How a local nonprofit took the fast-track to organizational improvement
ConnectVA recently met up with the Executive Director of Shalom Farms, Dominic Barrett, to learn how participating in a 12 week cohort-based assessment process allowed the organization to strengthen its strategic direction.
The Organizational Improvement Process (OIP), offered by PNE’s Organizational Solutions, allows organizations to receive an in-depth look at infrastructure, operational effectiveness and sustainability, including directional strategies. Executive Directors and Board members take online assessments, attend workshops, are paired with a consultant and learn from peer organizations during the process.
Here’s what Domenic had to say about Shalom Farms and the OIP:
First, tell us a little about your organization.
Shalom Farms is a nonprofit community farm project that started in 2008 with the overarching goal of increasing food security in the Richmond region, particularly in low-income urban neighborhoods. Our work is concentrated in the East End, Southside and Northside of Richmond City, although our 6-acre farm is located in Goochland.
Our programs center around 1) growing an array of healthy produce to provide to under-served communities 2) providing introductory experiential learning opportunities for children and adults on growing food, overcoming barriers to cooking and eating nutritionally and food-based entrepreneurship, and 3) linking community groups to a wide range of resources and partners, using a strengths-based approach to build individual and community self-sufficiency.
Our work thrives because of our 4,500 volunteers who work on the farm each year to grow and harvest over 75,000 lbs. of organic produce and the partnerships that we build with other organizations with similar missions, like FeedMore, Peter Paul Development Center and CHAT.
From your point of view, what is the OIP?
The OIP, to me, was like going to a Travel Agent to plan an upcoming vacation.
While you can always plan it yourself, it’s much more efficient and effective to have an outsider who understands the process, puts a comprehensive package together for you that is heavily discounted, and sends you on a vacation with 3 of your peers who want to go on the same type of vacation as you, and you get to experience it together.
What was the need for Shalom Farms before starting OIP?
All organizations have room for growth, and we recognized that we needed support with capacity building in order to take our organization, the board, and our programming to the next level.
We believed we had 3 real core needs going into the process – 1) strategic planning, 2) a fundraising plan and 3) an understanding of our strengths in leveraging the farm and volunteer opportunities.
We knew that with any real investment, the process would take time and require attention by both me and our Board Members. After a recommendation from past participant Tricycle Gardens and learning that the other organizations in the cohort were similar in mission, size and need we decided to move forward.
What did you discover during the process?
Going through the assessment process and working with our chosen consultant, we really affirmed the needs that we believed we had going in. Now, we needed an action plan to move forward and time to break away from our programming for long-term planning.
The OIP consultant was instrumental in providing a recommendation report and a capacity building plan that reflected what we learned – sort of like a road map for our journey.
If you decide to make an investment like this, or a funder recommends going through this process, make sure to make the time for it and be clear about what it is that you want coming out of it. Be selfish about what’s best for your organization. You don’t have to know exactly what your organization needs to be successful in the process, but you should know the questions that you want answered and exactly why you are participating.
What was the impact and what’s next for your organization?
First of all, the relationships that we built, not only within our cohort, but with participating consultants in the region, have been extremely beneficial. We are now working on a Fund Development Strategy, focusing on individual donors from the priorities highlighted during the process.
Soon we will be unveiling new branding that we developed with Campfire & Co. – check out our new logo and get a preview of changes to come on our Facebook page.
We are solidifying our current programming and working on evaluation, as well as working with the City of Richmond to expand our Produce Prescription Plan into Resource Centers.
The knowledge that we gained from OIP will strategically help us as we begin early stages of farm expansion in 18 to 24 months from now and continue to bring valuable programs and resources to our community for years to come.
Are you interested in learning more about participating in Organizational Assessments or the Organizational Improvement Process? Organizational Solutions is looking for its next round of participants – applications due August 17th. Read more here.