A MULTI-YEAR, MULTI-DISCIPLINARY STRATEGY FOR THE JUNIOR LEAGUE OF THE FUTURE
As illustrated by the AJLI leadership team at the 92nd Annual Conference in St. Louis, this spring brought the eagerly anticipated announcement that key elements of The Junior League Transformation were ready to roll out to Leagues and League members.
“This is a fast, high-tech, connected age when women lead lives that are more demanding and complicated than they were in 1901,” says AJLI Executive Director Susan Danish. The genesis of the Transformation, she explains, was the intensive research conducted several years ago to ascertain where the League stood in members’ eyes and on the nonprofit landscape in general—as well as what it needed to offer to aspiring and existing women leaders to remain relevant, competitive and sustainable.
“We are deliberately and thoughtfully evolving into an organization poised to continue tackling the pressing issues of our second century with all of the knowledge, skills and tools available to us in this age—and with all of the successful community impact The Junior League’s highly qualified civic leaders are known for.”
On the local level, Danish says the innovations make for strong Leagues, which consist of three fundamental components: an ability to make a meaningful impact on the community, governance and management systems that make for well-run operations, and a member-centric experience.
PARTS OF A WHOLE
The Association’s Transformation is comprised of three essential elements. There are new systems of community impact, governance and member engagement that will transform Leagues’ ability to remain competitive. A new Learning Strategy makes available high-quality information and resources to all Junior League members through a central Resource Library at the Association. And One Network will create a common web platform linking Leagues and League members together across the Association.
“Now everything is coming together,” says Anne Dalton, AJLI’s Chief Officer for Strategic Initiatives who has overseen the Action Learning Team (ALT) process.
NEW SYSTEMS FOR LEADERSHIP
By the Leagues and for the Leagues, the new Governance and Management System that separates League governance from League management and the new Community Impact Model that builds a system that enables Leagues to create sustainable change by focusing on issues was made available to all interested Leagues as of this past July. The new Membership Model will follow in 2015.
Burned out leaders, long board meetings focused almost exclusively on day-to-day operations, committees feeling micromanaged, and Leagues less and less likely to be invited “to the table” to discuss critical community issues were some of the challenges indicating a need for a new League governance and management system. The new model creates a governing board whose primary focus is outward and future-oriented and a management team whose major responsibilities are to ensure the League operates effectively and efficiently today.
Marika Sykora, outgoing President of The Junior League of San Jose, says the ALT process came along just as her League was pondering the divide between the roles of the two functions.
“Our leaders wanted to focus on strategy but they were mired in the day to day,” she says. “A fund development leader should be able to think about how they will be getting dollars for next year, not stuck managing today’s fundraiser.”
She says she found the opportunity to trade best practices and ask questions of her cohort Leagues to be extremely valuable, as she did the support she received from AJLI. Her League voted to separate the two functions beginning June 1.
What surprised Tina Wesoloskie, the ALT Committee Chair for The Junior League of Phoenix, was the amount of work her ALT group was willing to put in to develop and implement the changes to their systems.
“We accomplished some profound, complex tasks throughout these years,” she says. The League not only adopted the new structures but also revised bylaws, articles of incorporation and other governing documents.
Ultimately, hundreds of hours of strategic thinking, a long-term time-frame, complete transparency and comprehensive member education left little resistance to the adoption of the new structure. And it provided for some friendly competition in the race to fill leadership positions.
“Long-term, we hope to decrease the number of members leaving the League due to burn-out. A healthy, forward-focused League will be the key to keeping our members happy and engaged.”
MEANINGFUL COMMUNITY CHANGE
Ashley Ryder of The Junior League of Central & North Brevard has had a front-row seat to the action on Issue-Based Community Impact. Her Florida-based League was looking to cycle out of a 10-year-old project serving a home for children in foster care.
“Issue-Based Community Impact showed us that you don’t have to invest in bricks and mortar to put something into action,” she says. “The size of the League doesn’t matter. You can build a program and make an impact with limited resources.”
THE SIZE OF THE LEAGUE DOESN’T MATTER. YOU CAN BUILD A PROGRAM AND MAKE AN IMPACT WITH LIMITED RESOURCES.
