Strategic Planning: More Than Just Your ABCs

After eight years as EducationMatters Executive Director, Barbara Buggraf is retiring. Propellus managed to snag an interview with the exiting ED on her last day on the job. In a conference call with Marilyn Field, EducationMatters interim Executive Director, we discussed EducationMatters past couple of months – which have been turbulent to say the least.

EducationMatters “is a charitable trust that funds innovative public enhancement programs to help primary and secondary students excel and enrich their learning experiences” – in layman’s terms it is a public education foundation.

With the foundation reaching the 10-year mark, Buggraf and the EducationMatters Board felt like they had to put a lens to the progress the foundation had made. They engaged Propellus consultant, Bill Brandon, to facilitate a strategic planning session, which took place at the end of March.

A month-or-so later, the provincial budget was released, and all of EducationMatters funding was cut.

“The strategic planning session was key in us moving forward,” remembers Buggraf. “We really had to look at the impact of EducationMatters and make a case for continuing our funding. This session was key, because the Board had already started a deep discussion around the future of Education Matters. I see that planning session as one of the very positive things that moved us forward.”

At the strategic planning session in March, Buggraf and the Board took a hard look at Education Matters with Propellus consultant and facilitator, Bill Brandon, asking the hard questions. What they found was that not only was the foundation still viable, it was very much needed.

“We are turning into a model for other school boards across the country to look at to say ‘you know what, we do need funding other than what we get from the government. We want our students to succeed,’” says Field.

Thankfully, through hard-work, and newfound confidence bolstered by their strategic planning session, EducationMatters secured its funding for the next two years.

“If the board hadn’t come together at the strategic planning session in March and talked about the really hard issues I’m not sure they would have engaged in the same way when our funding was terminated,” says Buggraf. “One of our very astute board members said: ‘this could have gone many ways. We could have wound up shut down if we had been asleep at the switch.’”

Being “asleep at the switch” is a common hurdle for non-profit boards, especially when everything in an organization is ticking away nicely.

“It’s easy to get lost in the day-to-day or to become complacent,” warns Field. “Because things are working it is easy to think: if it’s not broken, why fix-it? Instead of improving, expanding, and really looking at the next step for the organization.”

EducationMatters is lucky enough to be able to budget for strategic planning every year, but like most non-profits that doesn’t mean that they don’t have a large sum of money for it. Thankfully, Propellus consulting services are offered well below cost, so that organizations like EducationMatters can afford them.

“It was a good investment, it was certainly less expensive than other strategic planning consultants, but it was just as effective as others,” says Buggraf. “You have to have someone that fits the non-profit sector, and that is where Propellus can really shine, because it is a non-profit. You work in the sector, and there is long experience engaging volunteers and working with boards.”

Field believes that when doing a strategic planning session, organizations get more than they planned for their money.

“In some ways you are providing board professional development within the context of your strategic planning,” says Field. “So really, it can be a double win when doing them, it’s a way to help with board development as well as helping the organization move forward.”

After such a turbulent couple of months, you would think that Buggraf would be nervous retiring, but with the passionate Field taking over as ED and the Board confident, she can rest easy.

“Our board is so energized now that I have the confidence, it’s great to be retiring, I know that the board is so engaged in supporting an education foundation; that is all I could ever have hoped for.”


Does your organization need help with strategic planning or governance? Our experienced consultants can help! Contact Jeff D’Silva at 403-231-1431.

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