In 2018, the Northern California Community Loan Fund (NCCLF) Board of Directors approved an ambitious, paradigm-shifting Strategic Plan, with economic and racial equity at the center.
The Loan Fund has been in business since 1987, as a pillar of the San Francisco community development ecosystem. Upon approval of the Strategic Plan, the organization underwent a complete brand refresh, including a name change to Community Vision Capital and Consulting.
Concurrently, the organization’s longtime leader Mary Rogier retired as President of Community Vision, and the organization entered its next chapter with a highly capable Interim President Ann Cameron, while preparing for longer term leadership.
In the midst of these observable changes for the organization, there is a compelling story unfolding inside the organization, as well. This spotlight is intended to study the inner workings of a strategic shift: the small actions that unlock big change, the incremental climb toward a new ambitious vision, what it really feels like to be on a journey toward the edge of mission based work.
The Strategic Planning Process
The diligent, structured strategic planning process was community informed, soliciting input from staff, management, board members, and customers to understand the unique strengths of the organization, and the opportunities that individuals observed, but had not yet capitalized on.
Externally, a field analysis was conducted to place the organization within its relevant context. The Plan was constructed during a tumultuous time in the Bay Area and the nation, with ongoing tension among political parties, widespread gentrification, unequal opportunity, risks to CDFI funding, and economic trends particular to regions and industries.
This process explicitly recognized, and ultimately created strategies to address, the universal and inevitable consequence of change. Failure to adapt almost always results in missed opportunities, internal underperformance, and lackluster support of an organization’s mission; which in turn always leads to end users paying the largest price.
Following a thorough study, it became clear that Community Vision could continue on its path, delivering support to great institutions that needed financial help — but were perhaps not optimally aligned from a mission perspective — and hosting a portfolio of programs that were operating well; or, Community Vision could take a bold and clear position on the state of its community, and position themselves as an agent of equity.
The Committee and the Board – with support from a majority of staff members – mindfully proceeded to apply the organization’s core values to today’s reality, and build a foundational decision making tool rooted in the principles of economic and racial equity.
The Hard Part: Institutionalizing the Plan
The Plan was reasonably well socialized throughout the process. Nonetheless, once approved, the hard part of institutionalizing the Plan began.
The Community Vision staff and board leadership team needed to work in partnership to implement a new strategic direction with over 40 staff members.
Community Vision has not historically been a particularly nimble organization, with a unique cultural mix of financial institution and legacy community development organization, the organization is responsible for stewarding a $90m loan fund, and a $6m annual operating budget. Some people just didn’t want to do it. Some people thought it was too hard.
The 5 Keys to Advancement
There are five key elements to implementation that can be distilled, which have enabled Community Vision to progress in its new direction.
1. Decision making frameworks, supported by senior leadership
The Plan included the creation of an organization-wide decision making framework. Simple in design, this tool has ensured that as strategic decisions are made in each department and team, the Plan remains the foundation.
Because this framework was approved by the Board, it withstands pushback and facilitates meaningful and concise discussion among leadership. It has also helped to shift culture, as circular discussions are cut short, and innovation is nearly mandated.
2. Change-Making Internal Team
A small group of leaders was charged with day-to-day stewardship of the Plan. They are deployed within each department to develop specific tactics to achieve implementation. This team serves as a resource to staff to further understand and apply the organization’s principles in each program area.
3. Accountability with the Implementation Roadmap
A detailed Implementation Roadmap was used to track daily progress against the Plan, and is presented to the Board during each meeting. Senior staff are motivated to make progress and present exciting updates to the Board. The Board remains oriented toward this Strategic Plan given its prominence during each meeting.
Relatedly, the organization established annual milestones at the outset, designing intentional stages of growth to achieve throughout the coming 3 years. Having clear, tangible, shorter term milestones has made the 3-year plan, that could have felt lofty and abstract, more attainable and tangible.
5. Adaptable to Change
Community Vision has remained grounded in its Strategic Plan and decision-making frameworks through the retirement of its longtime President, the terming out of board members, and the inevitable, gradual turnover of managers. This outcome was intentional from the onset of the planning process, and has allowed the organization as a whole to maintain its vision, strategic direction, and productive working culture.
Despite the monumental challenge of beginning a strategic shift for this established organization, Community Vision has met every single year 1 milestone.
Community Vision has demonstrated how to wrangle an ambitious, lofty, feel-good vision, and bring it down to earth into day-by-day steps in the right direction. We are eager to continue watching the evolution of this organization, as it seeks optimal impact in its community, and emerges as a leader in the CDFI sector.
To inquire about Schaffer&Combs’ strategic planning services, reach out to us here.