Comprehensive Planning for Equine Organizations

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

Garkovich, who has many years' experience advising equine partners, says that to achieve the success levels equine organizations desire, they must first 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.

Step by Step

Equine organizations should have regular assessment and targeted planning sessions (sometimes by outside parties). Bill Chambers, chairman of the board for The League of Agricultural and Equine Centers, echoed this, citing his organization's early vision in 1997 of sharing information with individuals who run facilities that host agricultural/equine events and shows.

After what the board thought was a plateau in membership in 1999, the organization has seen rapid growth over the past five years. Chambers credits this to two key planning sessions the board implemented to address membership growth. Membership has shot up, and the organization has branched out to include two academic partnerships (resulting in a three-day Footing Academy and an in-depth course to become a Certified Manager of Equine Centers, which has enrollment of about 70), publishing, and consulting.

Garkovich also has a long history assisting equine organizations answer their 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? Is it one storey or two storeys? 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 push forward quickly, reflecting a tendency in life to "just do it." This tendency leads to movement but little or no accomplishment. The mission is to create a foundation for success and growth in any sector of society; if there is no organizational strength, then there is no forward movement. Organization members can't forget the five P's: Prior planning prevents poor performance.

Answering Basic Questions: Form, Function, Style

Even when it might seem tedious or obvious, equine organizations must answer some management topics to stay on track and fulfill expectations:

How will the organization operate? What are volunteers' duties? 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 an advantage?

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 (for example, how to "pay" volunteers with personal fulfillment or even power in the form of leadership).

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 often find personal satisfaction in holding leadership roles, helping others succeed, discovering their hidden talents, or reaching new goals. As Garkovich points out, "fulfillment of others is self-fulfillment." Providing volunteers with 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 work, the organization can escape the weary cynicism that stems from unclear guidelines.

Intrinsic Connection to the Mission

Deb Balliet, chief executive officer of Equine Land Conservation Resource (ELCR), a national organization devoted to preserving land for equestrian use, echoed Garkovich's thoughts about a personal payoff. Balliet said she thinks ELCR members really enjoy each other, but their intrinsic interest is in the mission of land preservation for riding. Thus, she organizes daylong riding events at Shaker Village when the group meets in Kentucky, and she has noticed such a positive response to the shared activity that ELCR now also offers an optional day of riding after the organization's retreat.

Because ELCR is a new organization, it has limited prestige among some of the other equine heavyweights. Balliet said one of ELCR's perks is that staff members are free to pursue avenues of specific interest to answer issues that arise. For instance, one staff member has a particular bent toward governance.

Roundtable Discussions: Who Has to Pay?

Ginny Grulke, executive director of the Kentucky Horse Council, recently held a roundtable discussion facilitated by Garkovich on trail riding fees. Trails are an important resource for horses and riders, yet underfunded 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, trail riding fee 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 agritourism 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.

Karin Pekarchik is an editorial officer in Agricultural Communications Services.

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