Berks Agricultural Resource Network: Developing an Organization’s First-Ever Strategic Plan

Berks Agricultural Resource Network (B.A.R.N.) was founded in 2008 as a non-profit organization serving as an alliance for the agricultural and related food industries and rural communities in Berks County, Pennsylvania. The SBI team was approached by B.A.R.N. in 2017 to work with their newly appointed strategic planning committee to develop the organization’s first-ever strategic plan. They wished to address areas such as staffing needs and the membership model. They had also identified several organizations as potential partners and/or members that they knew they weren’t marketing to as effectively as they could be. The Board expressed concern about the fate and direction of the organization, particularly due to lack of support to the organization and potential members not seeing the value in joining B.A.R.N. They had difficultly defining a clear vision and message and quantifying the community benefits that B.A.R.N. provides.

The strategic planning committee was made up of Board members as well as members with agricultural and economic development experience. We began by conducting interviews with a cross-section of B.A.R.N. stakeholders to uncover relevant issues, insights, and themes for consideration during the strategic planning process. We worked with the committee to analyze B.A.R.N.’s history and culture, conduct a SWOT+T analysis, build consensus around vision, mission, and values, brainstorm key areas of focus to achieve B.A.R.N.’s priorities, and identify goals and action steps. We then facilitated two focus groups to ensure that the perspectives of B.A.R.N. members, sponsors, and supporters were considered prior to finalizing the strategic plan.

As a result of the committee’s work and B.A.R.N.’s new strategic plan, the organization now has a clear role and strategy for the first time in their history. The strategic plan addresses the information needs of potential funders previously untapped such as the Pennsylvania Department of Agriculture. B.A.R.N. can now apply for targeted grants to support specific objectives identified in the strategic plan. The organization was also able to clarify and better serve their relationship with the Berks County Department of Agriculture. In addition, the strategic plan has become the focus of every Board meeting and staff meeting, is consulted whenever important decisions need to be made, and provides a forum for staying focused and avoiding temptation to follow the loudest voice in a meeting.