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Message from the Executive Director

Dear Friends,

I cannot express how heartbroken I’ve been feeling over the past week as an American. It’s a pain I’m sure you share with me. Then there’s the pandemic. Working as a nonprofit service provider through COVID-19 has me depleted. Finding a path forward is a challenge amidst the chaos unfolding across the country. Yet I can still find hope in the struggle of my daily work. Having a firm understanding that the core work of ROOTS has always been in changing the (food) system – and knowing that systems do not change without significant struggle and slow progress. It’s no different than the work being doing by social justice organizations trying to dismantle the many inequities that cause senseless killings of so many people of color (PoC).

I’m writing today to let you know that we can do better as an organization to ensure racial equity is embedded in our core mission and the work we do. We are predominately a white led organization and have failed in our effort to ensure PoC are represented in our leadership. We need to do better. My commitment to you is as follows;

·        I’m working with the ROOTS Board of Directors to develop a public pledge naming our commitment to racial equity and the adoption of anti-racism policies.

·        ROOTS publicly supports Black Lives Matter & the end of Police Brutality. We support the people and organizations that support this cause. We will work to listen and amplify the voice of minorities in our community. We will name racist policies and actions when we see them.

·        We will recruit PoC for representation on our Board of Directors.

·        We will recruit minority led organizations to train and educate our staff and youth in social justice reform.

I also want to hear from you. What else can we do to hold ourselves accountable? I’m starting today by asking our donors to contribute to organizations that lift up our black and brown community. This list of anti-racism organizations is a good list to consider.

I can’t help but think of the additional trauma this social unrest is causing on the children and youth who have already suffered through the isolating impact of quarantine. As we continue to mourn the death, the murder, of George Floyd, I wonder how we collectively begin the process of healing. I wonder how and if our schools will be reopening this fall. What does the healing process look like for our country? It’s unclear. What is clear is that we cannot heal without a call to justice, without policy changes locally and nationally, and without a unified commitment to dismantle white supremacy which is so deeply embedded into the fabric of American life.

Be well my friends and please take care of one another. And I will not waiver in my promise to you.

In Solidarity,

Joey Listro
Executive Director

roots new britain

Photo: Call for Justice March New Britain Courthouse

Communications Assessments:
Looking Inward to Get Your Message Outward


By David Deschenes

Build it and they will come? No. That only happens in the movies. Whether you are looking to engage new & existing donors, attract talented staff or volunteers, implement a new internal process, or make your services known to the community, effective marketing and communications practices will have a crucial bearing on your success. That’s where a communications assessment is key. [Read more…]

Hail the Unsung Heroes of Hurricane Harvey- Sharon Danosky

I am frustrated by the lack of understanding that undermines the efforts of many dedicated staff and volunteers in the nonprofit sector.

What prompts my writing was an interview I heard this morning. A non-profit executive was stating that they would be providing a full accounting next week of the funds that had been raised and spent in the relief effort for Hurricane Harvey. The reporter then asked, with a note of incredulity in her voice – “wouldn’t that be the same?” Implicit in her question was an assumption that if the funds spent were not the same as the funds raised, there must be some mismanagement or worse. [Read more…]

We have a Strategic Plan, Now What?

“Nothing happens until something moves” Albert Einstein

Ask an Executive Director or CEO if they have a strategic plan. Many will say, “Of course we do – it’s here somewhere”. Then they will reach to the top shelf of their bookcase, blow off the dust and say – here it is!  This leads me to believe that a lot of strategic plans end up as bookends or dust collectors.

We recently posted an article that discussed how the most critical part of the strategic plan is actually the planning process. If that is the case, then what do you do when the ‘planning process’ is over and how do you bring those strategies to fruition? [Read more…]

What makes for a good strategic plan? – Sharon Danosky

How relevant can a strategic plan be in a world where change occurs at such a rapid pace?   Good question.  One I would counter by asking – is there ever a time in history where life has been certain and predictable.  I highly doubt it.  So, what is the role of strategic planning – and how do you determine whether your strategic plan will be a viable document – or gather dust on a shelf?

In a June 2016 article titled, “Strategic Plans are Less Important than Strategic Planning,” written for the Harvard Business Review, Graham Kenny stresses that a strategic plan is not a device for control; rather it is one of guidance.  It is the process, not the end product that really matters.

For that reason, I think a good strategic plan must be fluid, above all else.  It is not a list of tactics or “to do” action steps that need to be taken.

The thing about strategic planning is that it creates cohesion, a unity of purpose.  Your strategies are more like the major themes you will address, rather than the specific actions you are going to take.  Almost every non-profit strategic plan will incorporate several of the following objectives:

  • Improve operational effectiveness
  • Enhance or expand programs or services
  • Strengthen governance
  • Explore and pursue strategic collaborations
  • Develop a staffing plan to meet future organizational needs
  • Achieve or build financial stability
  • Create a strong advocacy stance
  • Build community and stakeholder awareness

There is nothing magic about any of these.  Yet, through the planning process you are able to determine where your greatest vulnerabilities and opportunities are and among the eight objectives, what your primary focus should be for the next 3-5 years (recognizing that focus on all eight at once should never be an option).

The beauty lies in achieving a shared understanding of priorities among board members and staff alike.

Several years ago, a relatively new Executive Director approached me, a bit frustrated.  He told me that he had been the General Manager of a mid-sized manufacturing facility and that it was so much easier to plan and execute actions.  He said there were just a few variables and it was basically contingent on market demand and cash flow.  “Now”, he explained, “At every board meeting, some board member has a new idea, they all like the idea and now I am off exploring yet another new concept.”  While I am sure that was a bit of an exaggeration, I asked whether or not he had a strategic plan.  No, he said he did not.  And therein lies the problem.

If he did have such a plan, then it would have been relatively easy.  Every time a new great idea was presented, he could ask the question of whether – and how – the new idea fits within the strategies you outlined?  That would yield a more strategic discussion, rather than volleying around yet another new idea.

Very often boards have an almost euphoric experience after a good planning retreat and a resulting epiphany regarding the direction for the non-profit they care about.   This isn’t a result of the brilliant strategies that came about.  Rather, it was a process where everyone agreed on direction, priorities, and a sense of shared purpose.

Strategic plans are a sound basis for ongoing strategic discussion.  They must be fluid to adapt to an always-changing environment.  They have to be continuously reviewed and debated and agreed-upon.  They are the beginning of the process, not the end.