If you’ve been running your cause for some time now, had some big wins, and are ready to grow and strengthen your organization, then you are in the right place. Just because you’ve made it through the pilot doesn’t mean that things get easy. The Sustainability Guide is for people who have launched successful programs and have lots of opportunities in front of them. It will help you decide which things to step into, which ones to let go of and help you come up with a plan to take your cause to the next level.
The Causeway team has been able to help support hundreds of causes over the years in many different ways. We have often played a supportive role in helping first-time community leaders take their ideas and turn them into action. Over the years, we have seen some real success stories, and it became apparent that many of these causes were demonstrating high-impact and high-growth potential. We know that after the early stages, every organization needs something different to help them grow. So we created a self-led, customizable approach to strategically building a growth plan for your organization.
How To Use This Guide
This guide will help you take stock of the opportunities in front of you, articulate your big goals, and create a strategy to get there. When you complete the process, you will have a roadmap that will act as your guide for the future, with concrete steps to achieve your goals and important milestones to hit along the way.
We have designed it to be a self-led process asking thoughtful questions along the way for you and your team to consider, and activities to work through together. Some sections are meant to be done independently, and others will require you to schedule meeting times to work together with your team. You can hire a professional facilitator for your meetings if that’s in the budget for you, but it’s not necessary. Sessions can be led by a founder, board member, or an enthusiastic team member. As you work through the activities, some may prove to be challenging, and generally, that’s a good thing. Just make sure you keep morale high, schedule regular breaks, and keep moving forward. We do not give you a specific timeframe to complete each section, however, it’s designed to take place over the course of several weeks. We suggest finding a balance between putting in good work, but not getting overly hung up on every activity. Anywhere between four to six weeks should be a good amount of time to work your way through everything in this guide.
Gather Your Team
Whether you have a full staff and board or it’s just you, we are firm believers in not going at things alone. If it is only you at this time, we strongly encourage you to gather a group of people to help you work through the exercises in this guide. Asking a few friends and family members is okay, but try to challenge yourself to go beyond your comfort zone. Reach out to some people who are real champions on the issue your cause addresses and work closely with the people you want to help. There’s no harm in asking, the worst they can do is say no! If you need help coming up with ideas for who should be on your team, use the Dream Team Grid to help you think of some ideal candidates.
Find Your Starting Point
Before you dive into this guide, you need to determine your starting point. Do you have most of the things you need to grow your organization, or are there fundamental pieces missing? Use this checklist as a guide to take stock of building blocks your organization already has in place and also discover what you might be missing. If you’re missing something from the checklist, there’s no need to create it from scratch at this point—we’ll get there. First, just take stock of what you have and share the collection of resources with your team for them to read through. You want everyone to be working from the same playbook when you get started.
A great way to gauge how your team is feeling about the organization is to ask them! Put together a couple of focus groups, one on one interviews, or send out a survey to get an understanding of how your employees and board members are feeling at this time about the organization. What do they see as ripe opportunities? What do they think needs improvement? What do they love about the mission? Here is a Team Insights Survey you could send to your team for feedback.
Build Your Roadmap
The series of activities in this guide will help you and your team build a roadmap to steer your organization over the next year or so. The duration of time you choose to plan for in your roadmap is totally up to you, but we recommend one to three years. A lot can change in three years, so we don’t want to become too rigid with our plans. However, an organization without a vision will have a hard time being effective and will likely cause you and your team a lot of headaches. There is nothing more important for an organization than to have a collective vision and strong leadership to help direct the team on how to get there. This way, everyone can get behind you in making that vision become a reality, and it gives your team purpose and meaning to their work. Complete the Roadmap Workbook as you work through the guide to build your plan with your team.
It’s time to start dreaming big. For some of us, dreaming big comes naturally. For others, however, it might be harder to see the bigger picture. This section will help your team cast a vision so large for your organization that it scares you. This is the time to let your mind run free and imagine what your world and your organization would look like if everything went exactly as planned. Carve out some intentional time to do the exercises below with your team.
Host an inspirational visioning session with your team. In the session, everyone will share their big dreams for the organization. This is best done collaboratively. You may need to schedule subsequent meetings if you’re unable to work through the entire agenda in one sitting, or if you notice that creativity levels are getting low. It’s always better to take a break and come back when everyone is feeling refreshed.
