Civil Rights Association

To provide specificity and detail while honoring client confidentiality, we have disguised the identity of this client. 

For the Civil Rights Association—a longtime champion of social justice—its 50 local affiliates are the organization’s greatest asset. Those local groups are on the front lines of social change, tackling unjust laws and policies. And, through its affiliates, Civil Rights Association connects to the lives and concerns of people in communities across the country, which informs policy and advocacy strategies at the local, state and national levels.

When a new executive director took the helm at the Civil Rights Association, she sought to amplify the power of the state-based affiliates to affect change. But she soon realized that the affiliates were unevenly developed: while many were strong and financially independent from the national organization, others were struggling and required subsidies.  Moreover, the struggling groups were located in the most challenging states, where they faced overwhelming workloads with small staffs and fewer resources.

Accordingly, the director asked MAG to help build the capacity of Civil Rights Association's local affiliates to lead critical efforts in their states, to support their participation in nationwide strategies, and to strengthen the relationship between the national organization and local affiliates.  

I got a new way of thinking. I am conscious that every choice is a decision on priorities.
— Civil Rights Association affiliate director

Fighting fires

MAG began by listening deeply to the directors of state affiliates about their challenges and aspirations. We conducted a series of surveys and interviews, which uncovered a common pattern: directors were understaffed and besieged with requests, constantly “fighting fires” without advancing their goals.  The rapidly changing context for their work made planning a challenge. They struggled, often unsuccessfully, to find the time to build the strength of their affiliates. And understaffed affiliates relied heavily on the volunteer labor of board members, leading to confusion about roles and accountability.

To address those concerns, MAG designed an intensive two-day session for affiliate directors.  There, we encouraged directors to see the patterns that kept them in a reactive mode. We helped them develop structures and strategies to adapt to fast-changing circumstances and seize opportunities as they emerge. And, together, we devised plans to address key challenges: to lead staff, volunteers, and board members more productively; and to target resources to increase effectiveness—even in the absence of increased funding.

Building on that progress, MAG worked with a small planning group of affiliate directors to design the program’s second phase, which featured three elements:

The workshop was invaluable for me in the area of ‘new ideas for old problems.’ I found myself, for the FIRST time, doing a self-evaluation and realizing I DID have the ability to change the direction of my board of directors.
— Civil Rights Association affiliate director
  • Workshop on board/staff relationships. Board members were invited to participate in a two-day workshop that clarified and deepened their understanding of the most appropriate roles and contributions of board members. 
  •  Personnel management workshop.  MAG designed a two-day session that improved directors’ ability to effectively manage staff and volunteers.  They learned how to delegate, how to adjust their management style to fit different situations and diverse employees, how to make more discerning selections of new staff, and how to deal with problem employees. 
  • On-site consultation.   For affiliates with multifacted challenges, or those poised to dramatically increase their impact, MAG provided customized onsite assistance.  For these organizations, MAG conducted an intensive diagnostic study of the affiliate’s assets and challenges, and worked with staff and board members to generate plans for addressing and resolving key issues.
I realize that my management style reflects the way I like to be managed and that it’s not the right style for everyone on my staff.
— Civil Rights Association affiliate director

Stronger affiliates, better results

Our three-year partnership with Civil Rights Association:

  • Enabled affiliates to reposition themselves and their work, shifting from reactive “firefighting” to the proactive pursuit of carefully chosen goals, even in a fast-changing environment.  Many affiliates developed and implemented state-wide strategies and built their organization’s capacity to support these goals.  
  • Improved affiliates’ personnel management and board/staff relationships.
  • Catalyzed the creation of a highly effective affiliate support department within the national organization, which is committed to making the organization’s national/affiliate structure more adaptive and dynamic.
We thought we had a great affiliate because we had a great executive director, but we didn’t see our board as adding value. I now see the contribution a strong active board can make to building a great affiliate
— Civil Rights Association affiliate director