A New Strategy Helped American Psychological Association Grow By 25%
The American Psychological Association had to make a significant strategic shift — and get the membership aligned behind it. But, of course, that was easier said than done. APA’s 146,000 members represent every aspect of the field — academics and practitioners from every specialty in psychology.
Membership and revenue growth had stalled. The last strategic plan was over ten years old and had never effectively driven strategic decision-making. The association had adopted so many strategic priorities that it could not execute well on any of them. They needed to focus on a manageable number of strategic goals that would impact the mission and the membership most.
That meant a lot of things members cared about would not be prioritized. Yet it was imperative that the membership overwhelmingly agree with the plan. Highly decentralized, APA operated in silos, often with competing interests. As a result, many members were distrustful of the staff and prone to second-guess them.
The Board charged the transformational new CEO, Dr. Arthur Evans, with creating a strategic plan that would focus their resources on growth and impact and that the entire organization would get behind.
Getting Alignment On Nonprofit Strategy
We designed a fully transparent and highly inclusive process that brought members, governance, and staff into a genuine dialog about priorities and high-impact outcomes. We invited exhaustive member input, including:
- Frequent open conference calls with members to update them on the nonprofit strategy process and get their feedback
- A series of online surveys to more than 30,000 psychologists
- Extensive one-on-one conversations with influencers from across the association
- Frequent online updates on the plan’s progress with opportunities for members to respond
Total alignment requires a shared point of view. Therefore, we used objective evidence from outside the organization to help the organization converge on a common perspective.
- In-depth interviews with thought leaders from peer associations, healthcare organizations, and public figures on the challenges and trends in the market.
- Deep analysis of competitors and comparable organizations to uncover best practices and new opportunities for APA.
Through carefully designed workshops with the Board and the executive team, they evolved a powerful nonprofit strategy together. As the final approach took shape, we went to great lengths to socialize the plan widely with members, including sharing drafts of the actual plan in a series of conference calls open to all members.
The final strategic plan refreshed the vision and mission for a new future. It narrowed dozens of potential priorities to four clear top-level goals with realistic objectives, couched in inspirational language that resonated with psychologists.
The Power of Nearly Unanimous Member Approval
The Board unanimously approved the plan, which went to the membership for their vote. 96.4% of the members agreed, an unprecedented level of consensus in the history of APA.
This overwhelming support was transformational in many ways for APA. But, most important was that it:
- Empowered the new CEO to execute his vision and make difficult decisions with the organization’s full support
- Allowed the organization to quickly pivot in a crisis and stay on strategy even through the upheavals of the pandemic
- Required people to work together across silos to achieve ambitious goals
- Forced APA to “start stopping”– to stop doing things that are not on strategy
- Energized the membership around a strategic direction in which they took ownership
The Bottom Line: 25% Growth
The ultimate strategic goal was growth. It succeeded. Since the strategy launched, APA membership has grown by 25%, the most vigorous growth in decades. At the same time, APA has also seen sustained revenue growth of 4.5% per year, uninterrupted by the disruptions of COVID.
In the words of CEO Arthur Evans, “Our strategic planning with Sequence was incredibly successful. They gave us great confidence that where we ended up was the right direction.”