The visioning session includes a that will l your team toward articulating the big dream. Use this Visioning Session Agenda to guide your sessions. You can customize the session based on your team’s needs, of course. This session can be led by someone on your team, or if you can afford it, hire a professional facilitator. A facilitator can ensure a smooth session, mediate when necessary, and can help everyone to be fully present. However, if a facilitator is not in the budget, don’t sweat it! It is not necessary to complete these sessions. They are designed to be completely self-led.
Here's What to Expect
The visioning sessions take around a full three hours to complete. You can divide the sessions into two shorter 1 hour - 1 ½ hour sessions if that works better for your team. Use the break in the agenda as the divide for the two sessions.
You’ll need a location to host the session, or a virtual meeting can work as well. We’d advise against a phone or conference call. It’s better if you can be face to face. You’ll want your entire team, or at least the leadership team (depending on the size of your staff) to be present for the session. Dedicate one or two people as the facilitators and timekeepers for the group.
You’ll need printed copies of each of the activities, one for each team member. Read through the activities below. They are meant to be done in order, so use the agenda as your guide. There are also recommended time allotments for each activity. Try to stick within the time constraints to keep your team from getting stuck spending too much time on any one activity. You may need to move on and come back to it later if it feels like there is no forward progress.
Visioning Session Activities
The Three Whys is an icebreaker activity designed to be a warm-up for the activities that follow. It will help your team dig deep and discover why people are excited to be a part of your organization and create good energy moving forward.
Mission, Vision, and Values are a must-have for any effective organization. Depending on where your organization is starting from, this activity could be a quick refinement of what you already have, or it could be a complete overhaul building a brand new mission, vision, and value statements for your organization. Allow the timeframe for this activity to be adjusted based on where your team is. You may just try to get down something that is pretty good and allow for further refinement later.
The Cover Story is designed to help your team start dreaming big. You’ll look into the future and imagine a world where everything went right for your cause. Use this activity as a way to see where your team collectively agrees or disagrees with the big vision of where you’re heading.
Bold Action Steps will help your team start shifting from big goals and dreams into how we can tangibly see some of these things happen. This is the last activity in the visioning process and will prepare you for the next section, where you make a plan to start taking action toward your vision.
Reflect and Refine
After the sessions, you’ll want to reflect on what got accomplished. Was your team able to come to a consensus by the end of the meeting, or do you need more time? As the leader, take a moment to reflect on what you heard in the sessions. Do you feel like everyone is on track? Are you in alignment with the original intent for the organization? If not, is that a good thing? Are you aligned with the needs and wants of people your organization serves? If you don’t know, now is the time to ask! Reach out to the people you serve with any questions you have about the mission and vision for the organization. Get the feedback you need to create a more impactful organization.
If you need to go back to the drawing board, highlight the issues that need addressing, and schedule another meeting with your team. If you are feeling good about the progress and direction, then finalize your mission, vision, and value statements in your Roadmap and move on to the next section.
We’ve often seen that when an idea has a lot of momentum, it's usually because of two things – one, the leader is a total rockstar, and two, they have a genuinely good idea. This magic combination can lead to a lot of appealing opportunities making it hard for the leader to know what to step into and what to let go. It can be challenging, but the leader must be decisive and become a strict editor of what they chose to focus on so they can grow the organization in the right direction.
Hopefully, your team has left the visioning session feeling inspired and fired up about your organization’s mission. If possible, it’s a good idea to schedule this next session a week or two after the first visioning session. You want to give enough time for people to feel refreshed, but not too much so that you lose the momentum.
The opportunity session includes a series of activities that will lead your team to identify opportunities that will move you closer toward accomplishing your mission. Use this Opportunity Session Agenda to guide your sessions. You can customize the session based on your team’s needs. Again, a facilitator is optional. If it's not in the budget, don’t sweat it! It is not necessary to complete these sessions. They are designed to be completely self-led.
Here's What to Expect
The opportunity session will take around two hours to complete. You’ll need a location to host the session. A virtual meeting can work as well, but the activities will need to be modified to accommodate hosting it online. We would advise against a phone or conference call. It’s better if you can be face to face.
You will want your entire team, or at least the leadership team (depending on the size of your staff) present for the session. These activities will work best when lots of people are contributing and building out a more complete picture of the state of the organization. Dedicate one or two people as the facilitators and timekeepers for the group.
Opportunity Session Activities
SWOT Grids are a classic planning tool that allows your team to articulate the current internal strengths and weaknesses and the external opportunities and threats facing the organization. We’ve put a spin on this activity to make it more fun and engaging for your team, and will help you create a SWOT in roughly 12 minutes!
