The staff and board of Real Change just spent a hot, sunny weekend in a large room at Seattle University. We plotted and planned our future over box lunches, gallons of juice and coffee and great slabs of chocolate cake and pie. We sang happy birthday to our dedicated board president, who spent both Saturday and Sunday in our company despite the occasion.
We all emerged, I think, feeling seriously high, and it wasn’t just the caffeine, carbs, heat and off-key harmonies.
Strategic planning isn’t always a phrase that inspires passion and excitement. It’s been said that the difference between a plan and a strategic plan is that the latter involves hiring a consultant. It can be a bloodless sort of exercise. Real Change, however, is not that sort of an organization, nor did we hire that sort of consultant. Bloodless we are not.
We’re still a good way from having the 2015-2017 plan all wrapped up with pretty language and timelines and deliverables. But we can say a lot about where we’ve been and where we are. At more that 10 quarters through our 2012-2014 strategic plan, we’ve done well and learned from both our successes and failures.
In 2011, when our current plan was formed, Real Change had recently arrived at our new office at First and Main in Pioneer Square. The move was hotly contested. Some felt strongly that our arrival marked the tipping point at which Seattle’s historic district would degenerate into empty storefronts, punctuated only by rampant street alcoholism and junkie crime. Reports of Pioneer Square’s imminent death were greatly exaggerated.
We were still recovering from a capacity crisis that had nearly floored us a few years earlier. The intensity of our advocacy around homeless sweeps and other oppression aimed at the “unsightly poor” had combined with radical growth in our vendor numbers to leave us depleted, underfunded and overwhelmed.
Staff and board turnover was high. As an organization, we were living on the edge, floating payroll between fund drive cycles on a line of credit and relying on faith, magic, heart and grit to get by. These qualities are part of what makes Real Change so special, but we found they are not inexhaustible.
We’ve obviously survived and then some. We’ve added staff and twice expanded our footprint at First and Main to add space for administration, organizing and community meetings. Somewhat ironically, we’ve become paid-up members of the Pioneer Square Business Improvement Area and have excellent neighborhood relationships.
Thanks mostly to the growing strength of our grassroots support, we have a reserve fund of more than $116,000, and we no longer depend on our line of credit to pay staff.
We’ve regained much of the organizing capacity we sacrificed five years ago to invest in operational stability. This was a hard choice, but one we’ve come back from. We’ve reinvested in grassroots vendor involvement in advocacy and organizing. We’ve based that work in Real Change’s authentic cross-class values and community engagement, and we continue to build upon that strength.
We raised the price of Real Change to $2, and vendors are earning more money in less time. We’ve experimented with regional expansion and opened satellite distribution offices in Bremerton and Bellevue. The experience has been mixed and has not often gone according to plan, but we’re bringing a lot of hard won experience into the work going forward.
After 20 years, Real Change is more committed to our core values of courage, creativity, community, compassion and integrity than ever. I passed my 600-word limit halfway through this sentence, so the direction for 2015-2017 will have to come later, but you’re gonna like it. A lot.
The 20th anniversary breakfast is Sept. 18. You need to be there for the reveal. Email firstname.lastname@example.org for details. We’re just getting warmed up.