Agency letting go of the ‘good’ to achieve the ‘great’

by Jan Lewis

Three years ago, I wrote in this column about a strategic planning process that the organization was undertaking.

In it I shared these words: “During its 50-plus-year history, Catholic Charities has had the opportunity to venture out in many directions and, as a result, we have experienced what is often known as ‘mission drift.’ It is not that the things we are doing are not good, but they may not be the right things that will allow us to fulfill our mission to the fullest.”

It is hard to believe that three years have passed by so quickly, but I am encouraged by the fact that we are making progress toward our vision of serving with love and creating communities where neighbors are helping neighbors. This past year, the board of directors and program staff participated in an in-depth audit process to determine if our many and varied ministries were delivering impactful services to the communities in which we live.

You will hear many organizations today talking about “impact,” including most community United Ways and charitable foundations. Each one has a different definition of what impact means for them.

One organization may be interested in improving reading scores for third-graders in its school district. Another may want to focus on reducing childhood obesity through healthy diet and exercise programs, while a third is trying increase financial literacy for low-income families.

As part of our audit process, Catholic Charities of Northeast Kansas had to define what impact meant for our organization. The board identified five factors that we would use in measuring the impact of the services that we provide. A program must: 1) fulfill the Gospel mandate to feed the hungry, give drink to the thirsty, welcome the stranger, care for the sick or visit the prisoner; 2) fill a service gap in the community; 3) be something that we are competent to deliver; 4) engage the talent of volunteers, parishioners and other people of goodwill in carrying out the work; and 5) reach, or have the potential to reach, across the 21 counties of northeast Kansas.

Armed with these new criteria, we were able to take a critical look at all of the work we were doing. It was a soul-searching and, at times, gut-wrenching task. As I said three years ago, everything we were doing was “good work,” but sometimes you have to let go of the good to achieve something great. Or, in more theological terms, you can’t have a resurrection without a death.

And so, we have let the sun set on some well-loved programs and are watching the sun rise on new and exciting initiatives that will carry us forward into the next three years and beyond.

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