When Northeast Arc chose ESC of New England as the right organization to oversee a major Strategic Planning project, they were drawn by the variety of expertise among ESC Consultants. It’s no wonder—they called for assistance in Human Resources, Finance, Fundraising, Marketing, Health & Human Services Compliance, Outcomes Measurement and more.
“We liked the team approach ESC offered, and we were attracted by the organization’s experts in all fields,” Chief Operating Officer Joanne Plourde said. “We were quite delighted with the results of our engagement.”
At the time of this project’s inception, Northeast Arc was transforming into a more inclusive, interactive organization than it had ever been. While the nonprofit’s mission to “help people with disabilities become full participants in the community; choosing for themselves how to live, learn, work, socialize and play” was strong, management felt the organization’s vision could be implemented even more fully with ESC’s help, according to Joanne.
When Joanne began working in direct services with Northeast Arc’s behavioral program in 1983—her first position with the organization—there was no Human Resources department and no Management Information Systems. The agency was providing residential, vocational and family support programs.
By 2000, Joanne was working as Northeast Arc’s Assistant Director of Day Programs. The organization had added Day Habilitation by that time, and she was able to have a hand in the organization’s push for higher levels of interaction between constituents and staff. While the organization worked tirelessly to increase revenue through corporate donors, individual sponsors, and other alternative private gifts, staff and board members moved along to strengthen employment services, entrepreneurial initiatives, and more effective means of engaging people with disabilities in their communities.
In 2012, the organization had grown incredibly and felt a deep need for an updated, all-inclusive Strategic Plan. One of the greatest challenges Joanne and the rest of the management team felt was the struggle to stay connected with staff when there were so many people working under the Northeast Arc umbrella (today the organization employs 500 full-time and 100 part-time employees). The nonprofit also realized it had unmet needs in other areas such as marketing.
“Through the Environmental Scan process and the board retreat, we identified four areas to focus on: program services and sustainability, workforce development, board development, and marketing,” Joanne said. “Overall, the goal was to create a comprehensive support profile that would meet the changing needs of the people currently supported as well as the unmet needs of anyone needing or wanting services in the Northeast Arc community.”
Northeast Arc’s Strategic Planning project was a great undertaking within a very sizeable organization. The consultant team chosen for this project was made up of experts in Communications, Social Media, Finance and Health Care Compliance, Facilitation, Human Resources, Organizational Development, Data Analysis, Research, and Fundraising. The ESC consultant team included Jay Carty (team lead), Mike Byrnes, Michael Milczarek, Bill Huss, Dave Kourtz, Marianne Mortara, Sandi Gubin, Jeff Berman, and Al Gold.
The three most memorable pieces of Northeast Arc’s strategic plan to Joanne and Director of Development Susan Ring Brown are the Environmental Scan process, Consultant Al Gold’s Fundraising workshop conducted for the board, and the board retreat facilitated by ESC Consultant and Board Chair Bill Huss.
Between group roundtables within the staff, family-constituent forums, questionnaires completed by a variety of connected individuals and groups, and countless interviews with funders, competitors, board members, clients, community members and stakeholders, the ESC team was able to gather enough information to create a the foundation for a Strategic Plan that will carry Northeast Arc through 2017. This Environmental Scan phase, both women agreed, was more vital than they could have imagined before carrying it out, and it created unparalleled groundwork for the Strategic Plan moving forward.
Joanne and Susan also reflected on the impact of Al Gold’s Fundraising presentation to the board and management team as well as Bill Huss’ facilitation of a board retreat. While Al’s workshop strengthened the board and management team’s ability to tackle revenue initiatives, Bill served as an exceptional facilitator in guiding the staff and board through a day of collaboration at Nahant Lifesaving Station. Although Al and Bill’s roles were quite different in the Strategic Planning project, these two complimentary acts reflect how ESC teams work in general: individually with different styles, yet all of equal value to the organizations they serve together.
Since the completion of this Strategic Planning project, Northeast Arc has put new structural initiatives into action in many ways.
“We definitely feel things have been moving on,” Joanne said. “The Strategic Planning project did a great job facilitating a shift in the Board away from an operational Board toward a more strategic Board putting broad input into action.”
Following ESC’s engagement, the organization has held its most successful fundraiser in its 60-year history (fittingly through a 60th Anniversary Gala), created new business cards to quickly and efficiently market their services, and engaged staff members on all levels in a better organized and more encouraging way than ever before. All agree this already well-established organization has been able to realize its mission even more effectively, and continues to improve, with much thanks to the Strategic Plan.