White Birch Community Center

Since 1982, White Birch Community Center (WBCC) has offered a wide variety of social, recreational and educational programs for children, youth, families and older adults. A cornerstone of the Henniker, New Hampshire community, White Birch was selected by the New Hampshire Department of Health and Human Services as one of only 10 New Hampshire childcare centers with an “Exemplary Program for Strengthening Families.”

Challenge
In 2014, with changes in leadership at both the Executive Director and board level, WBCC recognized the need to update its strategic plan. There were several important areas for consideration:

  • Was the current vision and mission still valid and was it effectively serving the community?
  • Were new programs needed? What existing ones should be expanded or discontinued?
  • How could the organization’s facilities meet growing community needs?
  • How could the organization enhance its fundraising to ensure long-term sustainability?

White Birch’s busy operational schedule didn’t leave much time for this type of strategic planning. Both the Executive Director, Marc McMurphy and the board chair believed outside assistance would make the process more effective, so they engaged Executive Service Corps (ESC) to guide their efforts. “We had so many daily operational issues to deal with, it was not easy to find the time and resources to figure out how to update our strategic goals. ESC created a pathway for us to start moving forward,” said McMurphy.

How ESC Helped
ESC recommended WBCC create a work group to determine the best approach to strategic planning and keep the board informed of the group’s progress. ESC and the work group gathered both quantitative and qualitative data to guide decision making by:

  • Completing a community needs assessment survey as well as interviews with community thought leaders and WBCC board members to definethe community’s perceptionof the current and future identity of WBCC.
  • Conducting a SWOT (strengths/weaknesses/opportunities/threats) analysis with staff leaders to understand WBCC staff views regarding programs and operations.
  • Creating a detailed environmental scan using feedback from the needs assessment to determine the feasibility of program expansion.
  • Identifying five strategic priorities for discussion and consensus with the board.

Results
Based on the deep data gathering and analysis, ESC prepared a key findings document that reflected the common priorities of the board and community and made the following recommendations for addressing each priority over the next five years:

  • Shape the identity and role of WBCC in the community and examine the feasibility of adding new programs
  • Improve existing programs by investing in facilities and technology
  • Increase development and public relations efforts
  • Enhance the relationship with WBCC’s major benefactor
  • Strengthen board structure and accountability

The board had ample time to review the document before a two-day retreat, which was used to refine the goals and recommendations and reach consensus. “The quantitative and qualitative data, combined with ESC’s observations of our organization really helped us make sound, realistic decisions about our priorities,” said McMurphy. The organization is now taking the next steps in the strategic planning process. It has formed multiple task forces who are studying WBCC’s school-age programs, senior programs and facilities/technical needs. Each task force will develop and present recommendations along with a timeline of actions and responsibilities. WBCC is also working with ESC on hiring a development director and public relations.

Summary
As a result of the initial planning work, White Birch Community Center has confirmed that the services they provide are highly valued by the community, and that their goal should be to continue their efforts to execute at an even higher level. The strategic planning process introduced by ESC gives the organization a structured path to move forward while still performing their day-to-day operational duties. “ESC’s strategic planning process has been tremendously helpful to us. I don’t think we would be nearly as far along as we are in our thinking without their assistance,” said McMurphy.

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