Category: Blog

Why We Need GOOD Strategic Plans

Originally written for Jonathan Rivard and the CANGO team.

The word strategic plan gets thrown around a lot in our communities, and yet we have no common definition or perspective on what these plans would/could/should look like. We do however know when we stumble onto a GOOD strategic plan (and a good process to get there). We know this when past obstacles begin to melt away and momentum strengthens as we move closer to our goals. A GOOD strategic plan can provide the necessary infrastructure and lens through which to accomplish broad social change, and challenge that “we have always done it this way” mantra.

I have heard many reasons and excuses for WHY community organizations do, or do not, have current and functioning strategic plans. Unfortunately many times these reasons centre on funding body requirements (i.e. “We are just doing this to show something to our funders”), or the archaic idea that we should create a quick fix, top down strategic plan that will most likely be put on a shelf to collect dust – wash, rinse, repeat in 5 years.

So I challenge organizations and our local and national funding bodies to understand WHY a good strategic plan can be powerful in building strong and healthy community organizations, and thus strong communities. In a previous CANGO post on program evaluation, Lindsay Buckingham-Rivard states that evaluation “gauges whether a program is meeting its goals”. The strategic plan is what helps us know what those goals are in the first place. And if the strategic planning is done in a participatory manner, including the voices of diverse stakeholders, these goals will be widely known, supported, and more easily monitored for impact.

There are a number of reasons for both funding bodies and other community organizations to go through a co-created and participatory strategic planning process; here are a few of those reasons:

1)   Strategically thinking about goals and action plans increases your ability to tackle complex problemsin our communities, thus making larger and more measurable impacts.

2)   Working together with your diverse stakeholders creates a positive and safe environment for staff, clients, funders and community partners to challenge and push the organization to grow and develop.

3)   Using a good planning process can spur creativity and bring new and innovative ideas to the table.

4)   When working with partners or looking to get grants, the plan can provide a foundation to find partners who are a good fit for your goals, rather than trying to fit into what is out there.

5)   Taking time away from service delivery for focused planning provides the time to ask, “Why do we do it this way? Is this way still working? How can we improve/change what we are doing to better accomplish our goals?”

Check out future posts on strategic planning to learn what questions to ask before starting your plan, when is a good time to do your plan, who should be involved in working on your plan, and what are some different ways to get from where you are to where you want to be.


How I fell into and then in love with Community Psychology

Blog post as found on the Community Psychology Practice Blog 

By: Natalie Brown Kivell

When I think about my journey into the field of Community Psychology, it has felt almost serendipitous, however, my decisions that have kept me here have been quite intentional.

Throughout my undergraduate years, I had this image of  “success.” My ten-year plan was to attend clinical graduate school and to start my own practice. I would be able to not only help people, but also be my own boss, just like my dad! I stumbled into an introduction to Community Psychology class in my second year, and although it was not at this point that I became infatuated with the field, the moment my professor said something like “the principles and values within which I work permeate all areas of my life” really stands out to me. I thought, “that is it! That is what I want! Somewhere I can live and breathe my values both personally and professionally.”

Ultimately, it took more than a few powerful moments to knock me off of my well thought out 10-year plan. After completing my undergrad, and quite accidentally getting a few more CP classes under my belt, I planned on taking a year off and then applying to a Clinical Psychology program the following year. I was then given a fantastic opportunity to do a late application to the CP Master’s program at Wilfrid Laurier University (WLU). This was the moment I had to risk it all…I held my breath and I jumped in with both feet.

After that, I can say that I never looked back. Throughout my years in CP graduate school and beyond, I left my “plan” behind and engaged with every new opportunity that presented itself, where I could learn something new about CP or my community, help make an impact, or strengthen my relationships and network. My ignited passion for all things social justice propelled me to gain tangible experience in my community. I conducted my practicum at the Centre for Community Research, Learning and Action (CCRLA) at WLU. This was likely the moment that I realized the diversity of job prospects for a CP graduate outside of academia. I looked at the amazing past graduates working on diverse paths throughout my community and thought, you know what? We can be whoever we want to be!

