I began a new journey in May of 2016, tracing two long arcs in my life:
- Climbing all 48 mountains in New Hampshire that are at least 4000 feet tall (1219m), what is called “peak-bagging” by local climbers. I’m describing, in words and images, the ascent of each of these peaks – mostly done solo, but sometimes with a friend or two;
- Working in international development during the MDG era: what was it like in the sector as it boomed, and evolved, from the response to the Ethiopian crisis in the mid-1980’s through to the conclusion of the Millennium Development Goals in 2015.
Since then, across 26 posts (so far), I’ve described climbing 26 of those 48 mountains in New Hampshire, and I’ve reflected on: two years as a Peace Corps Volunteer in Ecuador; 15 great years with Plan International; the deep, disruptive changes in the development sector over that time; the two years I spent consulting with CCF, developing a new program approach for that agency that we called “Bright Futures”; and, most recently, how we sought to embed the shifts underlying “Bright Futures” into CCF’s culture.
My final consulting assignment with CCF was very different, and not directly related to “Bright Futures.” Their Vice President for East Africa, Margery Kabuya, had been granted a six-month sabbatical, and I was asked to step into the role on an interim basis. Margery was based in Kenya, at CCF’s Country Office in Nairobi, but I felt that since some major changes needed to be made to the Kenya operation, it would be best to have a bit of distance. This meant that I would be based in either Kampala or Addis Ababa. So in October 2004 I set up a small office at the Ethiopia Country Office and Jean and I moved to Addis. From there I spent a busy and productive time supporting CCF’s operations across Uganda, Kenya, and Ethiopia.
But I want to focus this blog on the next phase in my career, one that began when we moved back from Ethiopia – four years working in human rights campaigning in the United States and internationally. In many ways, this move represented the culmination of what I had learned thus far, where I thought our social-justice sector needed to focus, and (most importantly) where I felt my own passion.
But first… I climbed both Mt Lincoln and Mt Lafayette on 22 June, 2017, on a beautiful, mostly-sunny day. My plan had been to do this loop back in September of 2016, with my brother, but my fall and the resulting injuries (broken rib, torn rotator cuff) forced a postponement.
That morning I left Durham at 6:45am, and drove up through Concord, stopping in Tilton for a coffee, and in Lincoln to buy a sandwich for lunch. So I didn’t get to the trailhead until just after 9am.
As I described last time, I reached the top of Mt Lincoln at about noon that day. From there, I continued along the Franconia Ridge Trail, north towards Mt Lafayette (5260ft, 1603m). Here is a view of Franconia Ridge, taken the year before from South Kinsman. The loop I did on 22 June took me up Mt Lincoln first (as I described last time), then across to Lafayette and back down:
I dropped down into the saddle between Lincoln and Lafayette, reaching the intermediate peak (5020ft) at 12:21pm. I took many photos of the awesome views all around me as I went:
The walk along Franconia Ridge was shorter than I had (vaguely) remembered from long ago, and I was at the top of Lafayette by 12:45pm.
It was clear and quite windy… lots of climbers there at the top. I became very chilled as I ate lunch; although the temperature was cool and comfortable, my shirt was completely wet by the time I reached the Ridge – so I put on my wind jacket.
I began the descent once I had finished lunch, a little after 1pm. It was a fine place to be, to eat lunch, but it was too cold and there were many too many people. Happily, there were no insects – that would soon change!
Dropping down from Mt Lafayette I was looking west, right at Cannon Mountain and its ski area, and the Kinsmans. Greenleaf Hut was right below me:
My plan was to drop down to Greenleaf Hut on the Greenleaf Trail, and then take the Old Bridle Path back to my car. On the way down, at about 1:41pm, I took a photo looking back up at Mt Lincoln:
It was rock-hopping steeply down Lafayette, steadily approaching Greenleaf Hut.
Once I arrived at Greenleaf Hut, the views across the small lake and back up towards Mt Lincoln and Mt Lafayette were great.
But there were lots of flies at Greenleaf Hut, so I didn’t stay long; sadly, there were flies for much of the way down.
I now took the Old Bridle Path, heading south on the moderately-steep path and soon descending past the tree-line, and into pines:
Views back up towards Mt Lafayette were great; a couple of gliders flew long, lazy circles around the mountain:
By 3pm I was descending steadily, mostly rock-hopping, and the crowds that I had seen hiking up with me that morning, going up Mt Lincoln, were nowhere to be seen. Just the occasional pair of hikers, and a few bugs. I took it slowly, because I had completed the loop (Mt Lincoln, Mt Lafayette) much more quickly than expected.
