Case Study: La Paz Chattanooga
How does a community based, human services organization grow when the needs and opportunities seem endless - and the organization is poised for it next stage of growth? All this in the context of coming out of the COVID situation and immediately responding to those in need from the effects of a natural disaster (tornadoes).
In many ways this is a good problem to have—multiple areas to pursue based on being an established, trusted enterprise that knows the changing needs of its community. A first step is taking a frank assessment of the enterprise strengths, external stakeholder perceptions, the internal team capabilities, and a changing landscape while being objective and intentional in prioritizing viable areas of growth. This internal reflection was done with a view to enhancing organizational sustainability and ensuring the organizational identity and mission were not compromised. La Paz Chattanooga (LPC) serves the growing Latino community of southeastern Tennessee and is the oldest and most trusted Latino serving organizations in a demographically changing area. During the 2020 Chattanooga area tornadoes, then the pandemic, LPC stepped into - and was called on to play a role in - the gap to respond to a growing and increasingly complex situations affecting the Hispanic (and overall) community. The complexity comes from La Paz’s own unique standing in having credibility in all parts of the community from philanthropic foundations to those at the margins of society that are served LPC. Like so many other U.S. areas the growing Latino population is not monolithic and spans the range of recent arrivals, that are learning English as second language, to helping entrepreneurs and small business owners network and support helping address area challenges.
As recent Affiliate of Unidos US, La Paz Chattanooga was referred to San Juan Diego Institute (SJDI). LPC looked to update its strategic plan and undertake a methodical, facilitated process that would culminate in the actual strategic plan. As it turned out, under a new Raza Development Fund-Unidos US initiative, the Affiliate Support Program, the SJDI team performed the “technical assistance” work with the LPC team to develop the strategic planning process and a plan to further improve the organization’s overall community impact. Performing this scope of services, the SJDI team led a 3-month strategic planning process which engaged community, civic, religious, philanthropic, university and immigrant leaders throughout Chattanooga. By developing questions and really listening and getting to know the LPC “DNA”, that is the core identity and mission of La Paz as well as the skills and preference of the Board, SJDI conducted over 30 interviews in English and Spanish to provide data-informed insights into the needs of the community. These narrative insights were affirmed or challenged by community and constituent surveys and demographical analysis which provided La Paz’s board and staff additional context to discern the strategic opportunities. In addition, a detailed enterprise financial-operating model and dashboard was developed to help Executive staff and Board understand how current operations would be impacted by their decisions. Utilizing this combination of a collaborative approach and using quantitative and qualitative feedback, the SJDI team framed strategic enterprise decisions about programming and LPC’s future direction with inputs and buy-in from both external and internal stakeholders.
In the end, La Paz, a high functioning, and well-known community organization, was able to more prudently discern its strategic orientation and make intentional choices to serve the community in a time of unprecedented growth and challenges due to the pandemic and new demands from changing demographics. Furthermore, the community involvement generated additional support for La Paz, and strengthened existing relationships and fostered new ones.
Community-based service organizations have unique relationships with civic, municipal, and philanthropic partners, that must be managed in order to most optimally serve their community. Investing the time to understanding the history of the organization, the history of the place, situational factors and the evolving needs of a client’s community, are core to SJDI’ process of making sure that our clients make decisions that are data-informed, yet grounded in an objective enterprise wisdom, that reinforces their identity and strengthens their mission impact and equips them for navigating the organization’s future.