To Sustain Your Mission, Take Care of Your Strategic Plan
As Audubon International celebrates 35 years in service of creating and nurturing environmental sustainability for the places people live, work and play — the linchpin of our organization’s mission and programming — it’s an apt time for me, as CEO, to take stock of our strategic plan.
In fact, as we all slowly emerge on the other side of the biggest health challenge our planet has faced in a century, and so much rapid and rampant change in climate, culture, technology, economic conditions, and other elements of modern life, it’s the perfect opportunity for all nonprofits to review their strategic plans. For some, it’s also time to discern how to kickstart the plan back into effective, measurable action after several years in limbo.
When I took on the leadership of Audubon International in 2016 after many years in both the nonprofit and for-profit sectors, I saw that the mission had remained clear and stable since the organization’s 1987 inception — which was a strategic and philosophical outgrowth of the original conservation-driven Audubon Society dating back to the days of Theodore Roosevelt.
Today, we’re dedicated to creating, developing, teaching and certifying environmentally sound practices and sustainability methods to mostly private member companies in the recreation and hospitality industries — from golf courses to resorts to corporate office parks. It was and still is a strong and sound mission, but as with all nonprofits, we put an eye toward broadening our certification programs (we now offer six), building our membership base (we work with properties in all 50 U.S. states, every Canadian province and 34 other countries), and growing our team of operations and certifications experts.
We have succeeded in all those areas and are on track to grow even more in the coming months and years. Keeping our current strategic plan in place and central to our day-to-day decision making is key to that expected growth.
Like most nonprofits, our revenue model rests on a familiar three-legged stool — member dues, private contributions from individual donors, and grants or sponsorships for programming or events. Dues remain the biggest source, so adding new members is a big part of our strategic plan.
Our team remains focused on reaching out to prospective members and taking the best possible care of our existing ones by keeping them updated on certification requirements, best practices, and new sustainability techniques and technologies. The pandemic presented myriad issues as we were forced to close our office building in upstate New York and work remotely. We couldn’t make site visits for a while, for instance — but we found our way through it.
We remained a strong partner for our members. Somewhat ironically, the boom of the golf course business over the past two-plus years as people sought safe outdoor activities, and craved nature, only helped keep our organization stable and vital to member operations. Now we are seeing an uptick from municipalities and homeowners associations as they strive to make their communities’ HVAC and electrical systems more efficient. Again, our stated mission, and the expertise we employ to carry it out, has only fed our commitment to the strategic plan.
In short, it’s all about avoiding the mission creep that can arise from disruption or interruption, serving your members well, and staying true to the plan no matter what.
All organizations go through change, but the main focus is to maintain or rebuild relationships, let people know you are still here, and that you have a strategic plan for the long haul. Then you must prove it. Each CEO has a vision of where their company can or should go, but implementing that vision can be anywhere from good to difficult. Even under the best circumstances, it takes a long time to get everything running smoothly. It’s important to have a strong mission, to adhere to that mission and to choose a leadership style that connects with your supporters.
Christine Kane joined Audubon International in 2016. As the organization’s CEO, she is responsible for all aspects of the nonprofit’s operations, including its core certification programs, member services, conservation initiatives, and human and financial resources.
Christine has worked at the senior management level in the nonprofit sector for more than 25 years and is skilled in program development, strategic planning, fundraising and communications. Her experience in the environmental sector includes work on a wide range of environmental issues, including hazardous waste site identification, BMPs for non-point source water pollution and land conservation.
In addition, Christine is vice president of the board of trustees for The FairWays Foundation, which provides grants for conservation-based projects around the world.
She holds a Master of Science degree in nonprofit management and philanthropy from Bay Path University, a Bachelor of Science in forestry from the SUNY College of Environmental Science and Forestry and the CFRE credential.