Foundation, find thyself—self-assessment & strategic planning
The Honorable Lawrence F. Stengel, now the Chief United States District Judge for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania, presided over our foundation’s launching in 2002. “In the early years, our priority was raising funds for our local civil legal aid provider,” he recalls. “In this, we’ve succeeded, and our leadership has been steady and responsible.” Indeed, our Safe at Home Custody Attorney Campaign is by far our foundation’s largest philanthropic output. We’ve funded a successful staff attorney at MidPenn Legal Services for over a decade.
We’re proud of this, but, as Judge Stengel continues, “At this point, we should expand our reach, becoming more involved in the broader Lancaster community.” Our board agrees. We see numerous other needs—from stimulating more lawyer volunteerism to supporting language access in our courts—that we are uniquely suited to address.
Last autumn, we sought insight from those who have successfully grown. We invited longtime Chicago Bar Foundation Executive Director Bob Glaves—under whose watch the CBF has expanded from two employees with annual grantmaking of $200,000 to 12 employees, making grants of $2.5 million per year—to lead a strategic planning session. We also invited my counterpart in neighboring York County, Victoria Connor—who has helped shepherd that bar foundation's endowment growth from $600,000 to $4.2 million during a focused campaign since 2011—to relate her experience. Bob broadened our perspective, while Victoria, with a bar organization the size of ours, offered an apples-to-apples vision.
Our seven-hour strategic-planning session went like this:
- Foundation History Exercise. We went through a fun, interactive memory-lane exercise to put folks in a positive mindset.
- The Chicago Bar Foundation Story: What Can the LBA Foundation Learn? As a “Yes, you too can do it” lesson, Bob explained the CBF’s capacity growth, including the potholes along the path.
- Updating Our Mission Statement. We tightened up our mission statement to three core priorities and punched up the statement with action verbs.
- Rebranding. Nonprofit brand management is a topic that merits its own article. If I had my perfect-world druthers, we’d spend significant time and money on a rebrand. Druthers and money are in short supply. So, we may end up with the diet-cola version of a rebrand. Nonetheless, we made two important decisions. We voted to change our name from Lancaster Bar Association Foundation to Lancaster Law Foundation. Part of this was simply syllable reduction. But more so, we think “law foundation” more intuitively suggests the nature of our work than “bar association foundation.” How many of you have told a stranger you run a bar association only for them to say, “That’s awesome! Do the bars give you free booze?” Aside from the name change, we will do an accompanying logo change, helping to set off the foundation from the association.
- Board Composition. Our board had been composed of lawyers since our founding. We determined that we needed forms of expertise that prevail in other professions. We amended our bylaws to permit three directors who are not bar members. (I will cover this more in the second half of this article.)
- York County Bar Foundation Story. Just before our lunch break, we heard from Victoria about the York County Bar Foundation’s endowment growth campaign, which began in large part with the addition of nonlawyer professionals to their board and then a successful matching campaign. The real value for my foundation’s board hearing this was that, despite some differences in our bars’ financial positions, they could draw a parallel between the YCBF’s successes and a projection of our foundation’s future successes.
- SWOT. After lunch, we performed a variation on a SWOT (strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, threats) analysis. We asked:
- What do we do well?
- Where can we improve?
- Is there anything we should stop doing?
- How can we match our capabilities with community needs? (This prompts the question, “How do we determine community needs?,” addressed in the second half of this article.)
- Where can we build community partnerships?
- Immediate Next Steps. Finally, we developed specific, achievable, short-term goals to get us out of the blocks. These included the mission statement and bylaws amendments, along with planning a simplified 2018 fundraising campaign so we can turn toward 2019 goals of community outreach, more online engagement, and launching planned-giving options for our members.
In retrospect, I am happy with this meeting structure, except for the early afternoon portion. For me, the SWOT analysis component stood to be very important. It would offer me guidance and insight into my board members’ thinking. But we were caught up in the after-lunch energy lull. Perhaps building in a lighter activity to recharge people right after lunch—and/or doing SWOT in the morning—would have worked better.
Nonetheless, the strategic planning session has borne fruit. We have the new mission statement, new prospects for board recruitment, and a simplified 2018 fundraising campaign underway. We have broadened our programmatic footprint through new volunteer projects, and we will soon plan out a new fundraising strategy. We have partnered with, and funded, other nonprofit service providers. And while this is perhaps an unorthodox way to begin a branding project, I believe that in about a year, this new activity will cause us to (re)discover both our foundation’s personality and our identity here in Lancaster.
The second half of this article contains a short (and hardly exhaustive) list of themes that have emerged as I’ve settled into the foundation’s executive leadership role. I will explain how I have observed their impact in/on our foundation.