WOMEN’S VOICES RAISED FOR SOCIAL JUSTICE
STRATEGIC PLAN 2019-2021
Women’s Voices Raised for Social Justice was founded in 2005 by four St. Louis-area women concerned about the many injustices in their community and country. Not content to just bemoan the lack of social justice, they formed Women’s Voices to educate themselves and others to become vocal advocates to address a wide range of social justice issues. Their first meeting was at the University City Library and was attended by twenty-five (25) women. There were 150 women on the mailing list within six months.
By 2013, Women’s Voices had 158 paid members and four active committees: Education (Program Planning), Advocacy, Membership and Marketing. Monthly education meetings were being held from September through May. The primary focus of the 2013 Leadership and Organizational Development Plan was to provide sufficient structure to support the continuation and effectiveness of the organization.
The Advocacy Committee had two priority areas for 2013-14: health care and gun violence. Women’s Voices members successfully worked in collaboration with other organizations on health care access, and a new organization, Missouri Health Care for All, was formed to carry out the goal of increasing health care access. As a result, while we continue to advocate on health care, it is no longer a focus area. In 2015, racial justice was added as a focus area, and the Common Sense Gun Solutions Committee was formalized. In 2017, the Racial Justice Committee was formed. Both of these committees operate under the Advocacy Committee, but have their own meetings, members and chairs.
By June 2016, Women’s Voices had 306 members—almost double since 2013. The 2016 Board planning retreat focused on the growth of the organization both in the number of members and in the scope of the work, especially the addition in 2015 of the direct service project, Lock it for Love, of the Common Sense committee. The Board consensus was to continue to meet our mission into the future, we needed to address leadership development, organizational capacity, and financial development. To address capacity, a part-time paid administrative manager position was added and office space was obtained. The Development Committee was formed, and financial development is ongoing with successful campaigns in 2016, 2017, and 2018.
By June 2019, Women’s Voices had 532 members and had conducted 126 monthly education programs. In anticipation of strategic planning, Women’s Voices’ committees reviewed their accomplishments, goals and challenges. At the same time, we conducted a survey of members and subscribers about the effectiveness of meetings, e-mails, action alerts, and Face Book posts.
THE PLANNING PROCESS
On June 29, 2019, the Board and committee chairs held a planning retreat to review progress on the last plan and to plan for the future. Prior to the retreat, the committees were each asked to hold a meeting to discuss accomplishments, goals, challenges and any new initiatives. The committees provided reports to the planning committee, which were compiled and provided to retreat participants.
We also surveyed members, subscribers and Face Book followers about our activities. Survey participation was relatively small (about 50 total participants), but the responses were consistent: most people get our information on Face Book; our action alerts were well received; the Lunch and Learn’s were useful; and our education meetings at the Heights were very highly rated. Members indicated they did make phone calls, write letters, attend rallies or phone bank, but not canvas. Several respondents wanted more information about how to take concrete steps to address issues.
The committees identified the following accomplishments since 2016:
Education (Program Planning)
- Presented nine topical programs, with average attendance of over 100 during 2018-19
- Increased membership from 300 to 500 over the last 3 years
- Retained over 80% of members
- Maintained better follow-up with members and subscribers
- Improved THE process to renew or join at meetings
- Enhanced outreach through postcard parties, tours to SLAM and Missouri History Museum, and “Stop the Bleed”
- Established Development Committee and implemented annual fundraising plans
- Met fundraising campaign goal, hired administrative manager, and obtained office space
- Successful annual events with Jason Kander (2018) and Brittany Packnett (2019)
- Expanded WV donor base
- Developed new, up-to-date position papers on timely topics, such as racial justice, health care, and economic justice
- Planned and held postcard parties with the Membership Committee
- Created Common Sense Gun Solutions and Racial Justice Committees as “focus areas”
- Provided action alerts on relevant issues for members, subscribers, and followers
- Worked successfully with the Voting Rights Coalition on primaries and 2018 mid-term elections to protect voters’ rights
- Published letters to the editor and op-eds on critical issues
Campaign for Common Sense Gun Solutions
- Provided education and helped normalize discussion of gun safety
- Promoted safe storage of guns to save lives
- Increased the number of events and locks distributed, with over 5,000 distributed
- Developed a partnership with Moms Demand Action
- Improved visibility of Lock it for Love in the community and on social media
- Built stronger connections with the African-American community
- Provided learning opportunity about the civil rights movement and racial justice history through trip to Memphis
- Promoted increased understanding of racial justice issues and local organizations engaged in racial justice work through Lunch and Learn’s at different locations
- Engaged members and non-members in Racial Justice Book Club, and increased diversity of attendees
- Responded to public housing mouse infestation with direct service and advocacy
The mission of Women’s Voices Raised for Social Justice is to identify, research and discuss social justice issues; to mobilize, energize and inspire the membership and others to action; and to work as individuals and in community for social justice.
