NIRSA’s Strategic Planning Task Force met November 29–December 1 in Washington, DC for their second face-to-face meeting and to continue their work on assembling the Association’s next strategic plan.

Thank you for all your ideas and engagement

This strategic planning process began with a core question in mind: How do we make an effective planning process that is inclusive of as many voices and lenses as possible? Our ten-member task force was a good start at capturing the diversity of perspectives and experiences within our Association, while the task force’s steady engagement of 101 NIRSA members via the Strategic Partner and Accountability Partner Groups took that even further! These groups’ input has been critical in environmental scanning and, now, in reviewing drafts of the strategic plan.

Beyond the 111 members formally involved in a strategic planning group, many more members have contributed thoughts and feedback through their attendance at regional conferences and/or state workshops this fall. The notes from those sessions—which posed scanning questions and provided an overview of the process—were reviewed by each of the task force members ahead of (and during) our meeting in Washington, DC and were essential to our conversations.

Membership survey

Earlier this fall, 26 members—who were not already providing feedback as Strategic or Accountability Partners—were sent a worksheet survey to gather qualitative data. Twenty-two members provided robust and in-depth feedback, which helped inform the writing of the next, membership-wide survey.

That survey was emailed on November 2 to all NIRSA members, as well as those non-members whose contact information was accessible in the NIRSA database (either because their membership had lapsed or they had used a NIRSA program or service in the past) by Association Labs. The survey was open for a two-week period and over 1,100 professionals and nearly 150 students responded.

NIRSA valued the opportunity to work with a third-party on this survey so the results could speak for themselves—Association Labs analyzed the survey results and reported them in aggregate form only with the intent they be presented as bias-free as possible. Dean West, President of Association Labs, joined the task force in Washington, DC to present the results and answer any questions.

The survey noted that members currently prized networking and resources when engaging with NIRSA. Responses also stated a very high level of overall satisfaction with NIRSA, which Association Labs noted was not the norm when surveying organizations. The Strategic Planning Task Force hardly saw this information as reason to rest easy; rather, they took it as a charge to ensure the Association moved forward in the strongest, most productive manner to keep that member satisfaction high.

Respondents’ top concerns

The results also showed that respondents’ top concerns when considering the future of campus recreation had to do with wellbeing (such as the prevalence of mental health issues among students, the need for interdepartmental coordination to fully address student wellbeing, and overwhelmed/overscheduled students) and finances (such as the cost of attending college, reduced funding for higher education, and pressure for departments to generate revenue). New and changing technology, as well as the adapting programs and facilities aiming to be more inclusive, ranked highly as well.

When survey respondents considered what would most help with navigating these concerns, they focused on resources to advocate for the value of campus recreation, improve student wellbeing, provide a safe and inclusive environment for students, and collaborate across departments and campus.

The task force focused hard on ensuring these concerns were represented in the priorities for this next strategic plan.

Getting down to business in DC

In addition to reviewing the robust environmental scanning work, the task force also had the opportunity to learn from two guest speakers. Liz Clark, Director of Federal Affairs for NACUBO, and Teri Lyn Hinds, Director for Policy Research and Advocacy at NASPA, spoke to how each of their higher education associations monitored, considered, and leveraged state and federal policy and legislative issues.

An additional piece of the task force’s ‘learning journey’ was to further leverage the opportunities made available by the meeting’s location, just as we did during our meeting in Seattle.

This time, we walked to the National Mall and took in the history and significance of the major memorials. Particularly inspiring and poignant was the Martin Luther King, Jr. Memorial; spending time among the words of such a powerful leader in history brought NIRSA’s own powerful history to the forefront. And it seemed only fitting that we remember our Association’s storied past as we build towards its exciting future.

The rest of the DC meeting time was spent working closely with consultant Ted Sarvata as he took the task force through exercises to hone in on not just what the most important concerns were, based on member input, but also to understand what could be practically and measurably accomplished within the plan’s timeframe. There was also significant discussion about ensuring continuity with the successes and lessons of the 2013–2018 Strategic Plan, as well as planning forward and setting up a strong launch pad for the strategic planning process that will follow this one.

The task force then set about drafting language to form the next plan. They decided to ultimately draft three documents, each kept to about one page, to tell the story of the next strategic plan. The first will be a visual representation of the plan, making it user-friendly and accessible to members and non-members alike. That visual will be accompanied by a brief narrative intending to explain the visual elements in a bit more depth and detail. Finally, as our group remains proud of the amount of voices and perspectives brought into the planning process, there will be a one-page document outlining the overall process used to see this plan from concept to creation.

The Strategic Plan at NIRSA 2018

The early drafts of these plans are being reviewed between now and mid-January by the Strategic and Accountability Partner groups. Their feedback will be incorporated before presenting a draft to all members at the 2018 NIRSA Annual Conference.

Annual Meeting of Members

Members of the task force will present a draft of the plan to the membership during the Annual Meeting of Members, currently scheduled for Tuesday, March 6 at 2:30pm. The presentation will discuss how each of the elements of the plan came to the forefront, the connections to and continuations of the current plan, and how it all collectively looks to the future.

For those unable to attend the Annual Meeting of Members, information will be made available on the NIRSA website after conference.

Whether you join us live in person or virtually after the fact, we encourage you to provide your thoughts and feedback to a member of the Strategic Planning Task Force so it can be incorporated into the final draft of the plan, which is scheduled to go to the NIRSA Board of Directors in late March.


As NIRSA members know, nothing quite says ‘NIRSA Annual conference’ like a name badge decorated with colorful ribbons showcasing much of your hard work and involvement throughout the past year. We want to help celebrate everyone who participated in this strategic planning process, so if you were on a partner group, came to a session at regionals or state workshops, or participated in one of the surveys, please add the ‘Strategic Planning Participant’ ribbon to your name badge at conference!

We want to hear from you!

Continue to watch the NIRSA news and NIRSA social media for updates on the strategic planning process and know that you can always share your thoughts and ideas with a member of the Strategic Planning Task Force or our partner groups. We hope to hear from you!


  • For more information on NIRSA’s strategic planning process, please contact NIRSA Director of Advocacy & Strategic Partnerships Erin O’Sullivan.

Leah Hall Dorothy is currently Director of Recreational Sports at Oregon State University and serves as President Elect on the NIRSA Board of Directors. Erin O'Sullivan is currently NIRSA Director of Advocacy & Strategic Partnerships. Don Stenta is currently Director of Student Life Recreational Sports at The Ohio State University. Pam Watts is the Executive Director of NIRSA.