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Investing in the Strength to Do More

Posted by Cecilia Garza

Photo / Friends of the Children

When Kelly Stockman McKee learned of an executive director opening at Friends of the Children, she knew it was going to be the perfect fit for her next role as a nonprofit leader. With 20 years of experience developing programs to improve the well-being of Washington children and families, she was drawn by Friends’ approach to providing young people with long-term mentors. But Friends’ partnership with SVP solidified her vision of leading the organization.

“Having the SVP investment was one of the things that attracted me to Friends of the Children,” says Kelly. “I was excited that there was an organization that was investing in capacity building to make it sustainable and strong.”

Beginning in 2009, SVP’s investment in Friends of the Children came at a difficult time for all nonprofits. Despite a grim recession, with former-SVP Partner Christine Martin’s guidance, in just the first year the organization underwent a successful strategic planning process and leadership transition. For Kelly, this was a sign that Friends had the right partnerships in place to make sustainable organizational change.

Now, eight years later, Kelly is preparing for her exit as the executive director. Looking back on her time with Friends, she also reflects on SVP.

“I’m really proud of the foundation that we laid during our time with SVP,” says Kelly. “Walking away, Friends of the Children was able to develop data-driven fundraising strategies, implement a strong strategic plan, and lead successful transitions for board leadership. SVP put us in the habit of developing our capacity, while also growing and enhancing our services.”

With SVP Lead Partner Walter Impert’s support, Kelly engaged board members to help track projects with SVP. The team had to put some of projects on longer timelines while Friends worked to raise money in the midst of an economic downturn and Kelly got to know Friends’ work. But the board’s involvement prioritizing Friends’ organizational strength later translated into a new culture of capacity building. Not to mention, Walter and former SVP Partners Lisa Murphy and Kristen Bauer now sit on Friends’ board continuing to steward the work.

“When Paul Shoemaker left, I told him that year, ‘What SVP did was not only make an important investment in Friends of the Children, but instilled that culture of capacity building which then enabled us to infuse capacity building into every strategic plan since then,’” explains Kelly.

In addition to partner-led projects in IT, marketing and board governance, a combination of SVP Partner support, consulting funds, and a scholarship for UW’s Nonprofit Executive Leadership Institute offered peer support and coaching that set Kelly up to tackle ambitious goals over the last eight years.

“At the time I felt like it was icing on the cake, and now that I look back, I realize that that investment in my leadership as an executive director really paid off for the organization,” says Kelly.

Kelly’s development complimented larger efforts with Friends. The organization underwent strategic planning both in the first year of investment as well as the last year of investment. The process challenged the organization to unearth the big questions facing the next five years, validated alignment on Friends’ vision and helped the group come together around goal setting.

“Why is Friends of the Children here, what difference is it making, what is our vision, and what is it that Friends of the Children does best?” explains Kelly.

What Friends does best is provide children with the individual, committed care they need be successful in college or a career. Research has shown that the single most important factor for building resiliency in children who face the highest risks is a long-term, consistent relationship with a caring adult. By providing weekly professional mentoring through high school graduation, Friends of the Children commits to the success of Seattle Public School students with the highest risk of drop out, teen parenthood, or criminal activity and incarceration. But the inequities facing young people today have emphasized Friends’ need to reach more students than ever.

That’s why Kelly has since led the organization through incredible growth. Parallel to SVP’s involvement, Friends has doubled in revenue and children served. And today they are in their second year of a four-year expansion to double the number of children served again.

Reaching More Students

Friends’ 2009 strategic plan, facilitated by SVP-funded consultants, identified opportunities to expand their reach so that by 2012 — their last year as an investee — Friends was primed for growth. Just before rolling off as an investee, that same year, SVP funded consultants to facilitate a follow up strategic planning process that would guide their decisions in the years to come. Friends has not only met their goals for impact in the time since but grown their cohort of incoming children from eight to 32, committing 12.5 years of long-term, professional mentoring per child.  The number of children connected to Friends will only get bigger. Friends was recently awarded $1.2 million from the Social Innovation Fund to support continued expansion leading into 2020.

The foundational work SVP completed in those first years, are the reason Kelly has continued her learning as a member of SVP’s Strategy Community of Practice.

“When you’re in the middle of being an investee it’s a lot of work,” explains Kelly. “But after you graduate, instead of just filling that time with other things it’s so worth it to stay engaged with SVP and really tap into all that it has to offer.”

Through the community of practice, Kelly has become more acquainted with the real-time strategic plan model. She’s also been able to shadow investees who are currently undergoing planning. Just prior to her departure, Interim Executive Director at Friends, Mary Rennekamp and Kelly interviewed consultants — they can now afford — to facilitate a real-time strategic plan process for Friends.

“What SVP has been able to do is plant the seeds, lay the foundation, and see the organization through the first stages of growth,” says Kelly. “All of that is going to be able to continue.”

“Over the years I have met so many people through SVP that have been able to support us in ways that we didn’t even expect,” says Kelly. “There’s a whole community of SVP Partners that are ready to jump in and support, or advise, or link you with other resources. It’s just been so valuable.”

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