The walking was pleasant, strolling through dappled forest:
At about 3:45pm I arrived back at the junction of the Old Bridle Path and the Falling Waters Trail. I had taken this bridge early that same day:
Then it was almost 4pm, and I was back where I had begun the day:
It had been a spectacular day, with perfect temperatures and glorious views throughout. A very memorable transit of the Franconia Ridge Trail between Mt Lincoln and Mt Lafayette.
While I was working from Addis Ababa, I came into renewed contact with Charlie Clements, the President and CEO of the Unitarian Universalist Service Committee (UUSC). Two years earlier, while still working on Bright Futures with CCF, Charlie and I had discussed my becoming Program Director at UUSC. Atema Eclai had filled that role, but now UUSC was creating a new position – titled initially as “Deputy Director,” and later as “Executive Director” – to manage the organization and free Charlie up to focus externally.
Charlie and UUSC’s HR Director, Maxine Hart thought I was the right person for the new role. So did I – as I will outline, below. Jean and I left Ethiopia in February 2005, and I reported for duty at UUSC’s head office on Prospect Street in Cambridge, Massachusetts, on a very cold, snowy day in early March 2005.
Charlie Clements was, and is, a gifted and passionate communicator, who has lived his life in service of human rights. He began his career in the US Air Force, and graduated from the US Air Force Academy. While serving in Viet Nam, Charlie refused to fly missions into Cambodia in support of our illegal invasion of that neutral country, and was discharged. Switching professions, Charlie went back to school to become a medical doctor and then practiced medicine behind rebel lines in El Salvador. That experience resulted in a book and an Academy-Award-winning documentary (1986), both titled “Witness To War.”
Charlie had actually served as a program officer at UUSC in the 1980’s, and returned as President and CEO in 2003, tasked by the board of directors with refocusing the agency after a period of drift. Because Charlie was such a valuable asset externally (in advocacy, mobilisation, and fundraising), it made sense to free him up by hiring somebody to run the organisation. My own experience managing large international NGOs, as has been described in this series of blogs, had given me all the tools needed for that task.
And, from my perspective, the opportunity at UUSC was very exciting. I had been working in the development sector for almost 20 years, between Peace Corps, Plan International, and CCF; and I had been lucky to work across Latin America, Africa, and Asia in a wide range of roles, in community, local, national, regional, and international contexts. I’d worked in operational and staff functions. And during those years, as I described in an earlier post, huge progress had been made in tackling human poverty.
But, as I said there:
Arriving back in the US after many years abroad, then, my own thoughts were focused on how poverty was shifting, the upcoming war in Iraq, the political situation in the US… exclusion, vulnerability, people’s power. It seemed to me that the international NGOs that had helped make such great progress in reducing human deprivation, the organizations that I had been working with, like Plan International, were not fit for working on the emerging issues of unaccountable government, growing inequality, exclusion, and vulnerability. They even seemed uninterested in these trends, perhaps because they had been built to work in stable, predominantly-rural settings – that was their niche.
In that light, UUSC’s advocacy, mobilisation, and campaigning work was very attractive to me. It seemed to represent exactly the kind of place where the next steps towards social justice would be taken.
And from Charlie’s perspective, my long experience managing large, complex non-profit with organisations – having grown up professionally as Plan International scaled and introduced an array of business systems and controls – meant that I could help him take UUSC to the next level. As I would soon see, UUSC did need some help in those areas!
I stepped into the Executive Director role, reporting to Charlie and initially managing with a team of four Directors.
- Atema Eclai was UUSC’s Program Director. A forceful Kenyan, who consistently deployed sectors of her brain that I didn’t seem to possess, Atema managed a large department organised around three priorities that had emerged during a process of reflection that was concluding when I arrived: economic justice, environmental justice, and civil liberties. She routinely used management techniques that I would later learn about when I studied “Restorative Justice” at the University of New South Wales, with (for example) frequent departmental checkins. Morale was high in her team, but that same internal protective spirit could be a challenge when it came time to collaborate with other parts of the agency;
- Bob Snow served as Director of Institutional Advancement, having handled the same set of fundraising functions at the UU Association, the “spiritual” side of the UU movement. As UUSC’s income was mostly from UU-associated sources, Bob’s connections and experience were very valuable;
- Kevin Murray had recently arrived at UUSC as Director of Advocacy and Communications. Kevin had a long history of effective advocacy work, and had recently stepped down as CEO of Grassroots International. His department was a fairly new creation, combining two related but distinct functions (which I would later separate – see below). I came to appreciate Kevin’s understanding of the social-justice sector inside the US and in Central America, which were not areas of deep familiarity for me;
- UUSC’s Finance Director (CFO) was Michael Zouzoua. Originally from Ivory Coast, Michael had been at UUSC since 2000, making him the longest-serving director on our team. In addition to financial matters, Michael handled facility management and managed our IT officer;
- Nancy Moore had served as interim CEO before Charlie joined, and stayed on as “Executive Liaison to the UU Association and Congregations.” She also worked with Charlie to handle our purchase of a new headquarters building, and our move – see below.