Women working together to advance a world that abolishes discrimination, values equity and justice for all, and protects the planet.
- Amplify Our Voices to Promote Policies and Legislation that Advance Social Justice
Women’s Voices will increase the effectiveness of our advocacy by employing strategies designed to both increase the number of people who take action and to improve the quality of advocacy. We have been very efficient at getting action alerts out on a variety of issues in a timely manner so that recipients of the alerts can take an action, usually calling or e-mailing a legislator or decision-maker. Our survey indicated that people may be less comfortable engaging in more in-depth advocacy, such as testifying; attending hearings and committee or council meetings; providing written comments on proposed rules or legislation; and meeting with legislators. At the same time, a number of survey respondents expressed interest in taking more direct action to address issues.
We will engage in the following strategies to amplify our voices:
- Increase membership and member engagement. We will continue to stay current on members’ status to sustain or improve our 80% renewal rate, and we will engage in events, such as Lunch & Learns, post card parties, and special recruitment events to target new members. We will also seek to increase the diversity of our membership in terms of age, race, ethnicity and location of residence. We can increase member engagement by connecting interested members with our committees to engage them on a deeper level. We should personally reach out to all new members when they join about how to get more involved. We must sustain and increase our presence on social media on relevant issues, upcoming events, and our monthly education programs.
- Reach and educate more people. Our monthly meetings have been well attended, averaging about 105 people at each meeting (about 950 for the 9 meetings) in 2018-19, but we have the capacity to have more attendees. By providing high quality speakers and interesting, timely topics, we should be able to increase the number of people who attend, especially if we get the word out in our newsletter, e-mails and on social media. Lunch & Learns have also been well attended, and we should continue to offer them in a variety of locations to increase our reach. At the end of each meeting or event, we can provide suggestions for how people can advocate for policy change and/or how they can get involved in direct action or service on an issue through Women’s Voices or another community organization addressing that issue.
- Enhance advocacy skills of interested members. By providing training on activities such as lobbying, testifying or writing effective letters to the editor or comments on proposed regulations, we increase our power to influence public policy and legislation. We can also offer more group activities, such as lobbying days or legislator visits, either on our own or in collaboration with other organizations addressing the same issues.
Measures of Success
- By May 2020, increase membership to 600 and 700 by May 2022 with the Membership Committee to identify specific strategies to achieve these goals in a written plan
- Increase participation at educational programs by 5% each successive year
- By May 2020, develop some measures to assess member engagement
- Offer 1-2 training sessions on legislative visits, lobbying, or letter writing by the end of 2020
- Enhance Our Programmatic Activities to Increase Our Impact on Critical Social Justice Issues
As a multi-issue advocacy organization, we recognize we must be strategic about what issues we prioritize. Our Advocacy Committee policies provide for 2-3 “focus areas.” Currently, our focus areas are gun violence and racial justice. Under our current policies, a focus area must have: a concrete impact on an issue, with outcome measures; a committee chair; a written advocacy plan, with goals; and a committee that engages members in hands-on work. The Advocacy Committee is charged with identifying the focus areas.
However, in recent months, immigrant rights and abortion bans have required swift, coordinated responses in collaboration with other organizations. We must be able to maintain the flexibility to respond to critical issues as they emerge, which means that we need to have involved liaisons on current issues on the Advocacy Committee.
At the same time, we want to build the capacity to respond to an issue in our focus areas through more in-depth advocacy or other actions. At the Board retreat, we discussed how we identify focus areas, how to decide when to move to a new focus area, and how to improve the process. We affirmed we need written action plans with specific goals for our Advocacy, Common Sense, and Racial Justice committees. Members agreed we still have more work to do in the areas of gun violence and racial justice, and did not identify new focus areas for now. Now that we have some experience with prioritizing focus areas, it is time to review the Advocacy Committee policy and Director position description to determine whether it needs to be revised.
To increase our impact on issues, we need more information about what impact our activities are having, whether the activity is education, advocacy or direct service. Now we have no way of tracking follow-up by those who receive our action alerts, and we have not identified criteria for assessing our success on impacting an issue.
We also want to improve our process for selecting other organizations for collaborations. We must ensure that our partnerships are strategic and further our action plan goals. Strategic collaborations are vital to carrying out our mission. Currently, our advocacy policies vest authority with the Director of Advocacy to recommend organizations to the Board for partnerships and to assign a member to be the liaison to the partner organization.
We will use the following strategies to increase our impact:
- Implement written action plans. We will develop written plans with specific goals and outcomes for our Advocacy, Common Sense, and Racial Justice committees. Articulating our goals and measures of success will help us determine what issues to go deeper on within our focus areas, and can help us determine whether we are ready to transition to new focus areas. Because our focus areas are not new, this is also an opportunity to identify more ‘actions’ members can take on issues.
