How might we plan for purposeful organizational growth?
UNDERSTANDING THE CHALLENGE
REAP - Reading is Essential for All People launched in early 2013 with the vision to improve reading efficiency in public school students through funding teacher training and enrichment. Since then, it has seen explosive demand from schools and school systems around metro Atlanta. I partnered with Jennifer Rhett, Executive Director, to understand REAP’s growth trajectory and it's vision for the future. Jennifer was struggling to juggle the demand for REAP's services with the increasing logistics of running a successful non-profit.
To understand the REAP offering, I observed REAP’s instructors and several of their graduate teachers delivering the curriculum in the classroom. The “foundations of reading” instruction is highly interactive involving multisensory, systematic, and direct phonics instruction. The real learning occurs when teachers have to apply the instruction in the classroom. It is a rigourous curriculum and requires repeated practice to ensure the students are being engaged on multiple levels. In other words, teachers can only truly master the curriculum by actually teaching it.
I then conducted discovery interviews with each of six board members. I wanted to understand, from their perspective, how they felt about the organization and what they saw as its biggest challenges. These interviews revealed several needs (in priority order):
Better enable and utilize the current board members
Strategically expand board membership
Continue current focus on increasing fundraising & “go after” more grant awards (a “given” with any non-profit).
Hire an executive director by 2018
In discussing these needs with Jennifer, other needs surfaced:
Jennifer is the only one who knows the process for teacher application selection. It is a complex, largely manual process that resides “in her head.”
Jennifer and Carla (co-founder) were performing many of the logistical or administrative tasks that anyone can do.
Ultimately, Jennifer and Carla need to free themselves of the more tactical work and rely more heavily on their board. The board needs guidance around how to present REAP to potential supporters. The board also wants to know what more they could do to better support Jennifer and Carla.
EMBODY & EVOLVE
With the Executive Director…
Prior to the next board meeting, Jennifer and I discussed specifics regarding the most time-consuming tasks. The biggest task: teacher application selection. Jennifer walked me through the process, identifying areas of greatest complexity. We decided to document the process so that there was a visual to work from. This would enable Jennifer to see where she could 1) streamline her efforts, 2) identify tools to improve efficiency, and 3) determine where in the process she could involve board members.
With the Board…
At the next board meeting, I conducted an exercise with the board members, stepping them through a process that helped them to surface their individual purposes within REAP. Building on that, I conducted a second exercise where they created their own pitch for REAP. Combining these exercises redefined for them the individual skills and talents they each bring to the board as well as empowered the members with language around how to talk about REAP with supporters.
The Board and the Executive Director, together...
Finally, Jennifer and I designed the process for new board member recruitment. This included identifying skills and “network connections” that were gaps on the current board. The new recruiting process involved board members tapping their networks and funneling potential candidates to Jennifer for her approval. From there, members could recruit the approved candidates and present them to the board as a whole for voting as appropriate. This process created a shared responsibility for expanding board membership.