Maxine Hart, as noted above, was UUSC’s Human Resources Director. A native of South Africa, Maxine had participated in the social justice struggle there, including helping organise the first free elections in that country’s history, in 1993. Maxine was, and is, an energetic and extroverted professional, a very good match with my more introverted nature. Although she reported to directly to Charlie, we formed a productive partnership dealing with HR matters, including recruiting and systems development, along with the complex internal dynamics that we faced, particularly as we handled relations with the staff bargaining unit.
Later, when Kevin left and with a new Strategic Plan calling for more focus on activist mobilisation, we re-organized things, splitting his “Advocacy and Communications” department into two.
Organizational structure should fit with mission, and should represent a set of functions that can be overseen and supported coherently. For me, that normally means that departments will cohere around a discipline, something that (for example) could be studied formally. In our case, as will be seen below when I describe our strategic-planning process and results, since activism was such a fundamental part of our theory of change, it felt like we needed to recognize mobilization as a major component of the agency. This meant that our communications work, the other part of the “Advocacy and Communications” department, would stand on its own, which made sense given the coherent functions of a communications team, and the amount of work involved.
So to replace Kevin, I worked with two very strong and dynamic professionals:
- Myrna Greenfield joined UUSC to form a new “Outreach and Mobilization” department;
- Our Communications Manager, Ki Kim, who was already on staff, working for Kevin, stepped into the Communications Director role. Along with his normal, ongoing communications activities, Ki would invest huge amounts of time in two major projects: UUSC’s rebranding, and the creation of a dynamic new website, giving UUSC greatly enhanced capabilities which would support Myrna’s new team.
Both Myrna and Ki were great assets for UUSC. Also, midway through my time at UUSC, Bob Snow moved to another agency, and we were fortunate to steal Maxine Neil from the Dana Farber Cancer Institute, another big asset for us.
The dynamic inside UUSC was complex, perhaps more complex that I had seen in Plan and CCF. Reflecting on this today, over ten years later, I think this might have been due to three major factors. First, working in the human-rights sector seemed to be even more filled with emotion and ego. I had experienced this in other contexts, and have written about it earlier in this blog, but the situation at UUSC took it up to a new level! Perhaps this had some good positive aspects, but it made management quite tricky…
Second, I often found myself dealing with three different internal constituencies, each with sometimes-different priorities. Charlie Clements is a very dynamic and passionate person, with tons of energy and ideas and, as president of UUSC, with every right and every obligation to bring his long and inspiring experience and ideas to the agency.
Meanwhile, our department directors were focused on implementing the priorities that had been set for them earlier, and sometimes seemed (understandably) uncomfortable with new initiatives, even those that were quite compelling. As a result, I came to place a lot of importance on achieving “unity of purpose” through a rigorous and participatory strategic-planning process. I thought that getting that process right would help a lot – see below. Perhaps it did help.
Finally, UUSC’s staff were unionized, and relations between management and the bargaining unit were fraught. A good description of the situation was included as a direct quote in the mid-term assessment of our 2006-2010 strategic plan:
- “This is a very hierarchical organization, but with a discourse of being very participatory, horizontal organization. There are intense power struggles that affect our work. The relationship with the union is very strange and tense”
While I would not entirely agree with this depiction (I had worked in organizations that were far more hierarchical! And I didn’t see so many “intense power struggles” … ), it does give a flavor of the situation. (I will describe how we created that strategic plan, and summarize the mid-term assessment that included that quote, below.)
Maxine and I were key points of contact with the union, and we found this to be a big challenge, taking up a lot of time and energy. I learned a lot from this situation, in terms of leadership and management, and also in terms of how to handle conflict. Later on, in other roles, I would benefit from what I learned at UUSC. So my next blog will focus entirely on the topic of managing UUSC’s staff union – what we got right, and what we didn’t.
After I settled in at UUSC in March of 2005, we decided to create a new Strategic Plan. As I mentioned above, I thought that a good strategic-planning process might release some of the latent energy that was bottled-up by our internal dynamic, and create a foundation of shared purpose. And since Atema had recently led a wide-ranging “program review,” a well-designed strategic-planning process could build on, and perhaps extend, what had been already agreed on the program side.
