“Communities like Homewood and Larimer which have been dis-invested in for over 40 years, creating two of the poorest census tracks in the City of Pittsburgh. As a result, such communities become inundated with people who want to buy property at a reduced rate, move in, flip houses, and in some cases buy an entire block to do something totally different. This has a direct bearing on the people who are unable to get out of those communities and get left behind without the resources to mobilize themselves. The work of OBB is important and transformational in that regard but often goes overlooked. The work they do is in the walls; it’s the electrical work, it’s the plumbing work, it’s the wiring of a house that people don’t always see from the outside but when you turn on the switch, you want the lights to come on. OBB’s work is critical to the livelihood and stability of a community like Homewood.”– Fred Brown | President & CEO | The Forbes Funds
A Legacy of Building Better Community From The Bottom Up
Operation Better Block, Inc. (OBB) was established in 1968 to “stand in the gap” for Homewood and promote the revitalization of the community and restore it to its former vitality. The mission of this venerable, legacy non-profit organization born out of its most recent strategic plan in 2017 is to strategize and mobilize, block by block, to benefit the Homewood community. To achieve its mission, in its early development, OBB focused exclusively on utilizing the strategy of community organizing; an approach predicated on the belief that the problems of physical development, economic development, and cultural development could be best enhanced by working with the individual residential blocks which comprised the neighborhood. Implicit in this approach was the recognition that community development must be a bottom-up process in which neighborhood residents assume the primary role in formulating community development goals and objectives consistent with their perception of community needs, and where they take the major responsibility for community problem-solving. In the simplest of terms, OBB represents community organization at its finest and demonstrates personal agency at its best.
This bottom-up process for community development and transformation forms the foundation for OBB’s four core values and constitutes its theory of change:
- Equipping residents rather than doing for them.
- The community drives and leads. OBB is behind-the-scenes support.
- Value grassroots engagement and knowing the people we serve.
- Value transparency, integrity, and financial accountability
Moving From Transactional To Transformative Impact: Nuts & Bolts For Non-Profit Strategic Planning
As the organization embarks upon a pivotal shift and strategic planning process to support its mission over the next 3-5 years and guide its future growth trajectory into the next half-century, OBB Executive Director Jerome Jackson joined us for this week’s Call For Community Solutions conversation and presented our community with an overall framework and nuts and bolts for how OBB approaches strategic planning.
Jerome highlighted one shining example of OBB’s “bottom-up” approach to strategic planning, revolving around its Cluster Plan. The Cluster Plan was OBB’s innovative way of engaging residents, business owners, and organizations on a micro-basis in the planning process around its land use plan in 2015 which has recently been updated, finalized, and set to be announced to the Homewood community soon! Let’s go deeper…Specifically, OBB sectioned off the neighborhood into nine residential clusters and one business and institution cluster. In turn, OBB discovered residents were able to think more broadly about development within their area and come up with actionable and executable recommendations. In essence, instead of residents attempting to tackle the problem of dealing with 2,000 vacant lots in all of Homewood, they only had to focus on the 30-50 lots in their immediate neighborhood cluster.
Jerome shared three guiding principles and fundamentals from his perspective and grassroots lens on the importance of the strategic plan and how it can be used for transformational impact:
- To serve as the strategic guard rail to guide the organization, its work, and its impact – for example, after creating the cluster plan, the OBB strategic plan was now about guiding the cluster plan work and getting it out to residents, and implement it into the planning and development efforts in Homewood for maximum impact.
- To support funding or position your organization for funding – in essence, you want to use the strategic plan to position you for success in requesting funding from foundations and others, as the request for funding is specifically tethered to your strategic plan and outcomes to move your work forward and meet the needs of the community and population you serve. For example, OBB used its strategic plan back in 2017 to position itself for Tax Credits, the Neighborhood Assistance Program, MPP/SPP/NAP, and other cyclical sources of funding around community development to support their Cluster Plan and other related activities in their strategic plan.
- Shaping outcomes for organizations – the strategic plan shapes the work, evaluates, and makes outcomes more tangible. The plan allows non-profits to assess how well it is performing against their stated outcomes. For instance, OBB’s old strategic plan conducted an environmental scan, looking at opportunities, challenges, goals, and objectives, and included an operational plan within the strategic plan.
“A strategic plan is not something you want to try to do in-house. You want to have a consultant or someone doing that for you. It is very difficult to try to facilitate a strategic planning process and participate in a strategic planning process at the same time. I strongly suggest that anyone who is thinking about embarking upon a strategic planning process should hire a consultant or consultants to do that for you.– Jerome Jackson | Executive Director | Operation Better Block
Can’t Do It Alone: The Need for Hiring Consultants & Outside Experts
The prevailing theme that emerged from our discussion with Jerome around strategic planning for non-profits was the notion of not attempting to cut corners in the process and the potential pitfalls for leaders who believe they can go about the process alone. Rather, Jerome underscored the importance of relying on trusted, outside experts such as our Roundtable of fully-vetted consultants which are central to the integrity of our operational framework as a network and thesis behind the capacity building and the collaborative impact of our ecosystem. Effectively, TFF is the middle ground, building a bridge between non-profits and consultants and it was refreshing for both our GPNP members and consultants on the call to hear such a powerful testimony on the efficacy of our approach from Jerome. Specifically, Jerome expounded upon four critical areas and ways that consultants can support non-profit organizations in the strategic planning process:
- Environmental Scan – one of the most crucial portions of the plan as we survey clients, residents, funders, and partners, and scan programs and services to gauge if we’re hitting the mark and moving the needle with those we serve. The scan is essential in helping us see how people on the outside view our work (supporters and detractors alike).
