Key Points

Strategic planning in philanthropy allows board and staff to articulate and commit to their priorities and set a plan for how to accomplish a foundation’s goals. To do so requires the processing and sharing of complex internal and external information amid the competing priorities and commitments of multiple stakeholders.

This article explores the development and use of a decision-making placemat tool to inform the strategic shift of the Sisters of Charity Foundation of Cleveland's place-based program area. The foundation has focused its work on housing, health, education, and disparities in outcomes for Cleveland, Ohio, residents who are living in poverty, with focused attention on the city's Central neighborhood. Using the key elements of the foundation’s learning approach, the tool guided board members as they worked toward consensus around one of four potential scenarios.

Use of the decision-making placemat tool strengthened the board’s ability to articulate the rationale for the shift in strategic direction, and allowed board members to assume the role of learner by providing a road map for finding and filling gaps in their understanding of the foundation’s goals and approaches. And the resulting changes to strategy in the Central neighborhood reflect growing evidence of the interconnections among poverty, health, trauma, and education outcomes, as well as ongoing input from residents and partners.

Open Access