Self Enhancement, Inc.: From Strategy to Implementation

Daniel Stid, Regina Maruca
Self Enhancement, Inc., or SEI, is a nonprofit agency supporting at-risk youth on the Northeast side of Portland, Oregon. Its core service offerings include in-school, after-school, and summer programs with a focus on long-term mentoring. Like many nonprofits SEI is a small organization driven by big aspirations. Over its 25-year history, it has grown from a summer basketball camp for boys, run by founder and current President and CEO Tony Hopson, Sr., to an agency serving 900 youth in its intensive core programs and 3,100 youth across all programs, with an annual operating budget of $12.7 million and 158 employees1 operating out of the vibrant SEI Center in Portland’s Northeast side. Its track record is truly remarkable: for example, 95 percent or more of students participating in SEI in the 9th grade will graduate from high school, notwithstanding the barriers they face which led SEI to recruit them into the program initially – and this is in an urban school district where the graduation rate for all students is approximately 55 percent. Tony Hopson routinely tells his leadership team and outside stakeholders that his vision is for SEI to be “the best youth agency in the country.” This article describes some of the experiences of SEI’s leaders in 2006 and 2007. In early 2006, on the basis of its strong results the organization received seed funding from the Edna McConnell Clark Foundation to assess potential growth opportunities. From May through December, the leadership team developed a three-year strategic plan, which the organization’s Board approved at year end. In 2007 SEI shifted from business planning to implementation mode. As it did so, its leaders encountered a new set of challenges that were daunting but not atypical for enterprising nonprofits seeking to carry out ambitious plans. Over the first 12 months of implementation, in fact, SEI’s leaders found themselves revising both their plan and their approach to implementation. Their story is far from neat and linear—it includes plenty of pitfalls, frustrations, and major course corrections. But it is also the story of an organization keeping its eye on the ball and working through the messiness that occurs when plans meet reality, by adapting its ongoing work as best it can and making progress along the way. And as such, if offers useful lessons for other organizations putting strategy into practice.
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