So, I tested the waters with my professional network, and spent time brainstorming with family, friends, community leaders, and a couple of really cool mentors. We discussed what I should/could do next, and where I would be best able to have an impact in our Region now that I was the proud owner of a Master’s degree. Big risks had worked for me in the past, so I went for it again. Three months after graduating, I opened my own facilitation and community-based research consulting company called Common Thread Consulting. My business name resonates for me because my work is so diverse that it can often be hard to define who my clients are (non-profit, government departments, community groups), and what I do for my clients (research, facilitation, action, or any mix of these). So for me, the  “common thread” that I can pull through all of my work is linking my values with practice. My values, which I share and keep at the forefront with all of my clients and partners, are (1) collaboration and participation of all stakeholders in planning and decision-making, (2) inclusion and diversity, and (3) social justice in terms of understanding and addressing root causes of social issues, and working towards transformative changes.

I have now been doing this work in the Region of Waterloo for the past three years. Over these three years, every project I have worked on has felt brand new and exciting. Each client, whether a small government department, or a large poverty reduction agency in our community, has allowed me to work in collaboration with different levels of staff and their diverse external stakeholders to creatively address community needs using participatory facilitation methods and community-based research. Much of the focus of my current work is using strategic planning to help (or lightly nudge) organizations to challenge the “we have always done it this way” belief system, and transition into asking hard questions to help leverage change for maximum community impact.

My passions are poverty reduction, equal access to all levels of education (including university), as well as innovative and alternative forms of education. Most of my clients mandates fall within these categories, as they have become my area specialties, and what I am known for in the community. However, the work I do has included sustainability organizations, women’s organizations, outreach programs, leadership training organizations, media organizations, intergenerational work and much more. 10 years ago, as I started this journey I could never have imagined that this is where I would be. I did not know that “this” existed.

And so, I now consider myself a CP practitioner. I have made it to the end of the 10 years in my “plan” and I regret nothing. And dad, you should be proud… I am my own boss!


All good things must come to an end….or do they? #12daysforgood

Today is the final day of the #12daysforgood campaign. It sort of feels like the let down syndrome people always say you get after you get married. What is next? How will I go on? …ok that is a little dramatic. But in all honesty this has been one of the most amazing experiences of my life. Today’s theme is to celebrate the good so this blog will highlight some of my favorite moments from my 12 days as well as those from all of the other fabulous DoGooders.


12 deeds felt like an overwhelming number at the beginning of this experience. But the process of consciously looking for deeds in your family, neighbourhood and community actually ends up making you see them everywhere, both large and small. Whether it be bringing lunch over to a neighbour, saying hello to people as you walk down the street, or being there for a friend in need we all do (or could do) good deeds everyday. So for me the #12daysforgood does not end tonight, and it no longer feels overwhelming. It is instead a fabulous way to live our lives constantly keeping our eyes out for people who are in need or issues in our community and our world that we can engage with.


A professor once told me that if you are going to do good, or have positive (non co-dependent) relationships you have to ask yourself three questions before you act.

1)   Have you been ASKED for help

2)   Are you ABLE to help; and

3)   Do you WANT to help

This advice has stuck with me in the long haul. I always try to do EVERYTHING and as we all know this can lead to burnout or disengagement. So keeping these questions in my brain as I look around my community has helped me to see the places that I can fit in either with my skill or my passion to do good in the community. The answer to each othese questions for each of my deeds was a resounding YES! (minus the being asked part…but what is a good deed is someone has to ask for it!). So for me this does not end tonight and I hope to keep what I have learned to continue to do the most good I can in my community, and continue to engage those around me whether it be family, friends or neighbours to continue the gift of giving back!


All of that being said here are a few of my favorite moments from my #12daysforgood


1)   Food hamper competition family style!

2)   Engaging my neighbours in a collective good deed.

3)   Meeting and/or spending time with other incredible Do Gooders like Jane, Juanita, John, Christine, Alison and Taryn.

4)   Doing good with all of the people I love, while creating incredible lasting memories!


My favorite moments that really inspired me from some of the other fantastic DoGooders include


1)   Gathering the DoGooders for “community” yoga with Juanita!

