Look Back Before Moving Forward

There is value in pausing to look back on how far you’ve come. Last week, I met with the Board Chair, Past and Incoming Chairs and senior staff of URJ Eisner and Crane Lake Camps. The camps (who are governed by one board) approved an ambitious strategic plan back in 2014. Now the board is eager to start a new strategic planning process. 
I noticed the enthusiasm among everyone to get cracking on planning for the future and address current challenges. But before moving forward, I requested that we meet to take a look back. We took the current strategic plan, and, line by line, we identified what had been accomplished, what still needed to be done, and what, if anything, was no longer needed. I’ve seen the benefits of this process before from other camp boards, including Camp Ramah in the Poconos and Herzl Camp, so I know it is an important step. 
Here are three lessons Eisner and Crane Lake Camps learned from the exercise: 
1. More was accomplished than we realized. There is so much progress to be celebrated, the totality of which had been mostly overlooked. Outstanding camp professionals are always looking forward with a mindset of “last-summer-wasn’t-good-enough, let’s-plan-so-this-summer-will-be-the-best-yet.” In a culture of continual improvements and excellence, we can forget to notice how far we’ve come! A long list of accomplishments since 2014 came pouring out during our meeting: new camp programs implemented, new investments in site improvements, new initiatives to involve more families through retreats during the year, and more. These changes have resulted in increased Jewish engagement of Eisner and Crane Lake constituents across different ages and stages of life.
2. We have stories worth sharing. Collecting and documenting the total impact of the strategic plan will provide for better reporting on impact. It’s easier to love camp when you share stories of impact. Let your donors know that they were responsible for making all these improvements, programs, site updates, and scholarships possible. In recent years, more camps are sharing a “by the numbers” graphic that demonstrates the total impact of Jewish camp, like this sample from Shalom Institute.
3. There are people who need thanking. One of the most powerful tools your camp has to improve staff, donor, and volunteer retention is as simple as a “thank you.” Acknowledgement, recognition, and compliments help people love their work and feel wonderful. Looking back on your past strategic plan can help the board understand who should be thanked for working to accomplish the goals of the plan. Too often our board’s gratitude is unspoken or assumed, but how nice would it be for the maintenance staff to get a letter from the board that said, “Thank you for your efforts two years ago to help create a Master Site Plan. This document has proven to be invaluable to us in planning and will have a positive impact on camp for decades to come. We noticed your professionalism and dedication to this ‘extra’ work and appreciate your contributions. Thank you!”
One last thought emerged from our meeting:“we are a stronger organization today thanks in large part to this strategic plan.” And that is the primary reason to embark on strategic planning in the first place.

Written by Julia Riseman. Julia is a Mentor with JCamp 180. Julia leads Data2Donors, a program to advance Alumni Outreach, improve camp databases, and raise more major gifts, and Fundraising Fundamentals. Julia has also sparked the creation of many JCamp 180 programs and offerings, including this blog.

Who we are: JCamp 180 is a program of the Harold Grinspoon Foundation (HGF). Our goal is to significantly enhance the long-term effectiveness of nonprofit Jewish camps in North America. To meet this goal, we provide affiliated Jewish camps with consulting services, annual conferences, shared resources, professional development, and matching grant opportunities. Find more at