IMPLEMENTING A NEW STRATEGY DURING RAPID CHANGE When Laura Gerald assumed the reins as President & CEO at the Kate B. Reynolds Charitable Trust, she inherited a well-established foundation with some longstanding strategic initiatives. Her predecessors had done their parts to further the foundation’s strategic thinking, but Gerald knew that it was time to update the founder’s vision into the modern context of rapid change and growing inequities. “My background is in public health and pediatrics, but this was only my second time leading a philanthropic organization,” says Gerald. “When I decided that it was time to move forward with a new strategic vision and implementation plan, I wanted a consultant with a wide purview of insight and perspectives from the philanthropic community. Kris is a credible, respected voice in the field. She shared a lot of good perspectives from various philanthropic organizations she’s worked with, but she also tailored the nature of her perspective and advice as it related to me.” Gerald chose Kris to help her think through and guide the implementation process partly because of Kris’s no-nonsense, swift, and nimble approach.
RIGOROUS ACCOUNTABILITY IS CRITICAL “For accountability purposes, we had to continue the business of grantmaking and shift our strategy at the same time. Staff really had to step up during a time of great change,” says Gerald. “Working with Kris allowed us to keep a dedicated focus on the strategic implementation process even as our grantmaking trains continued to run. Because Kris helped us simplify the strategic shift, staff were able to prioritize, accomplish everything on their plates, and implement the new strategy in less than a year.” Gerald described the relationship with Kris as both a thought partnership and an accountability structure. Kris served as a sounding board, primarily consulting directly and confidentially to Gerald. After one in-person visit to kick off the strategic implementation process, the two remained connected through a series of regularly scheduled phone calls. “Kris helped us understand the importance of setting priorities, identifying quick wins, and being clear about who was going to do what,” says Gerald. “Then she continued to serve as a sounding board for me, providing support for my own prioritization and decisions that needed to be made.” In particular, Kris provided support for tough conversations about equity, and the challenges of staff turnover.
THE VALUE OF A TRUSTED ADVISOR “We were explicitly adding equity to our values, and a belief in the strength of impoverished communities,” Gerald says. “There were moments when I needed a trusted confidant who I could talk through the tough issues with, transparently and without filters. With Kris, I could share my fears about the process. As a leader, you don’t get many opportunities for that kind of vulnerability.” The Trust staff were all-in and worked incredibly hard on the strategic change process. Now, after less than a year of planning and confidential advising, the Kate B. Reynolds Charitable Trust has transformed in meaningful ways. The foundation has a new strategic vision, goals and strategies for major bodies of work, a named focus on equity and outcomes, and new values underpinning all of their work in order to have a greater impact on the people Mrs. Reynolds’ asked them to serve more than 70 years ago. “The proof is in the pudding,” says Gerald. “We’re far more clear about what our vision is and how we interpret the founder’s mission. We have a clear description of our values, our strategic grantmaking processes, and how we do our work. It’s hard to describe the magnitude of not only documenting our vision and strategy, but also having our staff, new trustee representatives, and advisory councils completely understand it all. At the end of the day, this will help us meet our mission. It’s an exciting time to be working at the Kate B. Reynolds Charitable Trust.”