by A. Rima Dael and Pat MacPherson

theoryofchangepeopleToday, CDSS’s value and strength as a national arts and education organization is to be of service to dance, music, and song communities and participants across North America. We are committed to providing the resources, services, and training that ensure strong, resilient communities. Our core programs and services of camps, group insurance, 501(c) 3 group exemption, conferences, publications, resources (online and in print), the CDSS Bookstore, grants, and scholarships will continue, as will our archives and library at the University of New Hampshire. Our ongoing strategic planning work has benefited from community and membership surveys (2005, 2008, and 2011) and led to the strategic direction adopted by the Board on November 2013.

The Education Department report below allows us to share the outcome of 3 years of work around our programmatic direction and the focus of our work in the coming years. We have now established the connection between our list of projects (in our Strategic Plans) and the outcome our organization is focused on achieving with our dance, music and song communities around North America. We have a framework for checking any proposed projects against two benchmarks: 1) is the project likely to be beneficial to the individuals and communities we serve; and 2) does CDSS have the money, staff, and capability of accomplishing it? This year, our Centennial year, it was important for us to share with you, where we are going and how we are using your resources to for greater impact to help build resilient dance, music and song communities for the 21st century. Please read the enclosed report. Share the report with others. We’ll post this on our Facebook page and you can include comments there or send them to me at rima@cdss.org.

INTRODUCTION

CDSS has a long history of providing training and skill building opportunities for callers, musicians, dancers, and organizers through our camps, and more recently, through conferences. It is what we are known for and the best of what we do. As we continue this work, we need to identify and work with our current opportunities and challenges. As with all nonprofit organizations with finite resources, we need to decide how we can respond to the needs of our communities, strengthen our own organization, and steward our art forms.

Our strategic direction has led us to ask “How can traditional participatory dance, music and song communities thrive in today’s rapidly changing environments?” and our on-going planning has led us to focus on creating a resilient organization that balances:

  • Financial sustainability
    The ability to generate resources to meet the needs of the present without compromising the future
  • Organizational sustainability
    The ability to build, adapt, and refresh organizational capacity and leadership that is both relevant and responsive
  • Programmatic sustainability
    The ability to develop, mature, and cycle out programs which are responsive to constituencies over time

Our goal has been to create an adaptive strategy to help guide our organization with the right mix of programs that are sustainable and profitable, and fit our mission. Our work can be summarized by the following steps below:

  • cdss theory of change smStep 1: Create a vision of the organization using staff and key stakeholders for input.
  • Step 2: State the problem we are trying to solve as an outcome.
  • Step 3: Create a logic model and theory of change for our desired outcome. This model would help articulate goals and measurable outcomes.
  • Step 4: Nonprofit sustainability matrix work would measure the alignment of current programs and services to the organizational mission and their profitability.
  • Step 5: Assess whether our internal infrastructure can support the work that is articulated through the theory of change process and the nonprofit sustainability assessment.
  • Step 6: Decide how to reach future goals, considering all or some of: fundraising; reorganization of internal structure; dropping programs and developing new ones. This is the final step that we have to complete!


MISSION OF THE CDSS EDUCATION DEPARTMENT

Daily requests for support and assistance from our community to the CDSS office can be narrowed into three areas:

  • How do we start a dance, song circle, jam, house concert, workshop, or event and how do we train new leaders, organizers, musicians, etc.?
  • How do we find resources, identify needs, and problem solve with issues that come up in our communities?
  • How do we communicate within the dance/music/song community and with the broader communities on the importance and relevance of the participatory dance, music and song that we do?

The challenge of the CDSS Education Department, encompassing outreach, camps, the Centennial Tour, the store and services, and resource creation, is to respond to these requests. The work of our Department rests on the CDSS mission.

The mission of CDSS is, simply put, to support communities which participate in the traditional arts rooted in England and North America, and to help them thrive.

The Education Department’s task is to create resources and experiences which support this mission. These may include, but are not limited to:

  • Week-long adult and family camps;
  • Week-long mini-courses;
  • Community residencies;
  • Conferences;
  • A store which sources and sells hard-to-find books, DVDs, and CDs;
  • Print and e-books, and recordings;
  • Online library of out-of-print books and recordings;
  • Scholarships;
  • Grants;
  • Webinars, databases, and other online resources.


IDENTIFYING OUR OUTCOMES

At our 2012 Board Meeting we collaborated on creating a vision of CDSS as an information hub, connector and “global switchboard.” This vision included a “resource-rich and dynamic web presence.” We envisioned CDSS as creating and participating in “mutually beneficial partnerships,” with strengthened connections to other dance, song, and music organizations. Outreach to the world would be through professional development and teacher training at our camps, in person and online, creation of a network of mentors, expansion of grants, scholarships, conferences, and educational programs, and regular regional gatherings.

This vision made its way into our first Strategic Direction document and our goals for the Centennial. While we had an inspiring list of projects, we still hadn’t defined the problem we were trying to solve. The best way to articulate the problem was to identify our desired outcome, and create a theory of change, or map, showing how our programs and services help our participants and communities achieve outcomes. Our desired outcome is: thriving and resilient dance, music, and song communities.

With our theory of change, we have established the connection between our list of projects (in our Strategic Plans) and the outcome our organization is focused on achieving. We have a framework for checking any proposed projects against two benchmarks: 1/ is the project likely to be beneficial to the individuals and communities we serve; and 2/ does CDSS have the money, staff, and capability of accomplishing it?


OUR VISION REDUX

The Strategic Vision document of 2012 was created at the start of Rima Dael’s tenure as Executive Director. Since then, our organization and our environment have been changing. Some of our goals in 2012 are still salient; others are not. There is value is seeing where we were, consciously letting go of some and recommitting to other goals.

It is most interesting, in light of our theory of change work, that the goals we focused on were aspirational in terms of outreach and service. But, we neglected to establish concurrent goals to support this work: professional development for staff, robust technological infrastructure, etc. We had to learn, over the past three years, how to be the organization which could support our vision. The strategic direction adopted by the CDSS Board in 2013 is available here.

POST-LOGIC MODEL EVALUATION

Having the touchstone of our theory of change has given clarity and focus to the Education Department. We created the model and it has begun to guide our work. It is clear that our desired outcomes are being served by our traditional educational resources (books), but also by our camps, the store, our outreach grants and conferences, and our vision of a website which will be a rich, online resource.

THE FUTURE

CDSS’s goal, as an education and arts service organization, is to be useful and relevant to dance, music, and song communities and participants across North America. We are committed to providing the resources, services, and training that ensure strong, resilient communities. We will communicate the value of our artistic traditions, steward their history, and advocate for their continuity for the next 100 years and beyond.

CONCLUSION

For 100 years, CDSS has supported the North American dance, music, and song community through its camps, grants, scholarships, leadership training, publications, and group services such as liability insurance and tax exemption. We have grown from a very small, volunteer-run operation to a national arts and education organization serving all of North America. With this change in scale and scope has come the need for modern data management tools, a robust online presence, a growing staff of skilled professionals, and sustainable financial practices. To ensure our effectiveness for the future, we now need to invest in CDSS itself, so that we remain the strong, vital center of participatory arts programming that our communities expect and rely on. With our unified vision of our purpose, we can align our resources to deliver the programs and services for our community that we are best equipped to deliver.

     
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