- Partner with other organizations in strategic collaborations. Our collaborations require member involvement with the other organization, and we must ensure such collaborations strategically advance our ability to have an impact on issues we have identified as high priority.
- Review and revise our written advocacy policy. To ensure that our processes are meeting our current needs, we should review and revise our written advocacy policy and director position description.
- Proactively identify issues and provide leadership to address. In the last few years, much advocacy work by organizations has been reactive as a result of the attack on civil and constitutional rights by local, state and federal policies and politicians. While we must respond to these attacks, we cannot let our agenda be solely reactive. Especially within our focus areas, we should be determining whether there are specific issues where we can take a leadership role in developing and implementing strategies that will have a positive impact on the problem.
- Explore how to evaluate impact of our work. In many cases, our action alerts link to another organization’s website which has information or links on how to take action. As a result, we have no way of knowing how many people actually follow-up by taking a specific action. But, being a multi-issue advocacy organization, it is essential that we not duplicate efforts, and there are many single issue and other organizations following issues and suggesting actions. Are there ways to track follow-up? Education is a critical component of our work. How do we assess the impact of our educational activities, such as monthly programs and Lunch and Learns? For an education and advocacy organization, this type of information is important, but it is difficult to figure out what to measure and how to get it. How do we evaluate our direct actions, such as CSGS Lock it for Love program?
Our evaluation process should include not only outputs (e.g. how many gun locks are distributed or how many people attend an educational program) but also the outcomes achieved as a result. In other words, outcomes will address how effective our services are: did our gun safety efforts or our education programs increase understanding of the issue? Outcomes are harder to measure, particularly with activities such as advocacy, because many other factors may affect our impact on an issue. The Board should consider a short-term task force to look at outcome measures for our work and to make some recommendations.
Measures of Success
- By the end of 2019, the advocacy policies and procedures are reviewed and revised as necessary
- By the end of 2019, establish a task force to make recommendations on evaluation measures and/or outcomes
- By the end of May 2020, the task force identifies evaluation criteria and a way to track outcomes
- By the end of May 2020, the Common Sense Gun Solutions, Racial Justice and Advocacy Committees develop written advocacy plans
- By the end of 2020, the Board approve criteria for selecting strategic collaborations and focus areas
- Improve Our Infrastructure to Meet Organizational Needs
In order to meet our programmatic goals and effect social justice change, our organization must be able to support a growing membership and resource development needs. Three years ago, we identified this need, and since then, we have added a paid staff position and obtained office space. We also formed a Development Committee and implemented annual campaigns, to supplement our income from member dues and to support our operations and position us to grow in the future.
As a primarily volunteer organization, we also need to ensure that we can recruit strong leaders for our Board and committee chair positions. We should be identifying members who can assume leadership positions and engaging them in Board and committee activities. Transition planning, especially for Board officer positions, is critical.
We will use the following strategies to strengthen our organizational structure:
- Evaluate and implement new technology to support our membership and resource development needs. We need software that will address management of our membership process and renewals, as well as support our fundraising campaigns.
- Increase our income through new members, individual donors, and grant income. Individual donors will continue to be a major source of support for us. To the extent we have projects or events that lend themselves to grants, we need to have the capacity to write grants. Currently, our Development Committee is charged with raising funds to support our operations. We will need to evaluate whether this model is sustainable as we grow or take on new projects and determine whether additional staffing is needed.
- Expand our communications capacity. We currently rely on our part time administrative manager and two volunteers (one for social media and one for marketing) for our website, newsletter, action alerts, and all social media outlets (Face Book, Twitter, and Instagram). Maintaining media visibility to communicate with our members, subscribers and followers is critical to engaging members and recruiting new members. Our volunteers have held these positions for several years, and we need to evaluate whether this model is sustainable. We should also review our website design to ensure it is user-friendly.
- Ensure smooth transitions in leadership. We need to develop a plan to get more members into the leadership pipeline. We should have an active Nominating Committee each year, with plenty of lead-time to fill all Board positions. The last two years, we have had co-presidents, and even if we continue that model into the future, we should fill the Vice President position each year, and have nominees for the other officer positions by the May election.
- Review the by-laws and update. The original by-laws were written for a much smaller, less formal organization. The by-laws should be updated to reflect the current needs of the organization, including Board composition, committee structure, and annual meeting requirements.
Measures of Success
- By the end of 2019, assess the need for additional staff (e.g. for development, communications, administration, advocacy, and executive director)
- By the end of 2019, revise the by-laws
- By January 1, 2020, constitute a Nominating Committee to identify Board and Committee chair positions to be filled in May 2020
- By June 2020, implement new member and fundraising management software
- By the end of 2020, increase individual donations by 5%
- Maintain at least a 6-month operating budget surplus annually
- By the end of 2020, hire additional staff or contractor (if needed)
- By the end of 2020, develop a succession plan for Board leaders and members
Approved by Board on October 21, 2019