That “program review” had resulted in three focuses for our work (I will link to UUSC’s website here. It’s great that two of these program areas, and the one we added in the new Strategic Plan, endure even as I write this, over ten years later, though with emphases that have significantly evolved over time):
- Economic Justice, which in practice meant working to advance “living wage” movements across the US, and to strengthen the rights of workers in the informal economy. This domain of our work was led by Johanna Chao Kreilick;
- Environmental Justice, which involved partnering inside the US and internationally to advance the “human right to water.” Led by Patricia Jones, an accomplished lawyer whose focus had been international water law;
- Civil Liberties, which were under severe pressure by the George W. Bush administration in the post-September 11 context. This area of our work was led by Wayne Smith. As I joined UUSC, this team (including well-known anti-torture activist Jennifer Harbury) was focused on challenging the use of torture by the US Government. A righteous effort, for sure!
Through my years leading and managing international nonprofits, I had learned that the most valuable outcome of a “strategic planning” process was the unity of purpose that can be created. (Way back in Plan’s South America Regional Office, as Regional Director, I had emphasised three key areas of organisational development: unity of purpose; continuous improvement; and an enabling management culture.)
Therefore, for me, strategic planning was very different from, and complementary to, operational planning, which should take place through the normal annual budgeting process:
- Strategic planning should be infrequent but periodic, a key skill for healthy organisations but one that, if used too often, can get in the way of making a difference in the world. Given how fast things change, strategies can be obsolete before too long, but revisiting them too often can lead to too-frequent changes in direction. So, for me, strategic plans should be revised every 3 to 5 years;
- However, instead of waiting until the strategic plan is concluding, it’s healthy to carry out a mid-term assessment for learning and mid-course corrections;
- But resource availability can be hard to predict, and can change abruptly, so operational (budget) planning needs to take place every year (and revisited quarterly) after taking stock of recent performance relative to the strategy.
We began with a full-day reflection of the board of trustees in February 2005. Immediately following that board meeting, we formed a strategic plan task force, comprising three board members, Charlie Clements, four directors, and four staff members. I led the task force. In a parallel fashion, a set of revenue projections was prepared for task force consideration – I will describe this “scenario planning” exercise in more detail below.
Between February and May 2005, we conducted a series of all-staff reflection sessions to consider organizational goals, revenue scenarios, and UUSC’s strengths and weaknesses. Staff members drafted narrative sections of the strategic plan, which went through several rounds of departmental review.
UUSC’s board of trustees provided feedback on draft vision and mission statements in late April 2005, and critiqued an outline of the strategic plan at the May 2005 board meeting. Between May and September 2005, staff made further refinements to the plan, consulting quite widely, both internally and externally with many of UUSC’s key stakeholders. Also during this period, we estimated the human and budgetary resources required to achieve our goals.
This strategic plan was then submitted to, and approved by, the UUSC board of trustees on October 1, 2005. Here is a copy of the public version of the final plan: UUSC Strategic Plan 2006-2010 – Public.
I am proud of the process and approach we used in crafting that strategic plan, and in the resulting document. So I want to spend some time here going through several aspects of what we did. First, how did we organize our strategic planning process? This graphic summarizes the structure of what we attempted:
The top half of the graphic is focused on the external world, with the bottom relating to the organization, internally. At the heart of the matter, the centre of the graphic, are the goals we would seek to achieve – these goals were the pivot point where the external joined the internal.
We moved through the planning process, roughly, as depicted, from top to bottom. The final plan would be structured according to the six components shown in the graphic:
- What was the global context for UUSC’s work? A clear understanding of today’s world situation would be vital for any organization working to build a better future. In our case, an analysis of current global human rights context and societal trends in this section would set the stage for describing UUSC’s approach, niche, and goals;
- Within that global context, what was UUSC’s special contribution, our niche? Clarity of purpose would be closely associated with organizational effectiveness, so an unambiguous definition of an organization’s role is of fundamental importance when defining a strategy for organizational growth and development. For UUSC, this section would also outline our vision, mission, and approach, linked with the proud history and heritage of the agency;
- Given our niche, what did we aim to achieve externally, what were our program goals? Here we arrived at the heart of UUSC’s strategic plan where, in light of the broader global context and the organization’s niche, we would revisit the results of the recent “program review.” Was there anything missing?;
- Once our mission-related goals were affirmed, we needed to assess our capacity, identifying UUSC’s strengths and weaknesses. This section outlined the strengths of UUSC in general, and the challenges we faced, as particularly related to the human rights and social justice goals and strategies we had identified;
- How could UUSC develop internally, enhancing our strengths, and addressing our weaknesses? In order to fortify our strengths and address the limitations described in the previous section, we identified several internally directed goals and strategies on which we would focus during the period covered by the strategic plan;
- Finally, what financial, human, and technological resources would be required?No strategic plan is complete, or credible, without an analysis of the resources necessary to achieve its goals. We therefore identified the human, financial, and technological resources that UUSC would utilize to achieve the goals described above.
