Douglas County, Kansas

Strategic Planning for the Future of Child Advocacy: In Conversation with Erick Vaughn, CASA Executive Director

December 8, 2023

In November, CASA board, staff, and volunteers convened for strategic planning. The session entailed reviewing the organization’s recent accomplishments, and progressing toward consensus on what CASA will do over the next three to five years, beginning with a series of benchmarks in 2024. 

In this Q&A, Executive Director Erick Vaughn discusses highlights and outcomes from the session, and outlines immediate goals for the New Year. 

When you reflect on 2023 and the preceding years influenced by a global pandemic, what do you view as the key areas of progress?  

I want to begin by acknowledging CASA’s incredible staff, many of whom have been with the organization for years. When I came on four years ago, I saw they were overcapacity and overwhelmed. We have since hired more people to lower the staff-to-caseload ratio. We also increased our wellness benefits and offered more competitive wages. I’m proud of those changes because they demonstrate our value of the team’s commitment to our work.  

Expanding CASA’s staff despite challenges brought on by the pandemic was a feat. The new positions we added included a full-time director of development and a fundraising consultant to help grow our annual operating budget, which has increased from $450,000 to $800,000 in the last four years. This has allowed us to work on increasing our capacity to serve more children. We’ll close out 2023 having served 113 kids, and are poised to serve even more in the coming year. 

Infrastructure is another critical area where we’ve grown. The installation of new technological systems and databases has significantly improved the efficiency of our work. And, in 2023, thanks to the support of generous donors and the Sunderland Foundation, we made a giant stride with the purchase and renovation of a building. Now, with a safe, permanent home for our operations, we are at the precipice of a new chapter for CASA.

What does this new chapter look like? What are CASA’s immediate next steps in 2024?

During our strategic planning session, we identified four primary goals that will inform our work going forward:

GOAL 1 - Recruit volunteers

Next year we have a number of volunteers retiring. Meanwhile, we have a goal to serve 50 more children — which means we must bring in 50 new volunteers in 2024. This will require a huge lift for our recruitment efforts. Fortunately, in 2023 we received service enterprise certification, which affirms we have good processes in place to recruit volunteers and support their engagement in this work. 

GOAL 2 - Increase diversity

We recognize that our current staff, board, and volunteers do not currently represent the communities we serve in regards to race, ethnicity, gender, and identity. In 2024, we will develop strategies to help us diversify over time, and strategically build our team moving forward so that we, as an organization, can reflect and enhance our connection with the communities we serve. 

GOAL 3 - Scale growth

In 2024 we are striving for a sizable boost to CASA’s annual operating budget from 800,000 to 970,000. We currently have an amazing base of individual donors, business sponsors, and funders who understand our work and are consistent with their support. We are focused on increasing not only the number of CASA donors, but also the amounts donated. Our fundraising efforts in the New Year will be furthered by an additional hire to support grant writing and reporting.  

GOAL 4 - Launch systems level advocacy

In 2024, we are going to begin the process of applying our expertise in one-on-one advocacy to shape our advocacy at the systems level for kids and families in Douglas County. We’ll start by defining what this initiative looks like for our organization, asking: What are our parameters and strategies for increasing awareness of the foster care system and the experiences of children and families? What is effective messaging around what’s needed to keep kids and families out of the system?

In the coming months, we will articulate specific goals and strategies for our advocacy agenda. We’ll also identify other individuals, organizations, and coalitions with whom to partner. We are eager to play an instrumental role raising visibility in the community about system-based challenges, and empowering people to engage and take action in different ways.  

What were other key takeaways from the strategic planning session? 

November was the first time this extended group of board, staff, and volunteers had gathered since before the pandemic. It was very meaningful to connect in person, and make plans for connecting in the future.

The convening spurred discussion of CASA’s mission statement, through which we collectively identified two important additions. The first is to reflect our focus on strengthening families, not just kids — we can’t really talk about one without the other. The second is to recognize all volunteers — not just advocates, but our administrative volunteers as well. We agreed that both additions have been our value for a long time, and should be explicitly stated in our mission statement. 

Last, but certainly not least, during strategic planning we reconfirmed our commitment to serve all kids in Douglas County who are under protection of the court. That means growing our capacity to serve more than 200 kids annually. We devoted time to sketching out a realistic timeframe and budget to achieve that goal, which will serve as our roadmap going forward.

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