Throughout this past year, there has been significant discussion surrounding the development of NIRSA’s next strategic plan.

While we look forward to seeing the hard work and great ideas come to life, we also want to celebrate the many substantial accomplishments of the 2013-2018 Strategic Plan.

‘Future First’ and alignment

Nearly a decade ago, NIRSA set out a bold vision for the Association with a ‘Future First’ governance model. Fully implementing the model took several years of strategies, tactics, cultural-shifts, and competency development. The 2013-2018 Strategic Plan, which focused on better integration of all the entities of NIRSA into one aligned direction, was a culmination of this work.

Before that plan could come to life, though, the NIRSA Board of Directors led the Association through a multi-year, inclusive, re-visioning process. The primary goal of the Board was poising NIRSA to better leverage the competencies and leadership which had been built over the previous 60 years.

This work has yielded impacts beyond what could have been anticipated almost a decade ago. NIRSA now boasts:

  • three strategic and proactive Boards—the NIRSA Board of Directors, the Foundation Board, and the NSC Board—aligned around a common mission, vision, and strategic plan
  • the Member Network, focused on regional engagement, communications, operations, and the grassroots growth of the profession
  • the Assembly, a forward-looking think tank for the campus recreation profession

People—NIRSA’s most effective resource—were supported in new and impactful ways through training, onboarding, and opportunities for competency development. Numerous program and policy reviews were conducted, operating structures were modernized, and decision-making roles were shifted. The number of volunteers and staff engaged in the organization was increased to broaden NIRSA’s reach and impact.

Strategic Values

Leading up to the 2013-2018 strategic plan, NIRSA established six strategic values that guide the organization and demonstrate who we are and what we stand for. We activated these values of Leadership, Service, Global Perspectives, Health & Wellbeing, Sustainability, and Equity, Diversity & Inclusion, in our education and resource offerings, with our partners, and in our advocacy efforts.

What is unique about NIRSA’s activation of core values is they are not stand-alone, siloed efforts; they are a constant blur and swirl of action. This blur and swirl has often led the Association to reaffirm those values when situations in our society and culture act contrary—and especially when those actions affect our members and the students they serve.

Furthermore, we advocate for our values because we know our vision of building healthy people and healthy communities worldwide cannot be achieved with physical fitness alone. Our values are now, and have always been, not what we do but who we are and how we lead.

Lifelong learning

Over the past five years, NIRSA has conducted a comprehensive review of its educational content and delivery. Key accomplishments included defining and building the core competencies, which provides a unified basis for content at NIRSA education events; engaging in an external review of the Professional Registry; and providing program committees additional resources to delineate learning outcomes for all events and enhance the delivery of NIRSA professional development content.

Additionally, growing our partner events expanded access to education content and modeled collaboration with on campus partners, while expansion of executive-level educational opportunities highlighted the continued growth of recreation professionals within higher education administration.

Member engagement

NIRSA expanded engagement with campus recreation professionals in previously underserved segments. In addition to the Member Network’s efforts to strengthen operations within NIRSA’s individual regions, the Association began concentrated initiatives to engage HBCU institutions, supporting NIRSA’s historical roots, and small programs, reducing barriers to participation in NIRSA.

Perhaps most boldly, NIRSA truly stepped beyond its previous ‘national’ scope and officially recognized its first international region in Canada. Efforts of many tireless volunteer leaders and years of groundwork in building a professional home for Canadian recreation professionals culminated in 2017 with the Board passing a resolution to formally establish NIRSA’s Canadian region.

Advocacy for the profession in Canada and reciprocal learnings on both sides of the 49th parallel continue.

Research and resources

Over these past five years, NIRSA has supported a robust research agenda with funding, partnerships, staffing and an effective Research & Assessment Committee to create and disseminate more research and benchmarking that supports the value of campus recreation. Among the many products to emerge from these efforts were:

NIRSA Foundation – supporting NIRSA through philanthropy

The NIRSA Foundation embarked on a new vision for fundraising. Starting with a feasibility study to assess opportunities, the Foundation Board significantly expanded their donor base and revenue.

The Foundation Board also took on a more strategic role by expanding their committee structures and adding dedicated staffing in support of this new vision.

NIRSA Services Corporation – supporting NIRSA through enterprise

NSC engaged in visioning efforts and developed a different strategy for brand activations in campus recreation centers. After deep scanning of market potential, pilot programs, and potential partners, the NSC Board agreed to an exclusive partnership with Riddle & Bloom.

The collaboration provides support for the necessary infrastructure for this enterprise as well as connection to relevant brands who wish to join campus recreation in building healthy campus communities that support student success and wellbeing.

NIRSA Championship Series

The Championship Series established a value statement and guiding principles, which was endorsed by the NIRSA and NSC Boards. Their leadership also expanded opportunities for NIRSA volunteers to engage in tournament operations and develop our offerings.

Consistent with NIRSA’s strategic values, a partnership with Special Olympics was established to offer Unified Sports as part of the Series’ regional and national events, as well as encouraging the growth of Unified on campuses across North America.

The value of process

As 2015 marked the midpoint of NIRSA’s 2013-2018 strategic plan, the NIRSA Board carefully reviewed the plan to ensure the objectives and strategies had remained relevant and effective in support of accomplishing the adopted goals.

The review provided consensus on completed areas, as well as rearticulated strategies that integrate learnings, accomplishments, and new opportunities. While the goals of the plan did not change, language was updated and new objectives and tactics were added to better reflect contemporary opportunities and challenges for both the profession and the Association.

NIRSA 2018 will be a milestone in our transition to a new plan

Transitioning between strategic plans can’t happen in any single moment, but the Annual Meeting of Members at NIRSA 2018 will be an important milestone event; the Strategic Planning Task Force will look back over 2013-2018’s achievements and then share the most recent draft of NIRSA’s 2018-2021 plan, looking to springboard the Association further as leaders in both higher education and health and wellbeing.

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

Pam Watts is currently the Executive Director at NIRSA.