Strategic Planning: A New Vision for Children, Incorporated

Often described as one of Richmond's hidden gems, Children Incorporated has been in the business of connecting individuals to children in need for almost five decades. Their sponsorship model -- inviting people to contribute on a monthly basis to make a difference in the life of a single child --has been at the heart of the Richmond-based nonprofit's work from the get-go.

Floricane has been asked to work with Children Incorporated (CI) on the first phases of their year-long strategic planning process. During the next several months, we will engage the organization in a number of important conversations and begin to lay the foundation for a strategic plan with clear outcomes and measures -- and a plan that clearly repositions the organization in its work in the areas of child sponsorship and global fund development.

In addition to a comprehensive online assessment of the organization that seeks feedback from staff and board, donors and contributors, volunteers and community partners, we'll be meeting individually to interview key stakeholders in the organization about its strengths and opportunities. Simultaneously, a small team will research and benchmark best practices around the world in a handful of areas important to CI's future growth and success. All of this perspective and context will help frame a series of working sessions with CI stakeholders to revisit the organization's vision, mission and guiding principles.

In its 46 years of serving children, CI has remained committed and focused in its work. As it nears a milestone anniversary, it has an important opportunity to better align its work to a rapidly changing global environment.

Here's how CI describes its evolution on its website:

Children, Incorporated was founded in 1964 by Jeanne Clarke Wood. Compassion for needy children was bred in her, as her parents, Dr. and Mrs. J. Calvitt Clarke, were noted philanthropists during their lifetime. The beginning of Children, Incorporated was a modest one, and the first youngsters Mrs. Wood helped were from Guatemala. On a visit to Guatemala in 1964, she had photographed 95 poverty - stricken children and had written accounts of the miserable circumstances in which each child existed. Immediately upon her return to Richmond, Virginia, her hometown, Mrs. Wood began to seek help for the 95 little Guatemalans. She opened an office in her own home and by writing letters and through magazine advertisements she told of the children's plight.

In the spring of 1971, Mrs. Wood made a second trip to Guatemala. During the lapse of time between her two visits there - from 1964 to 1971, barely seven years - her program of help to children, begun on such a small scale, had flourished. So, from fewer than 100 children in three small projects, Children, Incorporated now has over 16,000 children in 300 projects in 24 countries around the world.

Today, more than two dozen employees manage thousands of contributions made annually by individual donors -- as well as larger bequests -- and works to keep sponsors connected to the children whose lives they touch.

I've been impressed over the past several weeks by the commitment of the senior staff I've met. There is a clarity of purpose that spans the organization's leadership, and a desire to make meaningful changes that can help CI continue to be successful in its work.

As we complete this first phase of work in May, I'll be interested in seeing how CI begins to evolve in its strategic direction. I'm pretty sure the organization's commitment to children will remain front-and-center.