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By: Matt Morton

The world is increasingly complex. As a nonprofit executive, I see a variety of factors that influence our work shifting on what seems like a daily basis. While planning in this environment is particularly difficult, times like these are precisely why plans exist. Organizations need a strategic framework to move successfully from point A to point B, while also managing the chaos that inevitably arises along the way.

This reminds me of canoeing, which is an age-old way of getting from one place to another, especially for Coast Salish people like myself. Because of this, I know that navigating through shifting currents requires a clear course, a lot of effort or “pull” to move forward, and a sound “skipper” to guide the crew and serve as a rudder.

Over the last year-and-a-half, the Community Foundation for Southwest Washington has been charting its course through a strategic planning process. Today, we are honored to share the first pieces with you. Our new strategic framework marks the beginning of our next chapter of work in southwest Washington and provides guideposts for our staff and board.

This framework outlines who we are, what we do, how we act and what we’re striving toward. To shed more light on where we’re headed, I want to highlight a few of the key themes I saw elevated through the planning process, and are now present in our mission, vision and values.

Emerging Themes in Our Framework

Every word of this strategic framework has been written with intention. I’m sure you’ll find many pieces that are meaningful to you. For me, the most important themes are those that were expressed by many and resonated widely. Here they are:

– Belonging: It wasn’t surprising to see this concept rise to the surface, because deep down we all want to feel as if our contributions and perspectives are valued by others. Belonging is a fundamental human need, but also vital to democracy and community. This concept goes a step beyond feeling welcomed, to a point where we bring everyone into our collective circle of concern, celebrate their humanity and watch out for their well-being. When done authentically, this promotes mutual respect, power, access and opportunity for everyone in our region.

– Learning: Knowledge and data are more available than ever, and our communities want a partner that listens to, learns from and shares community insights. This shift will take us from “knowing it all” to “learning it all,” and it begins with listening. Through one simple act, we begin to shift the power dynamic in grantmaking and foster trust with partners who are closest to the issues. Putting the voices of those with first-hand experience at the center provides opportunities for mutual learning and uncovers community solutions that we can share and support in all the ways we do best.

– Equity: Time and again, people talked about persistent disparities in their communities and the urgent need to address these gaps. Whether related to race, class, gender or other factors, we all recognize that certain — sometimes intersecting — forces influence our access to opportunities from an early age. We heard that people want to better understand the ways in which these disparities arise and direct our resources toward those facing the greatest barriers. We see this as the fastest way to achieve measurable change on any issue, and the only way to accomplish our mission.

– Justice: You often hear the term “root cause” in philanthropy, which is the crux of justice. Where inequities represent immediate needs or gaps to fill, justice focuses on long-term strategies to ensure gaps never arise. The only way to achieve justice is by building systems that work for everyone, because interpersonal work alone cannot address or explain the wide disparities we see across a variety of identity groups. These are present in public health, housing, educational and more. For all these reasons, justice is now pressed into our vision and mission, which focus on creating a region that better serves future generations by advancing social and economic justice.

– Community: You’ll see this word gets many mentions throughout our framework, and we had a long conversation about it becoming a core value. I bring this up to emphasize the fact that this place, its people and our shared priorities have been, and will always be, central to our work. Community is in our name, and we heard that our partners want us to continue finding ways to build bonds between people and bridges between groups. These are the ties of social capital that cultivate care and concern, thereby strengthening communities. This work inspires us, and we know it’s equally inspiring to everyone who cares about southwest Washington.

These themes are our points of overlap — common ground mapped out by hundreds of voices. This collective input was a defining characteristic of our planning process.

Sharing Our Approach and Next Steps

Accomplishing this feat took intentional steps. Our discovery process included research, surveys, one-on-one conversations, and dozens of committee and board meetings. Every bit of extra effort and each additional voice added to the durability of our plan, resulting in a framework that aligns the aspirations of our staff, board, nonprofits, donors and broader communities. For that our team is beyond grateful, and we thank  all who contributed their time, energy and expertise to this major endeavor.

We still have a lot of work ahead of us. Next on the agenda is forming a comprehensive strategic plan that details our key objectives and how they tie to our overall vision for a thriving community. You’ll also see how our values and beliefs are woven into the work we do and get a clearer picture of why they matter.

This work has already begun, and we plan to share a summary with you in early spring. My hope is that our efforts will bring about a dynamic plan that provides room for our team to nimbly adapt to emerging needs, change what’s not working and pursue new ideas.

It’s an exciting time at the foundation, though certainly not without its challenges. The good thing is that we can now face those challenges with a clear idea of where we’re headed and a stronger rudder to continue guiding us in the right direction. The only thing left is putting in the effort to pull us closer to our vision, and our team is ready.

I’m energized for the journey ahead, and I’m honored to continue working side by side with caring people like you who want to contribute to a thriving southwest Washington.

Photos courtesy of BlueCanoe via Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported license.

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About The Author

Matt Morton

Matt Morton is the President of the Community Foundation for Southwest Washington. With more than two decades of leadership in the nonprofit and philanthropic sectors, Morton leads the organization with a community-centered approach and a deep commitment to improving outcomes so that communities can prosper on their own terms.