Now the League is focused on a literacy program for low-income children that offers several opportunities for summer reading to mitigate what is known as “the slide.” Members researched the new initiative for a year; it has led to numerous collaborative relationships in the literacy space. Partners include the Boys & Girls Club, the United Way and YMCA. The League has even put together a literacy coalition for the area that meets quarterly.
“We have so many more partnerships than we did before and we are more collaborative and strategic,” she says.
Janine le Sueur, AJLI’s Director of Education & Programs calls the issue-based platform “foundational” to leadership development and impact. As the facilitator for those teams, she says her greatest takeaway is that the roll-out of the Community Impact model is a guided learning journey that touches all stages of the process, from issue-education for members to strategy formulation.
Nicole Penar, who’d been a member of The Junior League of Fort Wayne for only one year when she was chosen to represent her League in the ALT process, is both frank and grateful in discussing her experience.
To Leagues considering a move from a project-based to a issue-based community impact model, Penar says she would want them to know what it entails. “Because it
was our first time, the research and education phases did take time, but the process is well worth it.”
Personally, she says she honed several skills, including facilitating, letting go, delegating tasks to others and providing her fellow members with an opportunity to accomplish an objective—techniques she believes will come in handy in the rest of her life.
“We’re very informed about our community,” she says, emphasizing the importance of finding a niche within an issue area and becoming known as an advocate. “We’re very excited to move on and ready to go.”
Le Sueur says, “This is a soup-to-nuts process that embeds leadership impact into the culture of the League. We have to be part of a community-wide conversation that empowers all segments of the population to voice their dreams and aspirations.”
MAKING FRUITFUL CONNECTIONS
While many Leagues are redesigning their systems for crucial League functions, AJLI is answering the five critical questions of the Strategic Roadmap. Among them are: expanding access to learning opportunities that support all members as civic leaders, connecting Leagues to one another, enhancing how Leagues can learn from and collaborate with one another and managing a robust knowledge center.
“Beginning in the 2014-15 League year, One Network will begin to connect Leagues and members with each other and AJLI through a single, Association-wide database,” says Laurie Dodge, who is overseeing the initiative along with Dave Bracchitta, AJLI’s Information Technology Manager and Michelle Gorenstein, AJLI’s Creative Director.
“By harnessing readily available technology to strengthen our organization and bring us closer together, it will help us work more effectively and efficiently, and enhance the member experience.”
The sparkling cache of features includes detailed League and member profiles that depict programs, focus areas and leadership achievements. There is a robust Resource Library that includes assets curated and cataloged by Inés Sucre, AJLI’s Knowledge Manager. Also in the mix is a Learning Portal that embodies the ultimate on-demand, self-guided educational experience with discrete curricula focused on Community Impact and Organizational Management, both of which were made available to members this summer. The module dedicated to Governance is slated for an unveiling this fall. The Portal, which is managed by Director of Learning JuWon Choi, also offers semi-monthly webinars featuring experts on topics like leadership and philanthropy and known as Webinar Wednesdays.
“These are forward-reaching features bundled together in an easily navigated package and as smart and efficient as anything available to organizations and businesses today,” says Dodge.
And, in a boon to League members, all of the content is accessible with a single sign-on that permits travel among and between League websites and AJLI’s online channels.
FINDING THE FUNDING
For the past two years the Association has been hard at work on a diversified fund development strategy. It constitutes the first coordinated effort in decades—and on a national level—to secure the Association’s financial health with revenue streams other than dues.
“All of the important, strategic innovations that we are making as an organization require dollars,” says Dodge, who is guiding a diversification effort with the contributing expertise of past and current AJLI Board members.
“Given our model’s inherent limitations on things like member outreach, we’ve made a thoughtful, gradual start,” she says. “But it’s been impressive given the context.”
To read more about AJLI’s Fund Development effort, see page 21 of the print edition of connected.
Anne Dalton may put the finishing touch on the meaning of this moment in the history of The Junior League.
“We are ensuring that The Junior League continues to be a formidable contender for women looking to lead in their communities on a schedule that suits their lives today.”
To read more about our Transformation, visit the “Transformation” section of ajli.org’s Member Area.This article was originally featured in the print edition of connected.