Charting a new strategic direction: the challenge and the opportunity
Connecticut Community Foundation has worked for decades alongside organizations, leaders, and donors alike to step up to local challenges and improve the quality of life throughout the region. We have a long legacy of local impact, through grants, scholarships, philanthropic services, and on-the-ground work with many partners. And we have spent nearly a century learning, evolving and transforming to meet the changing needs, first of Waterbury, and now of the broader Greater Waterbury and Litchfield Hills region. During 2019, we embarked on a robust strategic planning process to determine how we can most effectively use our resources—human as well as financial—to serve our community in the coming years.
Early in the planning process, we could see readily how much our community has changed and continues to evolve, even in recent years. To keep pace with these changes and to meet the most pressing current needs facing our community, we knew that we needed to adapt and grow as an organization. We needed a strategic direction that would recommit us to a unified Greater Waterbury and Litchfield Hills community, while recognizing that, in order to have the greatest impact, we could not be all things to all people, or in all places at all times. To be effective, we needed to focus not only on equality in allocating resources across issues or geographies, but also on justice and equity in outcomes for the people who live in our region.
We needed to establish clear priorities, and to ground them in both data about community need and a clear understanding of the Foundation’s values.
What we explored
Over the course of the planning process, we surveyed nonprofits, donors, volunteers, local leaders, and other community members to understand how people perceive the Foundation’s work and to get feedback on the biggest challenges the community and the nonprofits that serve it are facing. We also conducted focus groups and one-on-one interviews.
Finally, we looked inward, engaging board and staff in multiple conversations about who we are, what we stand for, and how we can make the greatest difference. Altogether, we heard from hundreds of community members from all over the region and from diverse walks of life, each of whom shared their perspective to inform our new priorities.
In addition to community conversations, we analyzed how we have allocated our resources, so that we could understand trends and assess our strengths as well as the impact of our historic approach to our work. We also compiled demographic, economic, and systemic trends data so we could consider the following core questions:
Which community members are impacted most by different issues?
How can we best look at our work through the prism of equity?
How should we measure success?
What is our long-term vision for community change?
In what ways are we best positioned to lead, support or fund work?
What we heard
The community’s responses in interviews, focus groups, and surveys aligned with what we saw in the data. Asked to prioritize, survey respondents identified health, education, and economic opportunity as top needs. And they told us they were looking to the Foundation to take a targeted and proactive approach to addressing the stark differences in quality of life and well-being among people in Greater Waterbury and Litchfield Hills based on race, income, age, gender, and geography.
We also discovered bright spots within the research. For example, Waterbury is home to several excellent nonprofit collaborations—including Bridge to Success Community Partnership and the Greater Waterbury Health Partnership—that serve as national models for collective action in the areas of education, youth development and health. We were also struck by the way community engagement and nonprofit leadership are vitally important in making headway to address so many of these issues. Positive change is enormously difficult to achieve when leadership is lacking, residents are disempowered, and advocates are missing. Thus, it became clear that our strategic direction should address the importance of engaged, empowered and effective leaders in nonprofit organizations, formal civic roles, and the community at-large.
Our strategic direction: moving toward a more equitable community
Our planning efforts led us to a vision of an equitable and inclusive community in which all residents have what they need to thrive. To move toward that vision, we will use equity as our touchstone and as the prism through which we will decide how best to marshal our resources to have the greatest impact for the good of the entire community. We recognized that the Foundation has an important role to play in leveraging our region’s overall prosperity and strength to address inequities and create positive change.
We are driven by the urgency of the data and the opportunity it presents to prioritize the Foundation’s investment of grants, time, and community leadership towards targeted goals. In other words, data on how well residents in the Foundation’s region are faring provides a clear path to a long-term vision for targeted investments and prioritization of need. In order to have impact, we are committed to using data—alongside our values—to inform how and where we invest, and how we mobilize and work alongside others to promote well-being across the region.
How our new direction will change our work
Just as the challenges facing our community have changed over time, our work will change in meaningful ways as we embrace and live our new mission, vision and values. Since adopting our new strategic direction, staff have examined how we allocate grant dollars and staff time, how our grant guidelines will need to change, and how we can ensure that internal policies and procedures to align with our priorities and values. We’re also looking at how we can best partner with donors in areas of shared interest, how we will evaluate ourselves, and how we will communicate with the community about our work.
Other important pillars of our work will not change. While we will invite donors to commit some of their philanthropic dollars to helping us pursue our priorities through the creation of unrestricted funds, we are equally committed to working with them to pursue their own charitable priorities through the establishment of donor-advised funds, funds targeting particular issue areas, funds designated to benefit specific nonprofits, and scholarship funds.
Also unchanged is our commitment to building capacity in nonprofit organizations working across all issue areas affecting our community. And we will continue our large scholarship program that supports the educational and career aspirations of local students—an important resource to advance economic opportunity.
The path forward
Connecticut Community Foundation is eager to share details of our path forward based on our new strategic direction in late 2020 and early 2021. Communication will include grant and program information as well as how we envision using the many other tools at our disposal to advance our new mission. These include convening, training, advocacy, forging connections, educating and collaborating with partners across sectors.
We recognize that to be effective, how we do our work matters. We are an institution with a long history, great privilege, and a responsibility to the community. We cannot successfully apply an equity lens to pursuing our priorities without turning the lens inward. At the core of our new direction, we will analyze our internal policies, practices, and behaviors and to ask how our organizational values show up in our work and our culture. Our staff and board of trustees share responsibility for this work.
Finally, to be successful in our work, we know we must prioritize continuous listening, learning, evaluation and adaptation. Our strategic plan sets a new direction that is meant to evolve. We know we will be more effective if our work is regularly informed and influenced by those who are close to and affected by our work. To that end, we look forward to listening, learning, and adapting with our community—and with you.