Client Story: Elevate is on a mission to help people with addiction
Elevate is a private, not for profit agency based out of the American state of Wisconsin, working in the areas of substance abuse and mental health. The organization uses a comprehensive approach in an effort to prevent substance abuse and support mental health issues, as well as supporting both adults and youth in recovery.
Elevate operates in Washington County, Waukesha County and Sheboygan County. Some of the services and programs they provide include Opiate Treatment & Diversion, Independent Living, Intoxicated Driver Programs, several school-based preventative programs, Family Support Groups, and 'Elevate U' - their youth program that helps teens get back on track after exposure to alcohol, drugs, or extended absences from school.
In the spring of this year, our team at SME Strategy worked with Elevate and helped them create their 3-year strategic plan. Elevate was chosen as one of five organizations accepted into SME Strategy's Nonprofit Program, as a part of our ongoing giving back initiative. We held five virtual sessions once a week for five weeks. Soon after the fifth session, after their strategic plan had been completed, I met with Mary Simon, Elevate's Executive Director.
Together we reflected on our five strategic planning sessions together, some of the takeaways from the process, what she learned about her team, and more.
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We were impressed at the level of commitment, engagement, and a sense that everyone wanted to be there in each session. "There's a lot of passion for what they do", Mary told me about the leaders and board members that took part in the sessions. She explained that the board members especially see the value of the services Elevate provides, and that there's a real willingness to do more. "People want to be involved". An attitude like that can (and did) have a real positive impact on the process. There was also an element of anticipation. "They've been talking about doing strategic planning for a while, so everyone was excited to actually get started", said Mary.
"It gave me energy to see them that excited.."
I also asked about what she learned about her team, looking back on the many hours of time spent together. There are always some tough, necessary conversations to be had during the process that are difficult to come by day-to-day. When individuals have a safe space to share how they feel and what they're thinking, they get to show others their true selves. Mary was surprised at the level of passion, commitment and involvement brought to the process. "It gave me energy to see them that excited", Mary told me. She was also surprised to see each team member make it to every session, after initially expecting some to miss sessions here and there - "It gave me a lot of hope".
When asked about the strategic planning process itself, Mary mentioned that it was nice to go deeper. "When you're in a board meeting, it's really surface level". She told me that normally, board members don't get too involved with the intricacies or the day-to-day of the organization. But the strategic planning process "expanded their knowledge of what Elevate does, and made them think about things they never would've thought about before", said Mary. On top of that, she was grateful for the opportunity to talk about forces outside the organization, like during the PESTLE Trend Analysis section. It forced them to think about "what would happen if this or that happened", said Mary.
"You pushed us to think deeper, not just surface level.."
Finally, we talked about some 'aha moments' or turning points that might've happened during the sessions. In our experience working with groups, there are almost always a few who are skeptical about the process and strategic planning. Before we got started, "I was skeptical that anything valuable would come out of it", said Mary. As someone who's done strategic planning before, she told me that past outcomes were always vague and obvious, like "we need to diversify our funding base, or more people need to know about us". But this process was different. "This process really helped us focus.. and for me that was the aha moment. That was what was missing from the last strategic plans", she told me. Asking us 'What does that mean?' and 'What would that look like?' just "never happened in past strategic planning sessions", said Mary. "You pushed us to think deeper - not just surface level".
>> To learn about Elevate's fundraising events or to make a donation, visit their fundraisers page.
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