Comprehensive Planning for Equine Organizations

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Many of us who make our living in the horse industry also "give back" through equine industry organizations and non-profits. Here are some tips from an expert in the field to help us better work with those organizations to make the successful. There are also tips you can glean that can apply to equine business owners.

In horse-related organizations, as in all business ventures, practical management skills are necessary for success. But according to Lori Garkovich, PhD, professor in the Department of Community and Leadership Development at the University of Kentucky, many equine concerns fail to answer essential and basic questions related to mission, economics, management, compensation for volunteers and fundraising, to name a few.

Garkovich, who has many years of experience advising equine partners, says that to achieve the success levels they desire, equine organizations must consider how to build capacity through strategic planning, board training, support services, and by pinpointing the economic sectors they need to make use of and/or serve.

Garkovich has a long history assisting equine organizations to answer capacity-related questions. She poses a rhetorical question: Would you pull up to Lowe’s, Home Depot, or 84 Lumber and ask them to fill up your truck with all the materials you need to build a house? No, of course not. You would spend time creating a comprehensive building plan, answering multiple questions about materials, form, function, and style. What is the house made of? One story? Two story? How many rooms? Where are the windows? Only after considering these and other variables would you begin purchasing building materials. Equine organizations must conduct the same kind of thorough “house planning” to build their organizations.

Understanding the Mission

With a clearly understood and structurally supported mission, or “house plan,” the organization can develop a strategy. Volunteers and board members tend to get excited and to push forward, reflecting a tendency in life to “just do it.” This tendency leads to movement, but little or no accomplishment. The mission is the foundation for success and growth in any sector of society; if there is no organizational strength, there is no movement forward. Participants forget the 5 Ps: Prior planning prevents poor performance.

Answering Basic Questions: Form, Function, Style

How will the organization operate? What are the duties of volunteers? What compensation will the volunteers receive? Who or what is the primary recipient of the organization’s work? How will funds be collected? Will the board be responsible for fundraising? Who will determine the day-to-day management and forward-planning? What economic sector uses or benefits from the organization? How can that knowledge be used to advantage? Even when it may seem tedious or obvious, answering these management topics will help equine organizations stay on track and fulfill expectations.

Motivating Factors for Volunteers: The Payoff

Equine organizations, whose volunteers perform a multitude of important duties, must create comprehensive capacity-related plans. Garkovich’s particular expertise lies in her ability to combine economic realities (the need to build capacity and exploit niche economic sectors, for instance) with sociological and management issues (how to “pay” volunteers with personal fulfillment or even power in the form of leadership, for example).

Planning from the board is critical, particularly in volunteer equine operations. People who give time, money, or both need to feel there is a measurable and equitable payoff. The payoff does not have to be monetary; indeed, for many it lies more in emotional or psychological rewards. Volunteers find intense personal satisfaction in holding leadership roles, helping others succeed, finding hidden talents, or reaching new goals. As Garkovich points out, “Fulfillment of others is self-fulfillment.” Vague parameters can lead to frustration or psychological and physical withdrawal. But when a board establishes clear expectations for volunteer work and delineates clear returns for performing that volunteer work, the organization can escape the weary cynicism that stems from unclear guidelines.

Roundtable Discussions: Who Has to Pay?

Ginny Grulke, outgoing executive director of the Kentucky Horse Council (KHC), held a roundtable discussion facilitated by Garkovich on trail-riding fees. Trails are important to horses and riders, yet they are under-funded and served by a small number of devotees. Opening a discussion about how to foot the bill for trail maintenance offered KHC an opportunity to seek innovative ideas and bounce around different fee structures. The roundtable conversation also revealed the threshold that people are willing to pay. Still under discussion, the ideas included a bridle hang-tag, a one-time-use pass, and yearly rates ranging from $35-$75.

Investing in trails through this kind of hang-tag funding can increase agri-tourism visits based on trail riding, noted Garkovich. Increased tourism adds more dollars to the economy at multiple levels. And at a time when people are counting pennies, every dollar counts.

When organizations implement thorough and careful planning that engages constituents and clearly defines goals, whether long- or short-term, even major changes such as the adoption of trail fees, can be implemented smoothly.