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Big, Small, Strong, Brave: The Strategy Behind RiverWoods’ Mission

Non-profit senior living communities exist for one reason: mission. These missions are often summarized in a statement, edited down to a sentence or two and printed on community collateral or posted onto community websites.

But how do senior living missions come to life?

Justine Vogel is president and CEO of RiverWoods, a continuing care retirement community with three campuses in Exeter, N.H. During a recent period of strategic planning, and shortly after visiting with an industry friend, she found herself writing four mission-related questions in her journal:

  • Are we big enough?
  • Are we small enough?
  • Are we strong enough?
  • Are we brave enough?

She shared these four questions during a meeting of non-profit CEOs and board members the day before The Greystone Event 2015 officially started. Greystone CEO John Spooner posed them to a larger audience the next day during a break between general sessions.

Watch in the video player below. (And scroll down to continue reading.)

What does the big-small-strong-brave approach mean?

Vogel was quick to clarify that these questions are not a mission unto themselves, but rather a filter through which the organization looks forward.

Here’s how she described them:

Are we big enough? “This is basically about accepting that we need scale. That might be through organic growth, through affiliation, or through other ways of working with other non-profit providers. It’s about realizing that when you’re large enough you can seek change rather than having change foisted upon you.”

Are we small enough? “We’re a community, right? And in community, people want to feel like it’s personal to them. There are ways to be big and feel big, and there are ways to be big and feel small. We want to feel small enough that each resident feels personal about this community as their home.”

Are we strong enough? “Every decision we make should be ours to make. If we have an organization affiliate with us, or if at some point we join someone larger, it’s our decision to make — not because we’re in trouble. The other part is being strong enough financially and operationally that we have the funds to invest in what’s coming, in technology and other innovations. It’s about being in charge of our own destiny.”

Are we brave enough? “We’re 98.5 percent occupied. Our waitlist has doubled. But when we look at ourselves, we know we have to be something different for the next generation of seniors, whether dramatically different or different enough. What happens in some organizations is they only allow for small incremental change in mindset and action, and then one day you wake up and you’re out of date, you’re not relevant. Just because you’re successful now doesn’t mean you’ll be successful 10 years from now. Realize you might be wrong, but it’s better to make mistakes when you can afford them than wait until you’re desperate.”

RiverWoods official mission statement is “to maintain a creative and secure continuing care retirement community that enriches the freedom of senior living while easing the challenges of aging.”

Asking these four questions is a simple way to ensure that the organization is poised to continue serving this mission for decades to come.

Greystone’s relationship with RiverWoods dates back to the development of its two newest campuses, The Ridge (opened in 2004) and The Boulders (2010).

Learn more about RiverWoods.

See photos of The Boulders in the gallery below.

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