeholders (board, staff, donors, volunteers, and clients), fundraising, finances, marketing, communications, programs, and technology. As part of our Dynamic Planning Framework, Capacity Partners has created pragmatic worksheets for every stage of the process.

Through Dynamic Planning, your transition will be based on clear thinking, and like a sailboat, tacking to your ultimate destination, you will arrive at a future that advances your mission and enhances your organization.

Capacity Partners’ expert consultants can help your organization use Dynamic Planning to ensure your continued success during these unparalleled times. For a copy of our worksheet or more information on our services, please contact us at info@capacitypartners.com or (240) 462-5151

 

(And click here if you'd like to listen to a short, informative webinar on Dynamic Planning in the Time of Covid-19 and Beyond.)


Strategic Direction: The Heart of the Matter

Capacity Partners has a unique and successful approach to strategic planning with four key phases:

  • FOUNDATION:  Mission, Vision, Values
  • CURRENT SITUATION:  External trends, opportunities and threats; internal strengths and weaknesses; understanding of constituent needs
  • STRATEGIC DIRECTION:  Short-term vision, goals, strategies and timeframe
  • IMPLEMENTATION:  Annual objectives, budget, work plan

The heart of strategic planning is strategic direction, but what is strategic direction? More than just another planning term, it paints a compelling vision of the future and addresses the key questions “where are we going and how are we going to get there?” Incorporating your mission, vision, and culture, ideology and values, it is an essential part of reaching your grand and important goals.

Strategic direction includes:

  1. A one to two-year strategic plan statement (i.e., strategic vision) that describes where the organization wants to go and what it will look like at the end of the plan period and how stakeholders will be affected. It is a word picture that energizes your stakeholders and describes what you expect to achieve.
  2. Five to seven broad goals that articulates the top critical priorities and what needs to be accomplished to realize the vision.
  3. Strategies, to explain how the organization will achieve each goal.

Together, these components form the strategic direction that will guide your organization for the upcoming 3 years.

For example, in its recent strategic plan, the Montgomery Coalition for Adult English Literacy (MCAEL) set a bold goal of “21,000 by 2021” with this strategic vision statement: “While the coalition of adult ESOL providers remains committed to maintain the quality of programs and instruction and the number of adult learners it serves has increased over the past 6 years, there continue to be tens of thousands of learners who are limited in their English proficiency. By 2021, MCAEL will increase the number of learners who are on a pathway to proficiency from 15,000 to 21,000.”

This ambitious three-year vision drove goals related to increasing numbers of new highly-trained instructors, training new staff, expanding partnerships to enable access to a range of new workplace programs, and enhancing other types of instructional opportunities for English learners.

MCAEL Executive Director Kathy Stevens said, “Capacity Partners is key to our planning and implementation process since the expert help we receive helps us translate the big strategic direction into tangible action steps.”


Managing Transitions

The only constant in life is change, and the same proves true at nonprofit organizations. As nonprofit leaders, we’re either preparing to launch the next program, initiating a fundraising campaign, or working with our boards to map out a strategic plan for the next five years.  And those are just the changes we plan for.

There is an implicit responsibility embedded in every nonprofit manager’s job description: change leader.  But what does it mean to be a change leader?  How do we effectively lead transitions? How do we include all of our stakeholders in the process?

While successful change management requires utilizing a host of best practices, one important tactic dictates that you enlist a core group of staff, board, and other stakeholders to drive the change you’re seeking to make.  In order to do this, you need a communications plan that details your vision, give people the chance to discuss concerns, then apply the change throughout your operations. Successful change management includes a plan that first identifies your organization’s stakeholders, and then outline strategic communication plans for each individual stakeholder group. Think about how you would want to be communicated with if someone else was leading your organization.

Laying the groundwork for a successful change takes time.  As Seth Godin once said, “it takes about six years of hard work to become an overnight success.”  However, it’s also important to celebrate small wins and acknowledge the hard work of everyone as they strive to make change.

Capacity Partners is ready to support you your nonprofit during your transition from facilitating meetings to developing comprehensive strategic plans.


How do you know when you’re ready to do a strategic plan?

Perhaps you and your board have decided your organization needs a new strategic plan. But how do you know if you’re ready to embark on the strategic plan process?  Before you hire that consultant to help you develop a bold yet achievable strategic plan, make sure your key stakeholders – board, staff, and volunteers – have answered these questions.

