By Meredith Hutchison Hartley, SpokaneFAVS Board President
I was reared with two conflicting approaches to planning for the future.
My Great-Grandma Lil believed that you should always think of the worst thing that could possibly happen and plan for that. “That way,” she said, “no matter what happens, you’ll be alright.”
In contrast, Great-Grandma Eva thought it was pointless to put too much into plans when our wishing or fretting had no real control over the future. “You can have it any way you want until you know,” she’d quip with a smile.
For a long time, these two approaches warred for my soul.
But I finally found a balance in something my grandpa used to say:
“You have to start with the world where it is, kid – not where you want it to be.”
Some people viewed that advice as pessimistic and dismissive of aspirations, but I saw it as hopeful and grounding: If you’re overwhelmed by the space between you and what you want, the first step is to really, truly understand where you are – and then you can figure out how to close that gap.
The more I’ve worked in business planning, organizational development, and crisis management, the more I’ve realized how grandpa’s is the basis for successfully navigating change – both the changes we hope for and the ones that suckerpunch us along the way.
For an organization like SpokaneFAVS, planning for the future is especially complex and tricky work. It’s different from setting personal goals, because an organization like SpokaneFAVS isn’t really a single entity. When you take away the titles and bylaws and business licenses, we’re really just a lot of people who come together — online and in-person — to do good work, and talk about subjects we care about.
SpokaneFAVS is different things for different people:
- It’s an award-winning trusted source for balanced religion and ethics reporting in the Inland Northwest.
- It’s a platform for passionate individuals to write about their opinions and perspectives.
- For some of our writers, it’s an extension of their personal ministries.
- For others, it’s an opportunity to better educate the community about issues or establish credibility.
- It’s an advertising platform.
- It’s a safe place to tell our stories and learn from others.
- It’s education and intellectual stimulation.
- It’s a way to give back.
- It’s good conversation over a beer after work or cup of coffee on a Saturday morning.
- And for hundreds of journalists around the country, it’s a digital pioneer and journalism innovator that they read, learn from, and watch eagerly — excited to see what we’ll do next.
Our experiences are as diverse as we are. Everyone who holds a stake in SpokaneFAVS has their own unique idea of what we are, why we’re important, and where we should be going. That’s where the “complex and tricky” part comes in. As president of the board, my job is to help the executive director evaluate all those options and perceptions of SpokaneFAVS – to hold them up to where we are and where we want to be. Then, we work together to set priorities and create plans that help SpokaneFAVS grow in ways that are true to our mission statement. We need to do all of that in ways that balance that growth with maintaining what we’ve already created. And we need to make sure that we communicate with members and watchers of the SpokaneFAVS community every step of the way.
When Tracy Simmons and I sat down last week to set our goals for 2015, I had one question I wanted answered: What does SpokaneFAVS need to do so we continue to provide value and stay relevant to our local community, to our national readers, and to the journalism world — who are watching us, learning from us, and waiting to see what we’ll do next?
Tracy recommended three areas, and they’ve become our goals for 2015:
Journalism, Journalism, Journalism
Where we are: First and foremost, SpokaneFAVS is a journalism organization devoted to reporting on religion and ethics in Spokane. In the last three years, we’ve proved that independent, hyperlocal religion reporting can match and top national news sites for quality, innovation and impact. After just two years, we won the Local Media Association Award for Best Niche Site. We received third place in the Harold Schachern Award for Online Religion Section of the Year – one of the most prestigious award in religion news; only Reuters and CNN beat us. We are the only organization of our kind and caliber in the country.
In 2015: In the next year, look for us to expand our team of local journalists and provide more religion reporting articles, photojournalism and videos.
Maintain and Stabilize Our Programs
Where we are: Our community programs – Coffee Talk, mixers, and Faith Feast – have proven that combining digital religion journalism and online communities with face-to-face interaction can work. What’s more, we’ve shown that the three work together to make each other more effective. Tracy has carried almost all the responsibility for every detail of planning, developing and running these programs — and she’s done it while also running the website herself, reporting on current events, and managing a team of more than 50 volunteer contributors.
In 2015: Now that these programs are proven and established, it’s time for Tracy to devote more energy and expertise to journalism and developing new programs. By the end of the year, we hope to have teams of interns, volunteers, committee leaders and board members take responsibility for tasks like copyediting, running the community calendar, managing social media accounts, and planning/marketing events.
Continue to Innovate and Share What We’ve Learned
Where we are: In an era when traditional publications justified cutting their religion sections because they didn’t consider them relevant to their readers, SpokaneFAVS proved that readers are more interested in faith and ethics than ever. We showed that religion and ethics aren’t irrelevant – they’re at the heart of almost every story and every issue around us. It wasn’t that the stories were irrelevant to readers’ interests; the traditional format was. That’s what makes SpokaneFAVS so unique in the journalism world: we’ve created a new format that combines digital journalism, social media and local community with educational programs and community resources.
In 2015: We’re going to expand the number of social media and marketing educational programs we offer to local faith- and ethics-based organizations. We’re also going to develop new programs – exploring ways to teach other communities and journalists how to do what we’ve done here in Spokane.
I’m excited about the goals Tracy proposed. They are ambitious, but they are grounded in the reality of all that we’ve accomplished and where we are right now. We’re starting with the world where it is, kid – and we’re going to keep moving toward where we want to be.
And because our community is what’s made it all possible, I’m personally committing to keeping you informed this year. Starting next week, look for articles and videos from board members and volunteers with more information about what’s happening behind the scenes here at SpokaneFAVS. We want to hear your feedback, too – so please hit up the comments section, shoot me an email, or grab me at an event and tell me what’s on your mind.
Happy New Year!
Join SpokaneFAVS for a Coffee Talk forum on “Aspirations for the New Year” at 10 a.m., Jan. 3 at Indaba Coffee/The Book Parlor. Hutchison Hartley is a panelist.