2)   Watching folks engage their kids in the efforts! Like Jane did on Day #3 the gift of shelter 

3)   Hearing about how #12daysforgood provided the opportunity for folks to engage where they otherwise would not have!

4)   The unlikely relationships that have blossomed!


Thanks House of Friendship! None of this could have happened without you, and it will go down in history as one of my favorite holiday seasons from all of the joy and giving that has been happening in my home and in our community! Three Cheers for HoF! Can’t wait to do it again next year!


The gift of knowledge always seems to go both ways #12daysforgood

This week on Day 8 and 11 of the #12daysforgood I was fortunate to be included in the most recent iteration of the pilot program Studio Impact 1.1. This program was developed in partnership between some of our local organizations and was initially spearheaded by myself and a brilliant team of thinkers Anita Abraham, Keita Demming and Aiden Abram. Early on in the process we were lucky to bring in Zainab Ramahi a superstar in our community to work in tandem with Anita and Keita as Aiden and I had to step away for other work commitments.


Fast forward a year and a half and the program is a living and breathing thing! The concept of the course is to engage students aged 12-17 in systems thinking discussions and understanding their role and ability to enact change in their community. This was my way of giving the gift of knowledge.


I was asked to volunteer facilitate this weeks event that happened down at Lang’s Farm with a vibrant group of Grade 7 and 8’s. We worked through incredible activities that challenged their assumptions in the world, while supporting their journey to better understand and surface their individual passions and leverage points for change in their families, schools and communities.


What was (not so) unexpected was the learning that we as the facilitators were exposed to. These kids were so energetic and excited to think about change and learn as much as they could, and while doing so they were able to push us to reflect on our own passions and understanding of our community.


This was one of the most monumental activities for my over the #12daysforgood. Not only did I get to do some hands on exciting work with young minds, but I was able to use the idea of #12daysforgood to frame the way I interpreted the group discussion and to help push the students further and further in their thinking as they unearthed some ideas they had not previously been able to articulate.


Working with kids both in middle school and high school brings me hope for our community’s future. And as a wise woman once said at the age of 15 (and she’s going to slap me for repeating AGAIN that I have known her since she was 15):


“We [youth] are not the leaders of tomorrow, we are the leaders of today” – Zainab Ramahi




The gift of food: A family affair

Day 7 of the #12daysforgood was a family affair of collecting money for food and loading up the local food donation bin! And what better way to work together as a family but to build in some healthy competition.


We all put money in the pot to buy food for our foodbank up in Meaford Ontario raising 270$ between my family and 3 of my best friends. We split the money in half and created two teams. Each team had the challenge to fill their grocery cart with the HEALTHIEST food they could while not going over their team budget of 135$. We tore around the store trying to make wise and frugal decisions to provide the best quality of food for our local community while making sure we were able to get as much food as we could.


We developed tactics of hiding our groceries with coupons books so the other team couldn’t steal our brilliant ideas and blocking each other while we put the remainder of all of the non-perishable milk for children’s lunches or peanut butter in our carts! In the end our choices complemented each other so well and we covered all of the food groups and focused on high protein foods where possible.

After all this (and a fun photoshoot via our smart phones) my team of myself, my mother and my husband Kurt went over our budget by four dollars thus losing the competition to my to best friends Sarah and Viveca, and Sarah’s lovely husband Mitch. We laughed, we smiled and we managed to fill a completely empty food donation bin to the point of explosion with two packed full carts of healthy groceries!


Since I’m a sore loser we made a second competition where my dad marked the receipts for the healthiness of the food per dollar spent, and low and behold my team ranked on top!

This was a fantastic experience for me and for those in my family as we were able to give back while working together, building fantastic memories and getting that wonderful warm fuzzy feeling that you can only get by giving back to your community.



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“I have had the pleasure of working with Natalie on two community development projects in the K-W area beginning in 2007. Her ability to understand and mobilize community resources and networks is unprecedented. Natalie’s passion and compassion for this field makes her an asset and “spark” to any project.”
by Sherry Elizabeth McGee