This time of year is action-packed with all the inspiring elements of the holidays, the closing of an old calendar and hanging of a new one, and thinking about what the approaching New Year will bring. All of this is certainly the case at The North Carolina Arboretum, except that we have also just ended our third decade as an institution and the opening of our fourth is upon us.
As I am writing this, we are initiating the early stages of another formal process, identifying strategy – something we do informally every day through the leadership of our Strategy Council, which is a team of three key leaders who join me in guiding this ship. In the more formal process, which is completed approximately every five years to update our focus, we engage a broader constellation of perspectives, and in particular, the guidance of our boards, as we identify a long-term path to the sustainable success we envision. (Maybe we should think of our strategic planning as New Decade’s Resolutions!)
Looking back, our first three decades could be summarized as invention, reinvention and reinvention again. These phases were characterized by the planning and building of our core mission, administrative structure and early facilities from 1987-97; the reinvention to a continuous-improvement, team-process culture and the institution of early program development from 1998-2007; and reinvention again from 2008-16 to a leaner, more market-based economic model brought on by the recession and a resulting substantial reduction in state support. As we regained some footing by growing revenue-producing programs, the last two years have been marked by significant attention to strengthening our infrastructure in exhibit renovation, broadband capacity, fiscal management, internal recordkeeping systems, gate system software and hardware, and many other improvements.
The year 2016 was also marked by the completion of America’s first standing sculpture of Frederick Law Olmsted, the only one in existence; a visit by new UNC President Margaret Spellings, receiving a new major traveling exhibit as a gift from Longwood Gardens that will debut in 2018, a completely renovated Quilt Garden, successes in growing the natural products economy, the establishment of two very generous endowments of $125,000 each for our youth education programs, generous gifts enabling renovation of the Stream Garden and an aquatic study feature during 2017, and much progress in assisting the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians and the 26-member United South and Eastern Tribes with seed banking and sustainable harvest research.
Looking ahead, 2017 will be a year of strategy refinement, additional physical improvements on campus and evaluation of our existing programs. Wicked Plants, the Arboretum’s first traveling exhibit, will return from five years of exhibition stops across the nation for refurbishment, an encore showing here and embarking on its next five years of travel.
Rather than formulating the next long-term “to do” list or serving as an endorsement of our existing array of programs, the strategic planning process will be a critical look at who and what we are as an organization; what trends internally and externally are influencing our position; what we want to accomplish long-term toward sustainable success; how and when we plan to get there; and by what means we will chart our progress toward that vision. Fortunately, the Arboretum is blessed with leadership and staff that embrace change, welcome challenge and thrive on achievement – so long as these efforts serve the members, visitors, students and stakeholders who depend on us. We believe that the next decade will allow us to maintain full focus on achievement rather than reinvention – an exciting prospect!
Along with our staff, no constituency is more important to our success, at present and in the future, than our donors. Whether they contribute through financial support, volunteer service, membership, partnership or advocacy in the community on the Arboretum’s behalf, the presence and support of these donors are an inspiration and enabler.
With strategic focus, sound planning, a track record of consistent achievement and a strengthening support base, The North Carolina Arboretum will be entering its fourth decade with a renewed sense of anticipation and excitement.
We welcome your engagement as we embark on the next 10 years!