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Previous Challenge Entry (Level 1 – Beginner)
Topic: Staff (01/31/13)

TITLE: A chapter from a guide to Strategic Planning
By Linda Buskirk


Agape House, a Christian mission serving women victims of domestic violence, had a waiting list for its already overcrowded shelter operating in a rambling old farmhouse. The agency’s increasingly professional staff had initiated new programming to address the multiple needs of women whose poverty and limited education helped trap them in violent relationships. Cramped space barely accommodated living quarters for the women and their children, let alone classrooms, prayer and counseling areas.

The Board of Directors and Executive Director of Agape House knew the twelve year old agency was at a critical juncture. Some Board members were calling for a strategic planning process that would provide time for the Board to sort out the issues. Other Board members wanted the staff to propose a plan that the Board could adopt.

Agape House faced one of the key questions for determining a strategic future: Who should be at the planning table?

BoardSouce and other national experts on Board governance agree that setting and modifying the strategic direction for a not-for-profit agency is squarely a Board responsibility. However, the process should be crafted to welcome a variety of voices. Neither the "only Board" nor the "no Board" option is ideal.

Board members bring fresh ideas to the planning process but often unrealistic expectations about the capacity of the organization to implement them. Staff members, on the other hand, may prefer options that make their existing world easier but do not stretch the organization into bolder programming and impact.

To insure balance in the process, create a Planning Core Group. Even if the entire board is designated as part of this group, it is helpful to give everyone involved “membership” in the effort. The Core Group serves as both a steering committee, to help determine the logistics of the process, and as the actual decision-making leadership throughout the process. Many large boards (20 members or more) will delegate a sub-set of board members to actually participate in the strategic planning process. Keep in mind that the entire board must support strategic decisions, so if not all participate in the process, progress updates should be regularly provided to all board members.

Examine the organization’s staff leadership and decision-making structure to determine which staff members should participate on the Core Group. In a small agency, the chief executive is probably less reliant on staff input for most critical decisions. In that case, the chief executive is often the only staff person who serves on the Core Group. In larger organizations, especially those whose chief executive has an inclusive leadership style, some staff leadership members are significant decision-makers. It is quite appropriate to include these leaders on the Core Group.

When an agency has a particularly strong collaborative partner or operates within a larger organizational context, it is also appropriate to invite one or more representatives from those outside entities to serve on the Core Group. For instance, a church-sponsored school may invite the pastor and/or a church lay leader to participate.

Through the planning process, other voices should be sought. The entire staff can participate through surveys or in all-staff meetings where their feedback is invited. Client and/or customer surveys or interviews of key community leaders can also inform the Core Group’s deliberations.

The Agape House Board of Directors found that including the entire board, the executive director and two staff program directors on the Core Group worked well for their strategic planning process. The Core Group gained a deeper understanding of both the physical and operational needs of their ministry by conducting a values exercise with the entire staff and by interviewing some of the residents of the shelter. The resulting strategic priorities for the ministry were adopted by the Board and enjoyed the support of the staff.

The opinions expressed by authors may not necessarily reflect the opinion of FaithWriters.com.
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Member Comments
Member Date
C D Swanson 02/08/13
I love the name of the organization...Agape. Great story with a powerful conclusion. Thank you.

God Bless~
Shann Hall-LochmannVanBennekom 02/12/13
I found this essay to be an interesting and different take on the topic. I think you definitely nailed the topic, and this is quite different than other stories this week--which is always a good thing.

For me the transition from the back story of Agape house and the "how to" part about finding a happy medium jarred me a tiny bit. I had thought the story would be more about the actual house than advice on how to assemble a good board.

I think the advice , however, was great and educated me about how to best tackle a project like that. If I had read the title first, I think I would have been more prepared. I need to start reading titles more often.

Your essay made me think, and not just about starting a group or business, but how balance is important in many things. It's always good to have a mixture because when people go to extremes, even extremes that are vastly different, that is when problems develop. Take for example parenting: one can be too strict and not allow the child any freedom, while another can be too lenient and allow the child to do whatever he wants. Though both actions are extreme, the one thing they are likely to have in common is a messed up kid. Overall, I think you did a nice job on this.