What’s clear is that Association Members don’t hesitate to vote with their feet and go somewhere else. Business challenges and an uncertain economy are causing professionals to evaluate how they invest time and money. Recognizing this trend, Boards seize upon the opportunity to reimagine their Association through their Strategic Planning Process. Reimagination occurs through the eyes of the Member in what is identified as “outside in” strategic planning. A highly successful example of this type of approach was utilized by the United States Naval Academy Alumni Association.
In August of 2022, the Board of Trustees launched an overarching and ambitious strategic planning process. A Strategic Planning Committee, led by a member of the Board of Trustees with a strong background in executive leadership and strategic planning, was directed to look beyond the norm to help:
- Identify how the Association was currently adding value.
- Surface new opportunities to create a value proposition that would work for all member segments.
- Engage Alumni from the day they entered the U.S. Naval Academy through the balance of their lives.
- Formulate a high impact mission that attracted all Alumni.
- Develop initiatives that are spoken from the voice of the member.
- Assess all programs and their impact on member outcomes.
- Determine Key Performance Indicators that measure the success of the plan over ten years.
- Deliver a reimagined pathway to engage its 69,000 member Alumni base.
Guided by research, the committee identified the current state of play, the key drivers, and the outcomes that their Members needed to achieve. The research driven process launched with intensive qualitative and quantitative research to understand the Member’s “awake at night” challenges and the desired future direction that Members wanted to see followed. “From the outset, the Committee needed get a firm grasp on where things stood. The research was the perfect launching pad to help us get there”, noted Committee Chair Jim Schwab.
The committee was formed with the capabilities to execute the goals of the study as well as maximize the perspectives of all Members of the Association. It consisted of 15 highly engaged Members that represented over 40 years of Alumni, were highly diverse, and came from a variety of backgrounds. Membership included BOT Members, class presidents, chapter leaders, current and former Association and USNA employees, career military, business leaders, as well as a parent of two midshipmen who was also president of his region’s parent’s club. The new CEO of the Association was a member of the committee and he and his team took ownership of the results.
The committee convened in November of 2022 in Annapolis to review the research and begin to construct the new plan. The research confirmed that the Alumni Association should continue to reinforce a tradition of service and provide networking opportunities for Alumni. However, there were also new opportunities that surfaced:
- Providing connectedness throughout Members’ lives.
- Effective communication/ promotion.
- Building/supporting strong Chapters.
- Providing strong value for Alumni.
- Providing an inclusive environment.
- Regularly conduct/share research/data to help Members advance their careers.
Utilizing the research, the Committee formulated a purpose statement (value proposition), and a vision statement (strategic objective). Both set the foundation in place and would help drive the Association’s reimagination. “Once we reached consensus, we were energized and ready to move the planning process forward” added Jim Schwab.
Unlike other Strategic Plans, this one speaks in third person, from the “voice of the member.” Each of the four Strategic Initiatives reflects the research and addresses the new opportunities that the Members wanted to see in a new plan.
4 Strategic Initiatives – In four lines of effort, my Alumni Association will…)
Jeff Webb, President & CEO of the Alumni Association views the new initiatives as excellent opportunities to deliver value and engage Members. “Each of these initiatives are a delivery platform that opens new doors to our Members.”
The committee completed its work in April of 2023, and the new Strategic Plan was approved by the Board of Trustees in May.
Research keeps Associations connected to Member problems that need to be solved. Associations like the United States Naval Academy Alumni Association are embracing the new value imperative. In an era when Members easily fire their Associations, their Board, Committee and the staff understood the new reality. That’s why the Board and its leadership embraced this moment as a change management opportunity and engaged early on to provide strategic guidance to the Committee. Throughout the process, all stakeholders embraced research along with an “outside in” perspective. Most importantly, they developed an actionable Strategic Plan that spoke from the voice of the Member.
Members of the committee included Jim Schwab ’88, Chair, Major General Leo Williams ’70, USMC (retired), Vice Chair, Kevin Stone ’76, Terri Maginnis ’82, Henry Stoever ’88, Tony Sanchez ’91, JoAnna Sohovich ’93, Enochia Anderson ’94, Lieutenant Colonel MJ Pallotta ’94 USMC, Jeff Webb ’95, President/CEO of the Alumni Association, Brian DeJarnett ’98, Jen Tyll ’01, Donnie Horner ’08, Lieutenant Commander Adam Johnson ’13, USN, Lieutenant Craig Veech ’13, USN, Evan Forrester, USNA Parent, and Ex Officio Members Admiral Mark Ferguson ’78 (retired), Association Chair, & Lieutenant General Dave Beydler ’81, USMC (retired), Association Vice Chair.