We facilitated a strategic planning process with The Neighborhood Developers in 2009, which led them to launch a successful asset-building partnership. Since then, they’ve also expanded their portfolio of affordable housing, and gained a reputation as innovators and effective partners. Recently, they asked for help rethinking their organizational structure. Why would such a successful nonprofit want to reexamine the way it organizes its work? Growing groups need this kind of capacity building in order to keep giving their programs a well-functioning home. With TND, we developed an “organigraph” to sketch out both the formal structures and informal relationships that are indispensible to their good work. Using this tool to view the organization from different perspectives paved the way to rebalancing the workload and finding opportunities for staff to develop their leadership skills: a restructuring that reflects TND’s collaborative culture.
Environment Northeast, a research and advocacy organization committed to advancing the clean energy future, had hit a plateau—and an opportunity to revitalize their operations. That’s what we found when we conducted a capacity-building assessment there, funded by the Barr Foundation. We looked at ENE’s governance, finances, leadership, strategy and systems. Then at a retreat with the staff and board we created a capacity-building agenda, outlining steps to take advantage of the talent, knowledge, and commitment of ENE’s staff, Board, and Advisory Council. There was also a consensus to adopt a more distinctive name for the organization—ENE is now the Acadia Center. As the Center’s executive director noted, we framed the challenges and opportunities in a way that allowed the organization to understand them and have the confidence to move forward.
Studies show that high-quality early education enables low-income children to acquire essential developmental skills. But such programs are expensive—beyond the reach of many small childcare centers where it is difficult to capture economies of scale. Philadelphia’s William Penn Foundation funded a project to test whether technology to support a “shared services” approach might help. They asked us to monitor the results. Conventional evaluation waits until a project has ended to determine its efficacy. As the project’s developmental evaluator, we took another approach, meeting regularly with the project team to analyze the data we were collecting so they could adapt their work-in-progress. This kind of real-time learning leads to better outcomes—in this case tools that helped small child care providers find efficiencies and invest the savings to boost program quality.
Future Chefs works with some of Boston’s leading chefs to teach young people skills they will need as they transition into the working world, especially—though not exclusively—in the culinary field. They came to us wanting a better understanding of their impact. We facilitated a theory-of-change workshop involving the entire Future Chefs’ team. There, they constructed logic models that identify the sequence of outcomes they wanted their participants to accomplish on the path to their longer-term, career-focused goals. With this as a foundation, our work together resulted in a data-collection system that measures each young person’s progress—including not just post graduation employment, but also the development of specific attitudes, content knowledge, and transferable skills—and allows the team to fine-tune the program on an on-going basis.
Associated Early Care and Education is known for its high quality daycare for at-risk children in Boston. But they saw the need for a more comprehensive model of family and community-oriented early education. They decided to replace a center located in the basement of the Bromley-Heath public housing project with a state-of-the-art facility that could serve more children. We worked with staff and a board committee to refine their strategic vision and plan for what has become a successful $17 million “Learning Lab.” We drafted a concept paper and identified the federal funding that became the single largest source of capital for the project. The planning process also resulted in a fitting new name—Nurtury—for an organization that believes, “when you nurture a child, you nurture a community.”
After years of deferred maintenance and ever-poorer tenant populations, public housing is a slowly declining resource across America. With new executive leadership, the Brookline, Massachusetts housing authority asked us to help them develop a strategic plan to address these challenges in their community. We conducted a series of in-depth stakeholder interviews and worked with the Authority’s staff to prepare a trend analysis. These provided critical data for the next step, a strategic planning retreat. There, the board of commissioners adopted a new mission statement. Rather than wait for action from state and federal agencies, they decided to pursue an entrepreneurial approach, securing capital to improve existing inventory. They then pressed ahead, developing 36 new units which are now providing needed housing as well as revenue for the authority.