What We Learned from Strategic Planning at Mechon Hadar
November 27th, 2017
Editor’s Note: More than four years ago, Mechon Hadar—an educational institution that empowers Jews to create and sustain vibrant, practicing, egalitarian communities of Torah learning, prayer, and service—received an infusion of investments that helped catapult it from “start-up to second-stage.” Since that time, Mechon Hadar experienced dramatic increases in programming, impact, and organizational sustainability, with an expanded donor base and number of students. As a result, it is a leading institution in the Jewish non-denominational educational space.
Earlier this year, Mechon Hadar completed a strategic planning process to outline a growth plan moving forward. Rabbi Elie Kaunfer, President and CEO of Mechon Hadar, offers reflections and lessons learned from that process:
If infancy was about surviving, and second-stage was about growing, what comes next? What do we do with investments in our organizational growth? Create more programs? Reach more students? Add more staff? While we certainly strive to answer affirmatively to these questions, the most important part of our current growth has been a focus on long-term strategic planning, a first for our organization.
Our experiences, lessons learned, and subsequent paths forward we believe offer important insights for any organization considering, or about to undergo, a similar process.
How We Arrived at This Point
Mechon Hadar was founded in 2006 to empower a generation of Jews to create and sustain vibrant, practicing, egalitarian communities of Torah learning, prayer, and service. In the first three years, Mechon Hadar’s budget grew from $240,000 to $660,000. In its third year, Hadar received four multi-year grants: a three-year signature Covenant grant ($153,000), a three-year AVI CHAI Fellowship award ($225,000), a renewable $150,000 grant from the UJA-Federation of New York, and, most significantly, a five-year $1,375,000 challenge grant from the Jim Joseph Foundation. Following a 3-year renewal from Jim Joseph totaling $600,000, Hadar received a $150,000 grant from the Foundation for the explicit purpose of strategic planning in 2015.
At the time, most of the start-ups emerging into second-stage space had not invested significant dollars in strategic planning, and Hadar was no exception (The newly launched Project Accelerate, of which Mechon Hadar was a grantee, is starting to change that trend). Without the Jim Joseph Foundation grant, Hadar’s board would never have approved such a large (relative to our budget) expenditure for planning. But the significant investment allowed Hadar to work with top-tier consultants from TCC Group, and the impact was significant. Following the plan adoption, board members started to increase their gifts significantly—not just in terms of dollars, but also length of time. They finally felt excited and confident enough about the organization’s future to make multi-year gifts, often for the life of the four-year plan.
But the planning process was far from smooth, and we want to offer three ways in which the production of the plan and its eventual adoption was surprising:
Of course we recognize that the success of a strategic planning process is not the quality of the report but the degree to which its recommendations and insights can be put into action. It is a means to an end, not an end in and of itself. And so, while these reflections share some of the deeply valuable lessons learned and insights we gained through this process, the real test begins now. Can we build on these lessons? Can we effectively implement our plans? We hope—and are confident—that our actions will answer these questions with a resounding “Yes.”
Rabbi Elie Kaunfer is President and CEO of Mechon Hadar