Developing a refreshed theory of change and strategic plan for Footsteps involved exploring and reconciling the viewpoints and interests of community members, staff, and board to build consensus around priorities for growth while maintaining a high quality of services for their diverse membership.
Supporting People Leaving Insular Jewish Communities
A unique organization profiled in the Netflix documentary One of Us, Footsteps provides wraparound support services to people in the process of leaving ultra-Orthodox Jewish communities. Footsteps’ culturally competent services and referrals are tailored to the unique needs of its members, including trauma-informed counseling, emergency financial support and scholarships, assistance navigating divorce and custody battles with insular religious communities, and workshops advising members on navigating a variety of aspects of secular American society. Footsteps also functions as a social hub for its members, who support each other’s journeys in support groups and informal social gatherings.
Setting an Organizational Path Forward
Footsteps engaged Informing Change to help update their theory of change and develop a strategic plan for the organization’s next 3-5 years. A wide variety of stakeholders needed to be engaged in this process, including Footsteps staff, board, and members themselves, whose voices are valued by Footsteps. Furthermore, Footsteps’ central goal to support members’ self-determination poses challenges when members’ interests and beliefs conflict. Footsteps’ strengths and challenges often lie in its diverse membership, which includes people of varying ages, vocations, educational backgrounds, political orientations, spoken languages, religious practices, genders, and reasons for seeking services.
Finally, there is a lack of peer organizations engaging in similar services that Footsteps can emulate. Therefore, Footsteps often finds itself filling the position of field leader, in addition to its many other roles.
Context & Background Research
Informing Change began by grounding our work in the extensive resources provided by Footsteps that document its history, context, and the people it serves. Some of those resources are listed below.
We were also able to learn more about Footsteps’ context by comparing and contrasting it to related organizations.
- YAFFED (Young Advocates for Fair Education) focuses on the educational rights of Hasidic children, particularly boys in Yeshivas.
- Unchained at Last, founded by a woman who left an ultra-Orthodox community, works to end forced and child marriage in the US.
Balancing Conflicting Views
In planning for the future, Footsteps needed to balance several persistent tensions among its core values as an organization. During and following an initial theory of change process, Informing Change brought stakeholders—members, staff, and board—together to discuss how Footsteps might view these tensions as a source of organizational health and resiliency, while avoiding polarization and stalemates. (See a one-page version of the theory of change at the bottom of this page). In one exercise, stakeholders pondered the following questions:
- Growth: Should Footsteps focus on providing services to more people, deepening the quality of services to each person, or partnering with other organizations?
- Role: Is Footsteps more of a transitory bridge between worlds, an ongoing community of members, or a field convenor?
- Public Relations: In sharing its voice and stories, should Footsteps emphasize accessibility and reach, or caution and discretion?
- Advocacy: How much should Footsteps play the role of advocating for issues of concern (i.e., be a human rights organization) versus lifting up the views of its members (i.e., be a member-driven service provider)?
As predicted, this exercise produced a wide variety of thoughtful responses. Informing Change then used this framework to delve deeper into these issues through a member survey, interviews, and focus groups. Our team used the results to help inform the design and facilitation of an all-day retreat with staff and board members. Using several participatory activities, we gathered additional input and helped the group move toward consensus. In turn, we used this information to draft a strategic plan that prioritized goals for Footsteps’ next 3-5 years while maintaining its unique identity and commitment to serving a diverse membership. After the organization’s leaders worked with us to revise and finalize the plan, the Footsteps board endorsed it in summer 2022. Thereafter, staff embarked on bringing that plan to life.