Several aspects of the resulting 2006-2010 strategic plan are worth highlighting here.
First, as a result of a deep reflection, we clarified what was special about UUSC. There are many nonprofits in the world (arguably too many!) To achieve unity of purpose and enhance effectiveness, to clarify an agency’s focus internally and with the public, and to enable collaboration, a compelling statement of what was unique, or at least special, about each particular organization can be very helpful and compelling. In our case, we boiled things down to this Venn diagram which, though not included in the final strategic plan, depicts UUSC’s niche very clearly to me:
What was unique, or at least special, about UUSC was how we brought together three distinct roots: our heritage and foundation in Unitarian Universalism; our focus on activism through a long-established service-related “experiential-education” program; and our focus on human rights and social justice. Other agencies might claim to share some aspects of this identity, one or two of these three components, but we felt that UUSC was fairly unique in combining all three in one package.
Another important result of the strategic-planning process was the identification of a fourth program area. We embraced the three focuses that had been identified earlier (economic justice, environmental justice, and civil liberties) – they were very relevant with the global context we saw, and resonated strongly with our niche. But we felt that another element was important, both because of our niche and because of the importance given to it by many key stakeholders: we needed to work in the humanitarian space.
Given our understanding of the global context, seeing that the frequency and intensity of disasters was increasing, the cause was compelling. And our membership base expected us to work in these contexts. It was clear that the work we had done to clarify our niche meant that our approach to working in the humanitarian space would be through focusing on excluded populations and incorporating service opportunities, something that the already-crowded humanitarian space seemed to have room for.
So we added a fourth program area: “rights in humanitarian crises.” (At the time, that somewhat-awkward title was the best we could come up with. Later, after I left UUSC, a better name was given, without a major change in focus: “rights at risk.” That’s much better!)
One story I like to tell people about those days relates to this new program area, and involves UUSC’s response to Hurricane Katrina. As most readers will vividly recall, Katrina hit the coast of Louisiana near New Orleans on 29 August, 2005, causing immense destruction. In particular, marginalised areas of the city, where residents were predominantly African-American and Vietnamese-American, were severely flooded.
In keeping with UUSC’s mission and strategy, we quickly mounted a humanitarian response, in partnership with the UU Association. Our joint fundraising appeal was a big success, so we were able to establish partnerships with a range of African-American and Vietnamese-American people’s organisations in the affected area.
UUSC’s Program Manager for Rights in Humanitarian Crises, Martha Thompson, made frequent visits to New Orleans and other nearby parishes that had been damaged by Katrina, supporting our local partners and monitoring projects we were supporting. I visited with her once, in October of 2006.
At the time, I was working my way through the Taylor Branch trilogy of Dr Martin Luther King, Jr. (Parting the Waters, Pillar of Fire, and At Canaan’s Edge), and took the final book, “At Canaan’s Edge,” with me on the trip. On our first night in New Orleans, after a busy day visiting partners and surveying the still-appalling damage over a year after the Hurricane, I was reading about the visit of a young Freedom Rider, Jimmy Smith, to the Kennedy White House, where he got into a shouting match with then-Attorney General Robert F Kennedy.
The next day, Martha and I continued our visit. In the early afternoon, we were scheduled to meet with the director of a youth-services agency very near the infamous SuperDome. We arrived at the facility, a fairly-large building with a good-sized gymnasium.
We found a way into the site which, at first, appeared to be abandoned. But after a few minutes the agency’s director arrived and we found a few chairs and sat together on the basketball court to talk about how his work was going.
As we introduced each other I began to get a strange feeling. The partner director was named Jim Smith – certainly a common name! – and he was a mature African-American man with plenty of grey hair. But when Martha mentioned that Jim had been a Freedom Rider, I realised that I was sitting with the man who I had been reading about the night before!
I asked Jim if he was the same person, if he was the same person who had been thrown out of the White House… yes, indeed!
Jim showed us around the area, and described the work his agency was doing to help local people recover from Katrina. What an honour to meet a Freedom Rider, and what an honour to be able to work with him!
I mentioned above that we created a set of financial scenarios as part of our strategic-planning process. Max van der Schalk, my boss at Plan International’s headquarters, had introduced me to the discipline of “scenario planning,” something he had learned during his time with Shell Oil, where the process had been developed.