- Strategic Plan – the environmental scan lays the foundation for your strategic plan. The consultant helps the organization align the strategic plan “for fit” with goals, objectives, and mission and fine tune what the organization specifically needs to address (e.g. board development, staff development, calibrating fundraising with service levels). Soliciting the input and support of an outside consultant(s) is of particular concern for non-profits entering into a shift and mapping a pivot into new services and programs.
- Business Plan – consultants are in a unique position to leverage their skill set and lens to assist with developing and incorporating a business plan within the strategic plan that can also stand alone. As OBB started to become a fiscal agent for the community, owning property, etc., it became necessary to map that out in a formal business plan which fosters sustainability and alternative revenue streams, as well as fees for services (compensating for the loss of potential funding).
- Implementation Plan – as external support actively participates as part of various resource groups for clients, consultants are uniquely poised to help non-profits with resource management and drawing lines of demarcation around who is doing what.
Answering The Call For OBB’s RFP Response: Strategic Plan, Financial Plan, and Fundraising Strategy
In addition, Jerome was also forthright in discussing the outcomes they are seeking to achieve from the external community of experts and consultants with the release of their recent RFP.
Through this RFP process, OBB is seeking a consulting partner(s) to help develop a strategic plan, financial strategy and fundraising plan for the first part of the next 50 years of OBB. The strategic plan will determine the mix of products and services that OBB will need to support its mission over the next three to five years.
OBB expects the plan to include the following elements:
- Analysis of important trends impacting the Homewood community;
- Exploration of the demand for programs and services from residents;
- Assessment of the local ecosystem to identify:
- partnership opportunities;
- opportunities to leverage assets;
- product and service gaps;
- Identification of future staff competencies and roles;
- Assessment of business and technology system requirements;
- Recommendations to strengthen organizational governance.
- The financial plan will outline a business model needed to achieve the mission as outlined in the strategic plan. We expect the plan will:
- Suggest an ideal mix of sources (public, private, philanthropic, etc.) to ensure sustainability, with annual fundraising goals;
- Identify potential funders and funding sources for OBB, and recommend the level of funding each key investor or source may be able to provide;
- Advise OBB in the development of a communications strategy for potential investors and partners;
- Identify practices and procedures for managing donor relationships;
- Provide an assessment of threats to each potential funding source; and
- Establish fundraising schedules based on budget and funding cycles.
Funding to develop the strategic and financial plan is being provided by several long-standing investors in OBB. If interested, the consultant(s) should expect to frequently engage with the staff and board of OBB in developing the strategic and financial plan. Jerome’s response to one of the questions raised on the call regarding what OBB looks for in a consultant was quite telling as it relates to selection criteria in a way that should benefit us all – directly engaging in the kitchen table conversations that allow us to hear from the communities we are serving. As Jerome indicated, the consultant will also be expected to engage Homewood residents, current and potential partners, and investors at several points in the process of developing the plan. In terms of timing, OBB would like to have a consultant identified by the end of this month, the draft framework or outline of a plan in place within three months, and a final deliverable in the form of a report complete around the end of the first quarter of 2023 (or six months from the start of the project).
Here are your handles and the next steps to engage in OBB’s RFP process!
- While the RFP is now active, and submissions are due on October 17th, Jerome indicated some flexibility in the process and encouraged our consultants, experts, and community to consider submitting a response to the RFP and, perhaps, collaborating with other consultants to deliver collective impact. To that end, through the RFP, OBB is not only looking to learn more about potential partners that can help develop a strategic plan, financial strategy, and fundraising plan, but they are also seeking to learn more about how it might consider approaching the process.
- OBB welcomes your input into their approach and encourages our community to offer advice and challenge their assumptions in your response. Ultimately, OBB will use RFP responses and interviews to select a consultant to be their partner. As Jerome also indicated on the call, OBB isn’t looking to single-source just one consultant in this process but, perhaps, two or three – one to focus on the strategic plan, one to focus on the financial plan, and one to focus on the development or fundraising strategy. Remember, when it comes to shifting from transactional to transformational (collective) impact, teamwork makes the dream work!
- When OBB shared the RFP with a list of consultants, they also shared a copy of the strategic plan and a recently-completed environmental scan. Please treat the environmental scan as a confidential document. If you did not receive copies of these materials, please contact OBB Executive Director, Jerome Jackson via email, at email@example.com. You can also visit their website at www.obbinc.org.
This Week’s Call For Community Solutions UN Sustainable Development Goals & Social Determinants of Health Framework Alignment
This week’s call and discussion demonstrated broad goal alignment within our core framework of the 17 UN Sustainable Development Goals, specifically goals #8 (Decent Work & Economic Growth); #9 (Industry Innovation & Infrastructure); #10 (Reduced Inequalities); and #16 (Peace, Justice & Strong Institutions) – as a function of the viability of strong grassroots community organization and legacy institution like OBB with a core value around community transformation from the bottom up, including innovative approaches to building infrastructure through cluster planning. To that end, given its bottom-up approach and direct engagement of mobilizing residents to galvanize their personal agency, block by block, and assume a primary role in the shaping of community development goals and objectives, OBB is clearly aligned with the Neighborhood & Build Environment Social Determinants of Health.
As always, reach out, share feedback or schedule a one-on-one discussion to go deeper: