Curious if a strategic plan could help your organization? All this month we’re going to be talking strategic planning with some of our favorite executive directors. In this first video, we talk with Kari Galloway of Friends of Guest House, an organization that helps formerly incarcerated women reenter the community.

Kari has been with the organization for over 15 years, and she’s been through more than one strategic plan. Her main takeaway, “You don’t have time not to do one.”

For more information on strategic planning, download our free step by step guide to strategic planning below.


Liz: Hi, Kari. Thanks so much for spending some time to chat with us today about strategic planning.
Kari: Sure, absolutely. It’s great to see you again.
Liz: Thank you. You too. I wondered if you could just start telling us a little bit about yourself, about Friends of Guest House, what you guys do. Just to frame a little context for those who might be watching this video.
Kari: Sure. So, I’m Kari Galloway. I’m the executive director of Friends of Guest House. I’ve been there for a little over 15 years now. And we are the largest women’s residential program in the Commonwealth of Virginia that support women who are coming out of incarceration, and we’re the only residential program for women in Northern Virginia. So, we have 30 beds which has grown quite a bit in the 15 years that I’ve been there. We started with nine. And we’ve recently acquired an aftercare property and are building out our aftercare program to continue to support the women once they leave the six-month residential program. So we got a lot of irons in the fire here. We’re always trying to do something new and that’s about basically– we get about 400 applications a year to come into our program and we can only house about 60 to 62 women. So we’re constantly looking for new ways to support them.
Liz: Okay. Great. Thank you. I think that context is really helpful. I know you guys have gone through a couple of different strategic planning processes over the years. Some have been facilitated, some have maybe not. What has been your driving factor, your decision to use an outside firm to help facilitate your strategic planning thinking?
Kari: Yeah. So you hit it. We’ve had a few that were not necessarily facilitated on the outside and I think it’s a little bit hard– for me definitely it’s harder to participate in something because I need somebody who is grounded and who can lead that process. And normally we undertake a new strategic plan when we’ve pretty much done everything we set out to or decided that something no longer is a fit for the organization, and in response to the growth that I was speaking about just in terms of there’s so much need. Often we’ve been contacted by outside organizations saying, “Could you do this? Could you expand to a different part of the state? Can you take more beds? Could you come to our area and do some some of your pre-release work?” and so those are normally the motivating factors for us in terms of looking to do a new– to do a new plan.
Liz: So I know a lot of times when I talk to people they feel like, I just don’t have the time to do a plan or I don’t have time to invest in it. From your perspective as you’ve gone through maybe your most recent planning process, were there any happy surprises along the way that you said, “Okay, that was worth the time and effort that we put into it”?
Kari: My response to that would be that you don’t have time not to do a strategic plan. I think the whole process of just– so if I could just share working with you, how that’s been, because you did our last two strategic plans which were super helpful and it was really great to have you have that institutional knowledge from the first plan. So we kind of did a lot of– laid a lot of that groundwork then and you stayed involved and knew what was happening with us throughout that three-year period that plan was built for. And so then when we were ready to do the next plan which ended up being a two-year plan and engaged Brighter Strategies to do that It was just so easy to just kind of– let’s lay a little bit of groundwork back into this. And for that second plan, we also did the board development, which I think was super helpful. So that sort of dovetailed really nicely with the plan. And it helped inform how the board responded to what was primarily a plan developed and brought forward by the staff sharing what’s happening with them, what they’re seeing in the community, what they’re saying in that country, and how they would choose to respond to it. So it was nice to have the two components together. And I think having a plan forward, I mean, not only do funders usually ask for it – I mean let’s just get real.
Liz: Right. Yeah.
Kari: They know that you’re informed, that you’re thoughtful, but there’s something in place that’s sort of guiding your steps. But also it’s like having a roadmap. And every once in a while, the roads change or you choose to go in a different direction, or there’s new things happening in the world. Look what’s happening right now. I mean, this movement of racial justice and conversations about mass incarceration are specifically something that we need to respond to. And I hope that we’ll be able to engage in a new strategic plan because we finished the last one that we did with you. And we’re ready to do a new one.
We’ve had a few conversations that were guided by an outside facilitator in January. But they weren’t a strategic plan. They were more just like okay, gauging where we’re at right now, where when we’re ready to do a plan just to kind of T all that up, those conversations to kind of make sure again board and staff are on the same page. And almost consistently even if those conversations are held separately and then come together, they have the same where we have a lot of alignment.
Liz:  So that’s always a good feeling, too, right?
Kari: Yeah. Absolutely.
That’s the you’re bubbling up with it. It’s like oh, okay, we are communicating with each other. We’re informed about the priorities of one another. And we’re all leaning in the same direction.
Liz: That’s great. So given your experience, I think any process, there’s always room for improvement. As you look back sort of retrospectively, are there things that you maybe would have done differently or advice that you would give to somebody who’s embarking on a planning process kind of a lesson learned from your experience?
Kari: I would say way back in our earlier strategic planning processes, well if I could, let me back up even more than that.
Liz: Sure.
Kari: I’ve got the opportunity to do some coaching and you were part of that coaching. And we talked a lot about what kind of board you have. And so at the time, I think we were less. We were very operational. The board had come in before I came in and really rescued that organization. And they sort of stayed in that operational mode for a really long time. And I know I expressed a desire for them to move in a more visionary space. But there was that in-between space where you and other people shared and like well, here is a kind of an interim space that you can work in. And I think once we got that clarified and really got the board more engaged in that way, it helped the strategic plan to go better. So helping the board or to understand what their roles are and to get really strong on that and how they could participate has really helped the plans go better and for the goals to be more shared across the organization versus the staff, us all deciding what the goals were and then everything was assigned to a staff person. Now that we’re more grown up as an organization if you will, there’s more sharing across the organization of what should happen and who should drive it. So I do think that understanding what kind of board you have and the role of the board and how they can be helpful and where you want them to be, for me and for the others in the leadership team was really critical. And, I wish we had done some of that work sooner.
Liz: Mm-hmm. Okay. Now I know you said that you guys had just wrapped up your plan and you’re embarking on a new planning process. As you think back to the last plan, one of the things I heard you say and I think you’ll agree is that you guys really worked your last two plans and you engaged in them, you worked towards the goals and progress. How did that play out for you guys as a staff? Did you have regular meetings where you had to give an implementation plan or what was the driving force that made you actually use the plan as opposed to it just sort of sitting on a shelf?
Kari: So we did have that– we did incorporate it into our regular staff meetings and then we tried to do some exercises around it– I wouldn’t say monthly. I would like to say that we were that good but we tried to stay on track with it. And then when it seemed like things– I don’t want to say we’d outgrown them but we kind of decided to shelve them for whatever reason, and we just let that go and didn’t beat ourselves up over it because that’s just part of evolution. You just don’t always stay in the same place or we’d researched something and the staff that were doing that came and said, “This seems like way too much for us right now. We’ve got all these other things going on and we really need to focus on that.” So I think that was helpful, just giving ourselves some breathing space and for it to be okay for us to not keep pushing, tilting at a windmill that was no longer necessary. That was good.
I think the other thing that was really timely with our lab strategic plan was that right after we did the visioning work, put the nuts and bolts down with Brighter Strategies, we got a COMPASS grant, which was the the pro bono support for a strategic alignment, so they took the strategic plan and they helped us work lots of areas of it and came out with some real specific things they thought were doable and they helped us also release ourselves from some of the pressure of the things that we researched and realized just we weren’t in a place to do that. But we were able to really use both of those things in a real complementary way, which is I think why we were able to really zoom through some of the strategic planning goals much more quickly and much more comprehensively. Yeah. Yeah.
Liz: That’s great. Anything else around your strategic planning process or any final advice you might want to give people?
Kari: I think, do interview people, the consulting groups that you want to do the work and talk to their references and find out what the process was like. You want to make sure it’s a good fit. You want to make sure that somebody that you work with really understands what your organization is about, what they’re trying to achieve and where you’re at as a team, where your board is coming from. I think it’s kind of a holistic picture. I think people need to do a little bit of homework on all of that to make sure they get a team who can really do that for them.
And the other thing I really appreciate and I know you don’t want me to plug Brighter Strategies but I will and you can put this on the editing floor. I think it’s really critical to have time with a consultant who really, like I said before, understands what you’re trying to achieve. And then they do the work, right? Like you give them all this information and they figure out and work with you and your team on how to structure things. But it’s really not my job then to lead that process anymore. I get to sit back with the rest of my team and hear and understand what they’re interested in and what motivates them and what moves them and what drives them. It’s really nice to be able to take somewhat of a back seat at that point and let you lead that process and also facilitate it. If there were issues with team members or board members, it wasn’t me asking them to put stuff in the parking lot or asking them to refocus. It was so helpful. You’re really good at that and I really admire that as a skill. I mean it’s not in my wheelhouse but it is in yours and so I feel like people just really need to make good sound decisions because it’s important to have a plan that you feel comfortable with and that you can stand by and really drive forward.
Liz: Well thank you, Kari. It was such an honor working with Friends of Guest House on both of your plans and watching you guys grow over the last five or six years has been really neat too. And thank you for carving out time to chat with me today. I really appreciate it.
Kari: Absolutely. Yeah, this was great. Thank you.

Strategic Planning

Strategic planning is an organization’s process of defining its strategy and making decisions on how to allocate its resources (staff, budget, programs, and services) to pursue that strategy.

The strategic planning process in nonprofit organizations consists of three main components: plan development, plan execution, and plan review. This guide will take you through the process, which includes crafting organization mission, vision, and values statements; conducting a strengths, problems, opportunities, and threats (SPOT) analysis; developing a balanced scorecard with measures to track strategic goals; writing and communicating the strategic plan; and executing and reviewing the plan.

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