• Melinda Steffy

CASE STUDY: Philadelphia Robotics Coalition

SECTOR: Education, STEM

TIMEFRAME: 2020-2022 (ongoing)

SERVICES: 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.

Melinda Steffy next led a "mini" strategic planning process. The scaled-back process — aligned with the organization's scale — involved 4 focus groups with board, staff, coaches, and students; a survey to all stakeholders; and the creation of a Big Question, 5 strategic priorities, and related tactics for each. The Big Question is a "North Star" that provides overarching direction for the entire organization. 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. We 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, we also remain engaged in carrying out the development plan and various communications projects for the Coalition. Melinda is the Coalition's grantwriter, raising $238,000 in new grant funding in 2021 — more than 3 times their prior budget size. In 2022, we are working with staff to launch a new individual giving campaign and expand corporate sponsorship outreach.

To aid fundraising efforts, we interviewed and took photographs of students, so we can use students' own words to describe the impact of the Coalition.

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.”

a group of 8 elementary school students pose with fingers in peace signs and arms around one another.
5th grade participants in Philadelphia Robotics Coalition programs. Photo by Melinda Steffy.