how to sustain the mission: Illinois dollars for scholars

strat-innovation-01In 2010, Illinois Dollars for Scholars was at a “tipping point.”  Traditionally, their funding had come from the dues paid by Dollars for Scholars groups at high schools across the state and from the entry fees for their annual essay contest.  These funds were forwarded to the National Dollars for Scholars organization to fund scholarships annually and used to meet operating expenses, which included an annual luncheon awards event and the promotion of the contest throughout Illinois.  They also covered the compensation of their paid fundraiser and a contract with a fund raising firm that provided administrative support.  With these expenses and their current 4-year scholarship commitments to previous winners, their expenses exceeded their available cash, and the Board faced a serious challenge.  They needed to re-engage their members, attract new donors and get the organization back on solid ground—or they needed to dissolve the organization entirely.

Board member Charlie Priester provided the funding for a two-day offsite retreat and retained Jane to facilitate, with an agenda designed to help the Board face this challenge.  The session began with a graphic facilitation that helped the Board step back and get a clearer picture of the challenge.  With that shared understanding, the group then formed small groups and developed action steps with detailed dates, deliverables, and decision points along the way. 

For example, one small group took on the challenge of determining if the role of the national organization was critical—what commitments had been made and what options they might have to become independent.  Another group looked at the current administrative services contract and developed a job description to bring those functions back in house.  A third group explored methods to achieve a better understanding of what their member high schools deemed important and how to enlist their support in re-inventing the organization.

At the end of the session, the group had a shared vision of where they were headed and a strong commitment to the action steps that lie ahead.  Each individual on the Board had specific responsibility for a portion of the process and everyone knew what was to be done, by whom and by when.