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Examining the Past to Plan for the Future

Planning for the future is an abstract idea, but several members put lots of real work into just that exercise when Junior League of New Orleans (JLNO) began developing a new strategic plan in 2019. The superstar group in charge of this undertaking included Katie Baxter, Lindsay Chapman , Susan Dinneen, David Huete, Cree Jones, Kate Mick and Christine Vinson.

Future forecasting is a notoriously difficult task. The new plan replaces one that was meant to guide the League leadership’s decision-making process from 2018 until it expired at the end of last year. While many goals of the old plan were realized in recent years, JLNO’s community impact has evolved in the interim in ways that the most recent plan could not account for when it was developed. Most notably, the old plan could not foresee the League’s strategic decision to transition the Bloomin’ Deals thrift shop from a physical store into the legacy partners project, nor the accelerated growth of the Diaper Bank, nascent three years ago, but which has quickly become the League’s largest community impact project. “We don’t have a crystal ball,” says Katie Baxter, JLNO’s Planning and Development Council Director for 2019-2020. “That’s why strategic plans are helpful.”

The 2021-2023 strategic plan aims to be a living document and frequent source of guidance, according to Jessica Whitworth, 2020-2021 Strategic Planning and Assessment Chair. Her committee’s first task was to go through the old plan and assess how well the League followed it. “The plan looks at pretty much every aspect of the League and if it’s succeeding,” says Jessica.  And while her committee is trying to make the assessment process more objective than it has been in the past, she says they’re working with other committee leaders to, “ask what success looks like for this committee” in order to “define a broad category of success that does more than look at one metric.” 

One way the new strategic plan can make the after-the-fact assessment process easier for community impact projects is to be more systematic and intentional at the start of a new partnership. Katie describes a new process for evaluating potential projects as a funnel, where a wide array of possibilities get winnowed relative to the availability of League resources into a narrower stream of probable partnerships. “We’re bringing strategy and thoughtfulness at the beginning so that at the end, we have a defined reasoning behind why this project started and what the expectations were,” she adds. 

The new plan focuses on setting goals and initiatives for JLNO in the areas of community impact, fundraising and asset management, new member inflow and membership retention. Both Jessica and Katie are enthusiastic about implementing the plan that has been long in development. “The new plan will not be owned by just a few,” says Katie. “Everyone will have a role in the next three years.” Members will have the chance to know more about the new plan’s contents, and how it will enhance our work toward our mission, at upcoming general membership meetings. 

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