4th Quarter 2019 President’s Message

By Rob Henken

As we hit the two-year mark since the creation of the new Wisconsin Policy Forum, I think I speak for our entire Board of Directors and staff in saying the merger has been a resounding success. We are producing more content than ever before, with 53 research publications in 2019. And, as detailed in this newsletter, our content is being widely covered in media outlets across the state and our research presentations are in great demand from legislative bodies and statewide civic and business groups. This shows we are producing hard-hitting content that matters to thought leaders and policymakers.

That said, we’re still experiencing some growing pains when it comes to our business model, as we are finding that our existing revenue streams are falling a bit short of the amounts needed to finance our ideal staffing model. That is certainly not cause for great concern given our very healthy reserves, but it does suggest the need for some relatively minor course corrections.

Hence, the need for strategic planning. We launched a planning process earlier this year, starting with a pair of sessions over the summer with a group of directors selected to represent the various sectors in our membership (i.e. corporate, government, nonprofit). After that group determined our planning framework, we conducted a pair of half-day planning retreats – one involving staff and the other involving our Executive Committee and an additional small group of directors again selected to represent our diverse membership and board.

The result is a new strategic planning document that will guide us for the next three to five years. Rather than coming up with a comprehensive new strategic plan, we opted for an abridged version that tweaks our mission statement and statement of purpose, establishes a couple of overriding strategic objectives, and lays out several pages of actions we will undertake to meet those objectives.

The document is currently under review by our full Board of Directors and will be officially presented at our annual meeting on January 21. But for now, here are a few highlights:

  • We are re-affirming our commitment to a membership-based business model but acknowledging that new challenges are emerging that make that model more difficult to sustain. Those include the retirement of long-time supporters at large metro Milwaukee corporate entities, increased competition from other nonprofits, and a lack of personal connections with significant portions of the former WISTAX contributor base.
  • At the same time, we see several budding opportunities, including huge untapped potential for new members in Greater Madison, a growing demand from local governments and school districts for our contract research, and our own growing statewide influence and credibility. We now need to figure out how to capitalize on our research strength to fortify our business model, while at the same time ensuring that our business model provides the necessary resources and independence to sustain our ability to produce highly relevant and impactful policy research.
  • In line with that challenge, we have established two new strategic objectives. The first is to make a relatively small but important shift in our research portfolio from products that simply seek to explain and frame issues to those that provide deeper analysis intended to specifically inform and influence policy decision-making. While data tools, issue briefs, and general education pieces will continue to be an important part of our research portfolio, a greater proportion of our products will be geared toward articulating new policy insights and producing clear and actionable policy options and solutions.
  • Our second objective is to expand the non-membership portions of our revenue pie. We’ll seek to maintain our current level of membership funding by building our base in Madison and cultivating new membership prospects in Milwaukee, but we’ll seek annual revenue growth through increased individual donations, grants, contract income, and sponsorships. We believe the shift to more actionable research will help us achieve this objective.

The full document will be posted on our website shortly after our annual meeting. In the meantime, happy New Year, thank you for your support and participation in 2019, and we hope to see you at the annual meeting on January 21!