  1. Is your organization in a state of crisis?  If so, you must deal with the crisis before developing your strategic plan so you have the required mental space and staff time to allow all of you to consider the deeper issues of where it is heading.
  2. Are key board leaders relatively stable?  If your board officers are in transition, it might be wise to wait until they are comfortable in their new roles.
  3. Is the executive director planning to stay?  Are there minimal issues with your CEO? While an organization can do strategic planning without an executive director – and sometimes does, to assess direction and determine the right CEO to hire–for a complete strategic planning process, it is best to have on board the person who will lead the execution of the plan, which is nearly always the executive director.
  4. Do board and staff have time to plan?  While no one has enough time these days, meaningful strategic planning requires a time commitment of at least a half to full day a month for three to six months. The chair of the strategic planning committee and the executive director must dedicate even more time.  Many small nonprofits hope do the impossible – complete a strategic plan in a single half-day planning session, something that’s generally neither wise nor useful.
  5. Do you have someone willing to make the time and energy commitment to chair the strategic planning committee?  It is too much to expect board chair to lead this process while handling their other responsibilities.
  6. Do you want a board or staff-drive process, or some combination of the two? Very small nonprofits tend to choose a board-driven strategic planning process while large organizations with staff members who bring special expertise are often staff-driven. Either way, the board still owns the responsibility for setting the strategic direction, so the board must take the lead on the foundational elements of developing your mission/vision and values as well as setting the strategic direction and goals. Staff can help tremendously with the current situation analysis and creating strategy and implementation plans.
  7. What kind of consultant do you want – a partner to guide you through the entire process, or a facilitator with your team doing most of the work? It is important to interview different consultants and so that your needs match with the consultant’s style.

If you’d like to learn if your organization is ready for a strategic plan, or if you’re ready to start the planning process, call Capacity Partners at 240-462-5151 to learn if our team of experts can help you decide if you are ready to proceed and then discuss next steps with you.


A quick summary of Organizational Vitality

Click the image below to download a copy of our article on Organizational Vitality!


The First Pillar of Organizational Vitality

As we discussed recently, Capacity Partners has developed a revolutionary program called Organizational Vitality© that can transform your organization.

Organizational Vitality© is the heart of what makes a nonprofit resilient, successful, and beloved. Organizational Vitality is why some nonprofits are superlative in nearly every facet – program, mission, leadership, recognition, and planning. A lack of Organizational Vitality is the reason so many nonprofits struggle with issues they can’t identify, difficulties which prevent them from fulfilling their grand potential.

There are four pillars of Organizational Vitality: vision, goals, leadership, and engagement. Today we’ll focus on vision.

Vision, quite simply, is what inspires people. It is movement and change wrapped up in a single essential sentence. A well-articulated vision is a proven way to engage your stakeholders and steer your mission.

While your mission is pragmatic, an aspirational vision ought to be ambitious and rousing. Let’s say you are part of a nonprofit that feeds low-income people. Your mission might be “to provide nutritious food to people in need in the DC metro area.” Your vision, however, could be “to eliminate hunger in the DC metro area.”

A nonprofit with Organizational Vitality possess both an aspirational vision and a strategic vision that describes where they want to be in three to five years. For example, “to enable 50% of the people we currently serve to become economically stable and no longer need food assistance” might be the organization’s strategic vision. Easily-understood aspirational and strategic visions are one of the keys to being an effective, successful nonprofit organization.

Weaving through every action, every staffer, and every volunteer, vision is both the foundation for a nonprofit and the great change the organization wants to create in the world. An organization with vitality has a vision that is both the beginning and the end and acts as a guiding principle for the nonprofit.

Would you like to learn more about crafting an inspiring vision and becoming a nonprofit with Organizational Vitality©? Contact Mary Robinson, President and Founder of Capacity Partners, at mary@capacitypartners.com today.


Organizational Vitality – The Heart of Nonprofit Success

For thirty years, the talented team at Capacity Partners has consulted with a variety of nonprofit organizations – large and tiny, emerging and established, effective and struggling. We’ve worked with organizations in every sector, including human services, education, advocacy, arts, environmental, health, and international causes.

We recently asked ourselves, what makes one organization successful and another less so? On paper, most organizations have the elements that should cause them to be effective. People, programs, systems, marketing and communication, fundraising, finances, and culture are the foundations of every nonprofit. Yet we all know only a few nonprofits that possess that undefinable “it” factor that makes them not just good, but great. We admire those rare, astonishingly effective nonprofits which seem to easily and consistently fulfill their missions. They have happy staff and dynamic leadership and are revered as top-tier, leadership organizations.

After hours of conversations and even more hours spent pondering the nonprofit “it” factor, we realized we could actually define the undefinable. We discovered that the difference between nonprofits that survive and those that thrive is what we call Organizational Vitality.

Organizational Vitality is the heart of what makes a nonprofit organization resilient, successful, and beloved. Organizational Vitality is why some nonprofit organizations are superlative in nearly every facet – program, mission, leadership, recognition, and planning. A lack of Organizational Vitality is the reason so many nonprofit organizations struggle with issues they can’t identify, difficulties which prevent nonprofits from fulfilling their grand potential.

Drilling deeper into the concept of Organizational Vitality, we have created an entirely unique way to view and assist nonprofit organizations. During a recent seminar, we taught Organizational Vitality to a variety of nonprofits, and both the organizations and Capacity Partners were struck by how quickly the theory of Organizational Vitality resonated with the seminar participants.