What do you do when you need a new vision, and you need it—NOW? CB059743

That’s the dilemma faced by Children at Heart Ministries, a 64 year-old child and family care organization made up of Texas Baptist Children’s Home, STARRY, Gracewood and Miracle Farm. The four ministries are part of a larger family that includes the Children at Heart Foundation, Children at Heart Ministries and Children At Heart Family Services. It’s a complicated structure that made strategic planning difficult, but all the more needed.

In a climate where many business know-it-alls scrap mission statements, vision casting and other elements of basic strategic planning, Children at Heart proved some of the old basics of the process still apply. And, many of these principles are elastic. They can be adjusted to meet various situations, even a shorter time frame.

"This process has completely reinvigorated our boards, staff and leadership," said Dawson Clark, COO of the Children at Heart Foundation.

The approach and lessons learned could apply to your Christian radio station, your Bible college, Gospel rescue mission or ministry.

Down the beaten path

Dawson Clark, VP and Chief Operating Officer for the Children at Heart Foundation, connected with me and shared his leadership’s needs for a new strategic plan. It was clear this was not unplowed territory.

Like a lot of ministries, Children at Heart had been down the strategic planning path several times before. They were gun shy about spending a boat load of money for the same, tired approach. Their unique structure and history demanded something different and simple.

When I suggested that using the traditional process might take two years, Clark grinned. He then explained that Austin and Houston, where the ministries are based, are both growth markets. To secure funding, Children at Heart needed a new vision that unified its efforts. There was no time for flipcharts, dozens of work groups at every layer of the organization and months of meetings.

Training on classic leadership principles, re-wording of mission statements, values clarification and all the rest seemed unnecessary. The important elements included generating a spark of creativity, mobilizing the organization to take some bold steps and finding a way to inspire new donors.

In the Works

Working closely with Clark, our team at Advocace custom designed a series of highly focused meetings to generate an inspired big idea (nicked named a “BHAG,” a term first coined by author Jim Collins). We also created a correlating set of S.M.A.R.T. (Strategic, Measurable, Attainable, Relevant and Time Bound) goals for each of Children at Heart’s ministries.

The idea was to skip the big build up, drop the consultant-ese and jump start the strategic planning process. We wanted to get right to solid planning and cultural change.

Through the Ringer

The entire process kicked off last October with a one-day summit at Miracle Farm, a sprawling cattle ranch situated near Brenham, Texas north of Houston. The farm helps 13-20 year-old boys struggling to find their way in life by using a model centered on hard work and Christian principles.

Teams were assembled including board members, executive directors and development staffers for each of the four ministries. Representatives from the other aspects of Children at Heart’s ministry family also participated. In a short, focused training session, the teams defined important terms and completed two very specific, but complementary documents—a Vision Plan and a Strategic Operating Plan.

After the one-day summit each team met for two days to work through a SWOT (Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities and Threats) analysis. They also brainstormed for the BHAG and SMART goals during this time. Later a larger group met to review each of the four ministry plans and help Children at Heart Ministries, Family Services, and their Foundation finalize this process.

What’s the impact?

“We are now positioned to take everything we do to the next level,” Clark said. Other, specific outcomes to date include:

  • Gracewood is pursuing a major capital campaign.
  • STARRY has its eyes on facilities expansion.
  • Texas Baptist Children’s Home is improving communications and better defining its programming.
  • Miracle Farm’s board completed modifications to its strategic plan that charts a course for the future.

Clear lessons learned from Children at Heart

  1. Every organization is different. The approach to strategic planning must be highly contextualized.
     
  2. You can raise expectations when working with groups in a strategic planning process. It’s not only possible but advisable to “begin with the end in mind” and drive your efforts toward a defined set of goals or deliverables
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  3. Complex organizations can build consensus by working in small cross sections of the larger group. If the groups represent staff, board and leadership, they will usually come up with answers that the entire organization can buy into.
     
  4. Strategic planning is not dead, it just needs a fresh approach. Creativity, innovation and solid communication principles help lead the way.

“Jerry Grimes and the Advocace team have helped us take a critical look at all our challenges and opportunities...and we have now set in motion a bold effort to deepen and strengthen our ministry,” Clark added.

What’s your strategic planning dilemma? Let us find a way to help. Contact me here.