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Atlanta Ronald McDonald House: Building an inclusive strategy

At a glance

When Atlanta Ronald McDonald House Charities needed to develop its five-year strategy, we helped the organization align on key initiatives and broaden its mission to serve more families with sick or injured children.

What we did

  • Strategic planning
  • Stakeholder alignment
  • Data analysis
  • Pro bono services

Aligning on what matters most

When your child is sick or injured, nothing is more important than getting the best possible care. Sometimes that means traveling for treatment. Atlanta Ronald McDonald House Charities (ARMHC) offers families a home away from home and critical support while their children receive medical care at local hospitals.

In addition to ARMHC's Gatewood House, the charity was preparing to open its new Peachtree-Dunwoody House. Between the two facilities, ARMHC would have 81 rooms to house families in need, marking a significant milestone for the organization.

“We’ve always had more families that need us than we could accommodate. This is the first time in the charity’s history that we actually will have enough rooms,” says Beth Howell, president and CEO of ARMHC.

The increased capacity freed the organization to focus on new ways to support the families and children it serves and look for ways to serve even more families. To extend its programs and services, the charity needed to broaden its mission and develop a five-year strategic plan.

“It’s the most important work a board can do,” says Howell.

After a moving tour of ARMHC’s Gatewood House, we wanted to strengthen our partnership with the charity. Helping ARMHC develop its strategic plan and roadmap through our pro bono program felt like a natural fit.

When Slalom stepped in, it meant that we got our strategy done better, faster, and with more depth and breadth than we could have ever done on our own.

Giving every stakeholder a voice

We believe a strong strategy begins with stakeholder alignment. ARMHC includes a broad and diverse constituency base, including a board, executive committee, advisory council, volunteers, staff, families served, community leaders, donors, and foundations.

We had just the tool to give every valued team member a voice in ARMHC’s 2020 strategy: Slalom’s Stakeholder Alignment Map (SAM) process and Slide Sort™ voting application.

Conceived while planning our own 2015 strategy, the SAM process and voting application enables every person in an organization to see and weigh in on important issues. The process is democratic, transparent, and grounded in the belief that every voice matters.

“We developed a process for ourselves that has been hugely impactful for our people. They’ve seen how the things most important to them have translated into our strategic plan and the way that we go to market,” says Heather Sneddon, chief of staff at Slalom.

We knew we could adapt our tool and process to help ARMHC develop a strategy that reflects the values of its constituency, explains Sneddon.

“It’s something that we wanted to share with our clients and our communities. We’ve always believed that we could make this a scalable process. With ARMHC, we were able to prove out that we could do this again in a faster, better way,” she says.

The process

We started by doing our homework to better understand the charity’s current state. Next, we interviewed the charity’s broad base of constituents, both one-on-one and in small focus groups, collecting feedback and ideas.

From the person in the kitchen serving meals to the alumni board member who’d been looking for a way to reengage, everyone had valuable insights to contribute, says Dan Cooper, business transformation lead at Slalom.

“People were excited and wanted to give their opinion,” says Cooper. “It helped reengage the charity as a whole. We learned about challenges that we might not have otherwise heard about if we’d taken a top-down approach.”

Feedback—170 pages of it—was analyzed, distilled, and grouped into like categories. We evolved the data into a scripted survey using Slide Sort, which was customized with ARMHC’s branding and imagery.

Intuitive, quick, and available on all platforms

Evolving the survey application—which was originally designed for Slalom’s internal use—required thinking about the tool in a far broader context, agree Sneddon and Cooper.

For one thing, the survey needed to be easily accessible to a large group of ARMHC’s stakeholders. For another, it needed to take just 10 minutes or less to complete from any device, whether a phone, tablet, or PC.

“We really challenged ourselves to make the survey visually appealing and easy to do. We wanted it to be intuitive, quick, and available on all platforms,” says Cooper.

The survey was open to constituents for voting over a three-week period. We watched the results unfold in real time, noting which ideas were trending, and which ones warranted further discussion.

I love my job, helping corporations better themselves. It’s extra great when we’re able to take those skills to an organization like ARMHC that makes a meaningful difference in people’s lives on a day-to-day basis.

New insights lead to new services

The survey uncovered critical insights that revealed what was most and least meaningful to the charity’s constituents.

Some of the survey results—like the input that ARMHC should invest in Care Mobiles and Family Rooms, for example—were slam dunks. Other results were eye-opening, like the feedback that ARMHC’s volunteers wanted to bring skills from their day jobs to do more for the charity.

“They’re happy to answer doors or serve meals or do anything to make kids smile, but they wanted an opportunity to bring their entire professional skill set on a volunteer basis,” Cooper says.

ARMHC’s road to 2020

Insights gleaned from the constituency survey were translated into a 2020 strategy and roadmap. Board executive committee member Rich DeAugustinis said the strategy is one of the best he has seen for any business or non-profit.

The strategy is a true reflection of what matters to the people behind ARMHC, and as a result, the charity is empowered to support families and the Atlanta community in bold new ways.

“I think you’ll always get better buy-in when people have a voice in it,” Howell says. “It’s really going to ensure the success of our new programs. It gave us a professional approach and credibility to the process.”