Social Return on Investment is hugely important for an organization in the nonprofit sector. You have to consider the level of social impact or social return from each program you invest your time and money into. This activity will help you evaluate your current programs and opportunities, and roughly gauge the level of impact each has in comparison to how much investment it takes. You will have a better idea of what to prioritize, what to let go, and which opportunities will have the greatest impact.
Reflect and Refine
Take a moment to reflect on the Opportunity Session with your team. How did it go? Are you happy with the results and the direction the organization is heading? If not, schedule another meeting with your team to regroup and revisit some of the issues. If you are feeling good about the progress and direction, then finalize your SWOT Grid in your Roadmap and move on to the next section.
After the last session, your team should have a lot more clarity about what specific programs the organization will be focusing on and what opportunities you’ll be prioritizing over the coming years. In this next session, the Strategy Session, we will create a plan to start acting on those opportunities and put your mission into action by creating goals and strategies that will move you closer to the dream vision.
Unlike the other two sessions, the Strategy Session can be done either as a team, with a smaller group, or individually. You may find that it’s easier for you to jot down your thoughts and ideas using all the rich information you’ve collected from your team over the past two sessions and synthesize it into goals for the organization. You can later take this to your team for discussion, but we find that it can be helpful to have something for people to react to rather than trying to create them from scratch together.
Here's What to Expect
The strategy session will take around four hours in total to complete, but it does not need to be done all at once. For this session, you can choose to do it in person with your team as you did with the vision and opportunity sessions, or you can choose to do it as independent work.
Strategy Session Activities
Thinking Strategically will help you get ahead of issues and mitigate potential problems down the line. The SWOT Grid is a great way to gather and collect information, but it’s not a complete analysis of your organization's current state. To make use of all that great information, this activity takes everything you’ve gathered in your SWOT and uses it to begin creating strategies for the organization.
Setting Big Objectives can be both scary and exciting at the same time. Everything you’ve done up until this point has set you up to create some big, really ambitious goals for your organization. Use this activity to help your team reach the potential you outlined in both the visioning and opportunity sessions. Refer back to the Social Return on Investment, and visioning activities you did earlier on to help you create your goals.
Strategic Match-Making is a great way to bring it all together. You’ve created your strategies, and you’ve created your objectives. Now it’s time to play match-maker and align your strategies with the objectives you created. Every big goal needs a good strategy to help it reach its potential.
The last step in this guide is to make your action plan. Throughout this guide, you’ve been building a Roadmap to give your team focus and direction on the opportunities your organization is going to step into and the goals you want to achieve. But a goal without an action plan is just a dream. Ensure that your team is ready to move forward with clear direction by completing the last step in your roadmap — building an action plan. Use the activities below to complete a roadmap that is ready for action and allows you to track progress along the way.
Action Plan Activities
Make Your Goals SMART — The big objectives you laid out in the last section give you direction for what you want to achieve, however, you need to set some smaller goals that show you how those big objectives are going to be reached. Use this activity to set some SMART goals under each objective.
Action Steps — One of the biggest critiques of the strategic planning process is that you do all this work, and then the plan just sits on a shelf collecting dust. We don’t want that to happen to you. This activity will help you prevent that by bringing the plan to life, adding some accountability and action steps. Once you’ve created your action plan, use this Trackable Roadmap Template for an overview of the path ahead and keep your goals visible at a glance so you stay on track.
Reflect and Refine
Wow, that was a lot. You should be very proud of yourself for making it to this point and putting in the hard work it took to get here. Take a moment to reflect on everything you’ve discussed with your team and on the work you’ve done independently. Do a gut check. How does everything feel? Are you heading in the right direction; are you excited about the goals you’ve set? Is your team all on the same page? As the leader, you also need to think about whether you feel like the goals and opportunities your team identified are aligned with your mission and vision, and with the wants and needs of the people your organization serves.
It’s important to note here that your plan will never be perfect, nor is it a static thing. As the organization grows, shifts, and changes, you too will need to be flexible. External opportunities and threats are always changing, so be willing to adapt to keep your organization relevant, and most importantly, impactful for the people you serve. Update your Roadmap to include all of the activities from the Visioning, Opportunity, and Strategy Sessions to finalize your plan for the future.
Strengthen Your Organization
Remember this checklist we introduced at the beginning of the guide? Well, it’s not an exhaustive list — but it’s many of the items that will help strengthen your organization and give you a solid footing to execute the big goals you set for yourself. Checking off some of these core items might have actually been one of your goals. Check out our Cause Resource Guide for additional support that can help you build out your arsenal and achieve the ambitious goals in your Roadmap.