As I indicated in the final Strategic Plan, “scenario planning is a model for learning about the future in which organizational strategy is formed by drawing a small number of scenarios, stories how the future may unfold, and how this may affect an issue that confronts the organization. Scenarios help us link the uncertainties we hold about the future to the decisions we must make today.
The scenario planning method works by understanding the nature and impact of the most uncertain and important driving forces affecting the future. It is a group process which encourages knowledge exchange and development of mutual deeper understanding of central issues important to the future of the organization. The goal is to craft a number of diverging stories by extrapolating uncertain and heavily influencing driving forces. The stories, usually crafted in an entertaining and engaging manner, together with the work creating them, have the dual purpose of increasing our knowledge of the environment while also widening our perception of possible future events. The method is most widely used as a strategic management tool, but it is also used for enabling group discussion about a common future.”1
The weighted combination of the scenarios would then be taken forward as a basis (not the only basis) for further analysis and discussion.
Working with Stan Corfman, our board treasurer, Finance Director Michael Zouzoua, and Bob Snow, our Director of Institutional Advancement, I created seven possible future scenarios, giving each of them evocative names and rough probabilities:
Scenario 1: Name of Scenario: MoveOn.org Probability: 20%
Early in FY07, program initiatives hammered out two years earlier assume a life of their own, gaining national media attention and driving newcomers to uusc.org. Living wage campaigns expand beyond urban battlegrounds, popping up in suburbia, where UUSC volunteers assume leadership roles. STOP Torture campaign misses by a few votes passing historic legislation in Republican-controlled Congress. Water crises capture headlines and raise awareness nationally – perception among public and constituency is that UUSC is informed and experienced on water.
One of the program areas and UUSC’s progress on that issue become a national cover story in the mainstream media. Online donations skyrocket, overwhelming UUSC’s servers, and stretching internal resources. Snowball effect occurs as donations seed other program work. Renown grows through rest of decade, ensconcing UUSC among the world’s most active and respected human rights organizations.
Scenario 2: Name of Scenario: You and You Exuberance Probability: 60%
Alliances with congregations solidify as relationships are repaired and new friendships made. Doors fling open for UUSC speakers. Ministers who have kept their distance in the past heartily endorse UUSC. Record numbers of UUs sign up for membership, convinced of UUSC’s commitment to human rights. GAYT, Justice Sunday approach utter market saturation. Merchandise cannot be kept in stock. The three program areas thrive. UUSC becomes the queen of the ball at GA. Staff, volunteers are pleasantly exhausted.
Scenario 3: Name of Scenario: Gonzalez Shutdown Probability: 10%
Aggressive STOP Torture campaign incurs the wrath of the Bush Administration. UUSC activity and history highly scrutinized. Staff, especially Jennifer Harbury and Charlie Clements, villainized by conservative media. Some staff leave, escaping the heat. 501(c)(3) license targeted, eventually revoked in FY08 legal tussle. Very existence of organization at stake. Financial support becomes all but impossible. After one year, license regained, and many but not all donors return. FY10 a make-or-break year, either resuming pre-revocation levels or just treading water.
Scenario 4: Name of Scenario: Loss of Confidence Probability: 10%
Financial missteps and increasingly common economic assessment of NGOs damage UUSC’s reputation. Fundraising and administrative expenses remain above 80%. Many long-time donors find new affiliations. Congregations cut off relationships. Programs fail to resonate as anticipated. Layoffs and program cuts occur in FY08 before footing is slowly regained. (Note: This could also serve as world or national economic downturn scenario.)
Scenario 5: Name of Scenario: Composite
This scenario (not shown in the graph below) is constructed by weighting each previous scenario by its assumed probability.
Scenario 6: Name of Scenario: Composite + Disaster
Here we take the “composite” scenario, and add a periodic increase (and subsequent decrease) in revenue reflecting a pattern of recurring “crisis” response (i.e., September 11, Haiti earthquake, Tsunami, etc.)
Scenario 7: Name of Scenario: Composite + Capital Campaign
Here we take the “composite” scenario, and add the effect of a concerted capital campaign, with a total target of $10m. Specific spending rates, and some resulting decrease in “major gift” revenue, are factored into this scenario; the effect of “disaster” activities is not included.
For each scenario we worked to estimate how revenue might evolve, and the results can be seen here:
In the end, we used Scenario 7 (“Composite + Capital Campaign” – shown in green in the figure) as our basis for further refinement. Scenario 7 used the weighted average of the first five scenarios, and added the possible impact of a “capital campaign.”
