Case Study: Voice Found’s Strategic Planning Process

“We were able to better articulate and streamline all of the really important parts of the work that we do, the work that differentiates us…I now have a plan with steps and focus areas…that was really helpful”

– Cynthia Bland, CEO, Voice Found

Equipped with passion and the position to make change: how Voice Found‘s strategic planning process will guide the organization toward a shared vision.

In September of 2022, Voice Found’s Board and Senior Leadership, including Founder and CEO Cynthia Bland, set out to re-establish strategic clarity and re-imagine a vision for their organization.

Founded by Bland in 2009, Voice Found has seen significant changes on its way to becoming the established and highly regarded survivor-led organization it is today. In recounting this growth, Bland recalled, “we became incorporated, we became a nonprofit, then we got our charitable status. Things have grown and I’ve been just going and going. Having this blueprint for the future, a plan that is supported by the staff, means that my vision is the collective vision now, it’s not just my vision”.

Who is Voice Found?

Voice Found is an Ottawa-based charitable organization with a mission to prevent child sexual abuse and human trafficking, led by survivors of these crimes. Through its trauma-informed programs and resources, Voice Found supports survivors on their journey to healing and recovery.

  • Voice Found’s healthcare support, The Clinic, provided over 900 appointments to clients in 2022. This included over 300 hours of therapy and almost 500 virtual appointments.
  • Through the Hope Found and Path Found programs, Voice Found supports victims of human trafficking, which continued uninterrupted during the COVID-19 pandemic.
  • Voice Found’s team provided over 5,000 hours of peer support for adults who were sexually abused as children/youth.

Finding the right strategic planning partner

In early 2022, Bland and the Voice Found Board recognized the opportunity that a strategic planning process would provide to engage their community and reaffirm the organization’s intended impact on the lives of survivors. After successfully securing funding for this work, Bland then set about the crucial task of securing the right partner in planning.

For Bland, a partner that would understand the complexities of Voice Found’s work and community was paramount. The right partner would come from a place of collaboration. They would be able to hear, value, and incorporate the lived experiences of staff and community members in the planning process.

The right partner also had to be flexible, willing, and able to adapt to the reality that the nature of the organization’s work can (and will!) impact timelines.

Voice Found received proposals from all ends of the spectrum, from complex, rigid, and costly undertakings, to more casual, low-touch interventions.

“So, then I got on Google”, said Bland, “and I had a call with Danielle, she listened. What I got back was a result of somebody truly listening to our needs and putting that into a proposal…work that I felt was very collaborative.”

Authentically engaging with stakeholders

Together, the Voice Found and Laridae teams crafted a strategic planning process that prioritized community engagement and consultation. We agreed it was critical to actively listen and work to understand the perspectives of those closest to the organization, and ultimately, to create a plan that would set the course for the organization over the next 3 years.

In the Fall of 2022, Laridae set about getting to know Voice Found through a comprehensive document review. From there, the Laridae team worked with Bland to give shape to a framework for inclusive community engagement and consultation.

For Bland, it was important to provide an opportunity for people to make their voices heard. “We work collaboratively with so many different agencies and other service providers,” but at the same time, “we also serve a very challenging population, and we know that it’s difficult to get them engaged in things like this”, acknowledged Bland.

Through a series of focus groups, key person interviews and an online survey, Voice Found’s community was given the space to provide important feedback on the organization.  Participants identified strengths, perceived challenges, and shared their suggestions for potential solutions and improvements. For Bland, the process validated and reinforced many of the Voice Found team’s core beliefs and goals.

Putting it all together into an actionable plan

After an opportunity to come together and reflect on the results of the in-depth stakeholder engagement, Voice Founds’ Board were well-positioned to answer a number of outstanding questions, namely, how can we turn this data into action?

On a blustery November day in 2022, the Voice Found Board, staff and the Laridae team came together in Ottawa for the strategic planning retreat, a milestone moment in the strategic planning process. Laridae facilitated critical conversations among the Voice Found Board and staff as they shared their reflections on the results of the engagement and discussed the organization’s focus, growth, and impact. The result? The beginning of clear strategic direction.

Staff presence in the morning allowed for an opportunity to generate excitement, engagement, and confidence in the frontline team. “What this did was help the team to come together with everyone in the same room, which is a big thing too, and realize what a strategic plan is, the value that it brings, and how all of the pieces fit together, and then how they impact us achieving our different goals”, said Bland.

For Bland, the standout success of Laridae’s retreat design was that “we were able to better articulate and streamline all of the really important parts of the work that we do, the work that differentiates us.” Moving forward this means, “I now have a plan with steps and focus areas…that was really helpful.”

Moving forward together

During the strategic planning process, it is critical to take the time to reflect on the vision and impact your organization wants to have. For Voice Found, identifying and articulating their vision was even more significant than simply achieving clarity.

For Bland, who started Voice Found and nurtured it through so many phases, “having this blueprint, if you will, for the future, and a plan that is supported by the staff and Board means for me that the vision I’ve had is totally supported. It is the collective vision now, it’s not just my vision. This is my baby, but I won’t say that anymore. It’s ours and it truly feels like ours now. I have this great team and we have this framework. We’ve all agreed on where we want to go and we’re all going in the same direction.”

Strategic planning for non-profits and social purpose organizations is so often much more than simply crafting a new document. Critical discussion, inclusive engagement, and a collaborative process all contribute to a cohesive plan and provide a clear framework for an organization’s journey forward. A great strategic planning process will help an organization shape its course, unite its team in pursuit of a common vision, and enable them to achieve a more profound impact in their community.

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