CASE STUDY: Philadelphia Robotics Coalition
SECTOR: Education, STEM
TIMEFRAME: 2020-2022 (ongoing)
SERVICES: Organizational Development, Strategic Planning, Development Planning, Executive Hiring, Grantwriting, Individual Giving Campaign
Although the Philadelphia Robotics Coalition has been running programming since 2016, they are still in many ways in start-up mode. For their first several years, their programs were managed by a 2-person, part-time staff team and a small board of directors. They had wide reach through their afterschool robotics teams, but limited human capacity for operations and organizational development.
The Coalition has an ambitious vision. They want every Philadelphia public school student to have access to a high-quality robotics program in their school or community. By early 2020, it was clear that to achieve this vision, they needed to shift into a next stage of organizational life.
The Coalition initially engaged Concentric Strategy to create a development plan that would support programmatic growth and the eventual hiring of a full-time executive director. The resulting plan outlined a portfolio of more than 35 foundation and corporate prospects focused on STEM education and youth programming. It was designed to be achievable with the current staff structure: starting with a small number of prospects highly likely to fund the organization, and expanding as the staff team grew.
Melinda Steffy next led a "mini" strategic planning process. The process followed Concentric Strategy's standard strategic planning approach — surveying the landscape, identifying a North Star, and creating a road map — but each step was scaled-back to align with the organization's current stage. We started off with focus groups for board, staff, coaches, and students and a survey for all stakeholders, to better understand the Coalition's challenges and opportunities. Then, we guided board and staff in the creation of a Big Question, Identity Statement, and 5 strategic priorities with tactics for each.
In many ways, the Big Question is the most important tool. It serves as the "North Star," providing overarching direction for the entire organization and allowing everyone to implement strategy in real time. For the Coalition, the clear theme that emerged from all focus groups was EQUITY, and board and staff quickly settled on their Big Question: "How can the Coalition use robotics programs to drive equitable STEM education for Philadelphia students?"
A board member responded to the final plan, saying:
"This is simply outstanding! Comprehensive and thoughtful and dutifully captured our conversations and imaginings. I walked in distracted by the constant, painful world noise and the feeling I have sat through too many of these strategic sessions, but the deliverables and tangible next steps are extremely energizing and create a path forward worth following."
By early 2021, the Coalition was ready to hire their first full-time Executive Director. Concentric Strategy led the hiring committee in developing a job description, determing the hiring process, interviewing candidates, and ultimately hiring a highly qualified candidate with deep Philadelphia roots.
Through all of this, Concentric Strategy also remains engaged in carrying out the development plan for the Coalition. Melinda serves as the Coalition's grantwriter, raising $238,000 in new grant funding in 2021, the first year of grant writing — more than 3 times their prior budget size.
In 2022, Concentric Strategy developed the Coalition's first individual giving campaign with two goals: 1) to increase awareness about robotics and the Coalition's work, and 2) to begin building a base of individual donors, including both major donors and grassroots support. The campaign was based on a crowdsourcing model, with frequent touch points during a short period of time.
For the campaign, Melinda interviewed and took photographs of students. She then created a series of social media and blog posts using the students' own words to describe the impact of the Coalition.
As this was the board's first experience as fundraisers and ambassadors, Melinda developed a toolkit with tips and templates to make it easy for board members to spread the word about the campaign.
As 5th grader Nia says:
“I love how you can work together to do what’s possible. You can also help people who need help. You don’t want to say, “Oh, I can do this by myself, I don’t need you to help me.” You need to work together in order to do the project.”