How We Helped American Psychological Association Grow 25% With A New Strategy

Nonprofit Consulting
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The American Psychological Association had to make a significant strategic shift — and get 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:

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. For example:

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 membership approved 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:

APA Chief Membership and Strategy Officer Ian King said, “Our results with Sequence were phenomenal. It was massively successful. They have great experience and deliver a lot of value.”

The Bottom Line: 25% Growth

The ultimate strategic goal was growth. It succeeded. Since the strategy launched, APA has enjoyed a 25% increase in membership (4.5% per year), the most vigorous growth in decades. At the same time, APA has also returned 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.”

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