Client Spotlight: St. Francis House

Boston’s St. Francis House, the largest day shelter in New England and a national leader in human services, was a successful organization in 2005 when Executive Director Karen LaFrazia first connected with ESC about Strategic Planning needs. Programs were running smoothly, staff and board relations were good, and there was a desire for growth. What the organization lacked, she said, was unification in how that growth opportunity should be met.

“We were talking internally to each other a lot, but we really needed to get out of our own dialogues,” Karen said.

St. Francis House connected with ESC consultants following a smaller-scale HR project in 2004. Realizing there was a larger project to tackle, Karen and her team enlisted ESC to take on a full Strategic Planning engagement. Karen said the choice to use ESC was easy after the several smaller projects our consultants had successful completed. ESC consultants, she said, offered outside perspective while maintaining sensitivity to the mission as nonprofit volunteers themselves.

“We needed more inputs and analysis,” Karen said. “but we needed some outside guidance. We were asking, ‘How will we do the analysis and engage this voice?’”

The ESC Consultant team helped Karen and the rest of the St. Francis house executive staff identify the key stakeholders that needed to be involved in the conversation about how the organization should grow. Then, ESC Consultants facilitated interviews and other analytical strategies involving constituents, staff, donors, board members and more.

“As we were creating opportunities through these conversations, we weren’t just getting input from the consultants—they were helping to foster consensus building among the entire Strategic Planning committee,” Karen said.

What resulted was St. Francis House’s first strategic plan, and a project that helped them significantly expand several programs that allow the organization to better serve the community, and therefore realize their mission more effectively. The strategic plan laid out intentions to increase abilities in permanent housing programs, temporary housing, vocational rehabilitation, and the core services of St. Francis House’s day shelter. Once these intentions were solidified through a strategic plan, Karen said the organization was better able to see just how these needs and opportunities were presenting themselves—in essence, the strategic planning process offered a comprehensive view of organizational realities, which the organization, although incredibly successful, had lacked beforehand.

One program in particular that was lifted by ESC’s consulting engagement was St. Francis House’s adult education Moving Ahead Plan, a workforce development program that identifies individual strengths and talents, then foster s those abilities, to assist their constituents in gaining employment. Following ESC’s Strategic Planning project, this program doubled in size, growing from a program able to serve 100 people per year to 200.

The Strategic Plan in general has given St. Francis House operational grounding that it previously lacked, and it was constructed in a way that allowed organization leaders to lead while consultants facilitated and guided.

“I think we were still getting our head around how to conduct the strategic planning process,” Karen said. “I remember the consultants being very good listeners and patient as we figured it out. They were all very good at giving us feedback, offering good reflective listening. We didn’t need three more voices. They were able to listen to what we were deliberating, facilitate, and move the dial.”

St. Francis House has continued to thrive since the Strategic Planning project, and ESC is proud to have had a hand in facilitating the growth of an organization that gives so much to the local community. If you believe your nonprofit could benefit from a Strategic Planning ESC consulting project, or any other type of management consulting project including HR, Marketing, Fundraising and more, please contact ESC’s Director of Consulting, Ulea Lago, at ulago@escne.org or call 617-357-5550 for more information.

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