When can strategic planning be a catalyst for change?

Reimagining the future

Venerable institutions often find themselves at a crossroads: stay the course and do as you’ve done for decades, or re-examine the role you can play in serving current and new audiences? In strategic planning, sometimes the best way forward is blending “what was” with “what’s next” to reimagine the future.

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One of Philadelphia’s hidden gems, this 54-acre green space nestled in University City was an 18th century estate turned 19th century cemetery. Its history and list of interred notables reads like a who’s who of Philadelphia artists, physicians, and entrepreneurs but, as time progressed, The Woodlands struggled financially. Fairmount led a strategic planning process in 2012 to turn The Woodlands’ focus outward to address: Who lives in our community? What are their needs and interests? How do we pivot from being a gated, precious resource for scholars to a welcoming center of community? Fairmount led the process to reframe the organization’s internal narrative that it was first and foremost a cemetery and reintroduced The Woodlands as a garden of biographies with a past and present that reflect Philadelphia’s urbanization and the emergence of University City and West Philadelphia as thriving centers of community and culture. Today, what was a relatively obscure, fenced-off landmark is a prized public space amenity and home to inspiring programs for all, from booklovers and beekeepers to bike riders and dog walkers. With that shift, The Woodlands generated significant new capital to protect and enhance its structures, which are now accommodating more programming and producing new revenue streams.

The leadership of Bartram’s Garden recognized an opportunity in the making: completion of the Schuylkill River Trail would soon connect this historic property in Southwest Philadelphia to Center City and beyond. In light of new access bringing significantly more visitors to its campus, Bartram’s engaged Fairmount to assess how it could increase and diversify its revenue by tapping into this expanded market while maintaining its critically important objective of welcoming its surrounding communities. Fairmount’s evaluation and plan resulted in a pivot. Instead of focusing solely on revenue, we counseled tackling a broader question first: “How can Bartram’s Garden repackage its extraordinary assets and on-site experiences to inspire members, program participants, and new audiences to care about – and contribute to – the mission?” In collaboration with staff and board, we developed a suite of one-of-a-kind experiences as part of a holistic program distinguishing Bartram’s Garden as a vital contributor to local community development and a regional destination, while also generating additional revenue.

The leading comprehensive human services provider in Southern New Jersey, the Center for Family Services (CFS) needed a plan to continue to meet the needs of disenfranchised communities in Camden and the surrounding counties against the backdrop of ongoing changes in funding, competition, and approaches to service delivery. Fairmount worked closely with CFS leadership to organize itself for growth and then played a direct role in helping to design and secure resources for service expansion. Specifically, we wrote the proposal that led to CFS being Camden’s Head Start provider, which in turn enabled CFS to expand its early childhood and family programming and funding.