I shared an early draft of the strategic plan with Alan Fowler, who I had worked with when we were both consultants with CCF, a few years earlier. This was a great opportunity for me, as Alan was (and is!) a significant figure our sector, someone whose body of work has influenced a couple of generations of development workers, definitely including me!
His comments were insightful and helpful and challenging (thankfully!) Though I wasn’t able to incorporate all of his suggestions, I do want to highlight one in particular: he pointed out that the document would be stronger if it included a clear “theory of change.”
This was the first time that I really took the concept of “theory of change” into account in my work, and in this case it was very helpful in clarifying why we did what we did. Though we didn’t use that language in the strategic plan, as we wanted to stay away from jargon whenever possible, we did incorporate an implicit theory of change:
Human rights and social justice have never advanced without struggle. It is increasingly clear that sustained, positive change is built through the work of organized, transparent and democratic civic actors, who courageously and steadfastly challenge and confront oppression.
So how did the plan work out for us? Two years later, as planned, we carried out a “mid-term assessment” of the implementation of our strategic plan. Working with an independent, external agency, we sought to reflect and learn, focused on four key questions:
- What progress have we made towards goals?
- What barriers have we encountered?
- What changes have taken place in the external and internal environment since strategic plan was written?
- What changes need to be made to the plan going forward?
I will attach a summary of the research findings here: UUSC – Summary Research Findings – March 12 – 2
In essence, the external reviewers found widespread agreement that the plan was still fit for purpose, that UUSC had made significant progress towards our goals, that our staff were highly competent and effective, and that we had become an effective organization with potential for doing even more. UUSC was seen as having been transformed positively over the previous five years since Charlie had joined as President and CEO.
Our board’s perspective was similarly largely favorable, as were the views of key external stakeholders. Staff views were more mixed, seeing progress but also feeling frustrated with ongoing barriers to implementation of the plan and posing many questions regarding future direction and priorities.
The review found opportunities to make our advocacy and communications work stronger, linked better with our program work, better promoting activism. To some extent, this led to the reorganization mentioned above, with the creation of two departments (Outreach and Mobilization, and Communications) providing enhanced capabilities. And, later, it led to the creation of a 501(c)4 agency, “UUSC Just Democracy,” which I would move to lead in 2008 – more on that later!
Importantly, our program partners expressed very strong and positive views of our partnership approach. This reflected well on Atema and her team’s empowering approach to grantmaking.
Once the Strategic Plan was approved and we began implementation, I had time to work on internal systems and procedures. At that point, UUSC’s operations were guided by our collective-bargaining agreement (for staffing matters that were covered in that contract), and by a range of informal and formal-but-outdated procedures. So I decided to bring everything up to date.
This was a fairly massive project, and resulted in a document that was over 200 pages long! The “UUSC Handbook” sought to clarify all aspects of internal operation, and was frequently updated as we improved our approach. I’ll attach the last version we produced before I left UUSC here: UUSC Handbook – Version 1-12
As can be seen, the document is highly structured: each policy or procedure indicates when and by whom it was approved – sometimes by management, sometimes by the board of directors. And each also indicates the responsible member of management, the “policyholder.”
Each time the Handbook changed, we issued electronic updates with a “Change Tracking” sheet included. I modeled this approach after what I had seen in Plan when I joined in 1987! In the interim, my sense was that, as we moved into the computer age, with electronic documents, most international NGOs had lost this kind of version-control system. For this kind of document, being able to quickly identify current versions seemed critical to maintaining clarity and accountability; here is a copy of the last “Change Tracking Sheet” that I produced: UUSC Handbook – Change Tracking Sheet.
The UUSC Handbook was quite successful, both because it clarified things but also, as a result, it reduced the level of unnecessary tension internally. Later, in a different role in ChildFund Australia, I would replicate this approach – stay tuned!
One other major achievement I want to highlight before ending this long post relates to an initiative of Charlie’s that I did not support at the time, but which has turned out to be a huge legacy of our years at UUSC.
When I joined, UUSC’s head office was at 130 Prospect Street in Cambridge, Massachusetts, at the corner of Harvard Street:
We occupied the bottom floor in this building, which UUSC had owned for years. As UUSC expanded, we soon began to outgrow our space there, and Charlie started looking for new premises. My own feeling at the time was that we could “make-do” where we were – yes, we were somewhat crowded, but I wanted to be cautious before making such a big change and spend so much money. And I didn’t want the distraction of a move when we were just getting traction in our mission-related work.
