CRISIS PLANNING FOR A SCHOLARSHIP SPONSOR AT THE “TIPPING POINT”

Illinois Dollars for Scholars

In 2010, Illinois Dollars for Scholars was at a “tipping point.” Traditionally, their funding had come from the dues paid by Dollars for Scholars groups at high schools across the state and from the entry fees for their annual essay contest. These funds were forwarded to the National Dollars for Scholars organization to fund scholarships annually and used to meet operating expenses, which included an annual luncheon awards event and the promotion of the essay contest throughout Illinois. They also covered the compensation of their paid fundraiser and a contract with a fundraising firm that provided administrative support. With these expenses and their current 4-year scholarship commitments to previous scholarship winners, their expenses exceeded their available cash, and the Board faced a serious challenge. They needed to re-engage their members, attract new donors, and get the organization back on solid ground—or they needed to dissolve the organization entirely.
Frustrated with their lack of progress, Board member Charlie Priester provided the funding for a two-day offsite retreat and retained Strategic Innovation to facilitate.  Jane designed an agenda to help the Board explore this challenge and come to some consensus. The session began with a graphic facilitation that helped the Board step back and get a clearer picture of the challenge. With that shared understanding, the group then formed small groups and developed action steps with detailed dates, deliverables, and decision points along the way.
For example, one small group took on the challenge of determining if the role of the national organization was critical—what commitments had been made and what options they might have to become independent. Another group looked at the current administrative services contract and developed a job description to see if it was feasible to bring those functions back in-house. Another group explored methods to achieve a better understanding of what their member high schools deemed important and how to enlist their support in re-inventing the organization.
At the end of the session, the group had not yet determined whether to accept the challenge of getting the organization on solid footing or to dissolve, but they had a shared vision what they needed to know before they could make that decision. Each individual on the Board had specific responsibility for a portion of the process, and everyone knew what was he or she had agreed to do and when it needed to be done.

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