Wednesday, May 26, 2010

No Senior Hungry; No Senior Isolated

We recently invited Michael Kumer, Executive Director and Faculty for the Nonprofit Leadership Institute of Duquesne University to work with our Board of Trustees and staff with regard to strategic planning. I had the opportunity to work with Michael when I attended Meals On Wheels of America’s Leadership Training in Ohio last year and I was in awe! How did he get our group to be so productive in such a short amount of time?

Michael reminded us that as nonprofit community benefit organizations we are not here to plan for the sustainability of our own organizations. Rather, we exist to make an impact in the community we serve. “How is SCS making an impact on the lives of metro Atlanta seniors?” Michael asked me. I responded with how many lives we affect with life-sustaining services that truly help seniors remain independent.

Michael probed further. “How are you measuring it—and not just in outputs, but in outcomes?” Proudly, I knew where he was going—nonprofits are more than just the meals they deliver and home repairs they complete—they are about change for the communities they serve. What I did not realize until he framed things the way he did, was that even though we pride ourselves at being as client-driven as possible, we were still focusing our planning efforts on how to grow the organization (with the end result of impacting more seniors) as opposed to how to truly resolve a perplexing issue for our seniors.

If we want to envision an Atlanta that is free of senior hunger and isolation, which is what we as an organization have envisioned since our first year in 1965, we need to fully grasp the need and think big about bold solutions. This means that we may need to partner with or invest in studies that help us understand our local need. For the most part we’ve relied on census data and internal waitlists to comprehend the need. This will not suffice going forward.

This also means that we will have to think more broadly about solutions. We need to think more about advocacy and how public policy may more quickly affect the change we need than just service delivery. We certainly have some recent experiences with our seniors advocating on behalf of SCS, but something even more substantial will be necessary.

Finally, this means that SCS will need to think more about collaborations and may need to extend its reach beyond our current service delivery area. We may need to think about other factors that affect our vision and form more strategic partnerships. We may need to invest more in awareness, marketing and education.

You can see that our time with Michael was a wise investment for the organization and a break-through for me. Though sustainability for SCS is vital in serving our seniors, it is the means, not the end. We remain dedicated to an Atlanta where no senior is hungry and no senior is isolated. Will you jump in with me?

-- by Jeffrey M. Smythe, Executive Director

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