But Charlie persisted and, after visiting a range of possible locations, he found a building right on Massachusetts Avenue, just several blocks from where we were. It was a heritage bank building, housing a branch office of Citizen’s Bank, right over the Central Square MBTA stop.
For me, the building was too big and too expensive, but I didn’t strongly oppose the move: maybe Charlie was right? And, our office was pretty crowded. In the end, with Nancy Moore superbly handling almost all the complicated and stressful logistics, we bought the building on Massachusetts Avenue, and moved over.
Looking back on it, Charlie was absolutely right, and I was absolutely wrong. Today UUSC is able to sublet part of the building: renting the entire first floor to Citizen’s Bank and a legal firm, and to a range of program partners in part of the second and third floors that we occupied. As a result, today, all of the organization’s mortgage, taxes, and other expenses related to occupancy are completely covered: they live there for free! And the building has appreciated significantly.
The move to Massachusetts Avenue, something that I had serious doubts about, will be one of Charlie’s many significant legacies of his time at UUSC. Future generations of UUSC staff will look back at the move with great appreciation.
In upcoming blogs, I will continue to describe those years at UUSC, focusing first on relations with the staff bargaining unit and my move to the 501(c)4 – “UUSC Just Democracy.” I’m also hoping that Charlie will contribute a “guest blog” here…
Meanwhile, I wanted to thank the team I worked with, and UUSC’s board of directors, for all their support and passion during my time there. I’m very grateful to them all!:
- On UUSC’s Board of Directors: Todd Jones, Bill Schulz, Kathy Hall, Stan Corfman, David Lysy, Tom Andrews, John Gibbons, Charlotte Jones-Carol, Susan Scrimshaw, Barclay Hudson, Diane Miller, Carolyn Purcell, Lurma Rackley, Chuck Spence, and Fasaha Traylor;
- The team members I worked with: Atema Eclai, Bob Snow, Kevin Murray, Ki Kim, Maxine Neil, Myrna Greenfield, and Michael Zouzoua;
- And, of course, Charlie Clements, Maxine Hart, and Seanna Berry.
Here are links to other blogs in this series. Eventually there will be 48 articles, each one about climbing one of New Hampshire’s 4000-footers, and also reflecting on a career in international development:
- Mt Tom (1) – A New Journey;
- Mt Field (2) – Potable Water in Ecuador;
- Mt Moosilauke (3) – A Water System for San Rafael (part 1);
- Mt Flume (4) – A Windmill for San Rafael (part 2);
- Mt Liberty (5) – Onward to Colombia, Plan International in Tuluá;
- Mt Osceola (6) – Three Years in Tuluá;
- East Osceola (7) – Potable Water for Cienegueta;
- Mt Passaconaway (8) – The South America Regional Office;
- Mt Whiteface (9) – Empowerment!;
- North Tripyramid (10) – Total Quality Management for Plan International;
- Middle Tripyramid (11) – To International Headquarters!;
- North Kinsman (12) – Fighting Fragmentation and Building Unity: New Program Goals and Principles for Plan International;
- South Kinsman (13) – A Growth Plan for Plan International;
- Mt Carrigain (14) – Restructuring Plan International;
- Mt Eisenhower (15) – A Guest Blog: Max van der Schalk Reflects on 5 Years at Plan’s International Headquarters;
- Mt Pierce (16) – Four Years At Plan’s International Headquarters;
- Mt Hancock (17) – Hanoi, 1998;
- South Hancock (18) – Plan’s Team in Viet Nam (1998-2002);
- Wildcat “D” Peak (19) – Plan’s Work in Viet Nam;
- Wildcat Mountain (20) – The Large Grants Implementation Unit in Viet Nam;
- Middle Carter (21) – Things Had Changed;
- South Carter (22) – CCF’s Organizational Capacity Assessment and Child Poverty Study;
- Mt Tecumseh (23) – Researching CCF’s New Program Approach;
- Mt Jackson (24) – The Bright Futures Program Approach;
- Mt Isolation (25) – Pilot Testing Bright Futures;
- Mt Lincoln (26) – Change, Strategy and Culture: Bright Futures 101;
- Mt Lafayette (27) – Collective Action for Human Rights;
- Mt Willey (28) – Navigating Principle and Pragmatism, Working With UUSC’s Bargaining Unit;
- Cannon Mountain (29) – UUSC Just Democracy;
- Carter Dome (30) – A (Failed) Merger In the INGO Sector (1997);
- Galehead Mountain (31) – What We Think About When We Think About A Great INGO Program;
- Mt Garfield (32) – Building Strong INGO Teams: Clarity, Trust, Inspiration.
- Adapted from http://www.valuebasedmanagement.net/ methods_scenario_planning.html.)