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Illinois Partners for Human Services / Case Study




Mission spokesperson, fundraiser, budget officer, manager, chief subject matter expert, and powerbroker: all part of the job of a nonprofit Executive Director. For the right person, becoming an ED is an exhilarating chance to build out cause and impact. 


Lauren Wright is that right person to lead Illinois Partners for Human Service, a statewide coalition which advocates for human services. In July 2019, Illinois Partners’ first Executive Director retired after growing the coalition from a Chicago-based start-up to a statewide coalition of more than 800 members governed by a diverse Board of Directors. The Board wanted a leader to take Illinois Partners to the next level of influence and impact. Ms. Wright brings tremendous assets to the role. She is visionary, experienced in coalition-building and grassroots advocacy, and has an infectious energy and passion for the work.  However, she is new to the State, to human services, and to the ED role.  


Ms. Wright ‘s challenge is to launch a new direction and fresh public image for Illinois Partners, build the organization’s advocacy strength, take advantage of the opportunities afforded a new ED, and at the same time fulfill the many responsibilities of a nonprofit leader. After six months in her new role, Ms. Wright realized that, though Board members and others were generous with their advice, she wanted her own outside counsel.  She chose Rakove and Strassberger because of our reputations as healthcare and human service advocates and because of our experience as outward-facing nonprofit leaders. 




There were two important considerations in planning our approach. The first was that Ms. Wright was succeeding a trailblazing Executive Director, a situation which presents special challenges. The second was history. Shortly after our first meeting in February, the Covid-19 pandemic began to take front and center of every conversation. Then George Floyd was murdered by a Minnesotan police officer, setting off the largest protests in American history and becoming a catalyst for a national reckoning about racist policies and systemic racial inequities.  Both earthshattering events are leading to a passion for momentous change, opening opportunities for new leaders to be heard.  

Image by Kate Trifo
Image by Julian Wan
Image by Chris Henry
In collaboration with Lauren, we identified three priorities for the first year.
Image by Pedro Lastra


Establish Lauren’s voice as Illinois Partners with critical outside audiences. 


Build the power of Illinois Partners to persuade elected influential and other government leaders to act on issues critical to membership.  


Develop a resource development plan with foundations and Illinois Partner members.

To achieve this, Rakove and Strassberger is consulting on strategy development for the following: 

Deepening the influence of Illinois Partners with critical government leaders. Tactics include building relationships, capitalizing on opportunities to speak to power, mobilizing human service sector to advocate at critical junctures, doing a power-map analysis of members. and developing a member led policy advocacy agenda.


With new leadership and an expanded vision, Illinois Partners has the opportunity to reinvigorate relationships with existing funders, identify new funders, and offer a new value proposition to its members. Tactics include personal outreach to previous and current foundations as well as targeting new foundations and one to one membership appeal.


Communications; both message development and expanding access to critical audiences. One tactic was to craft a message that speaks to the heart as well as the financial concerns of the sector and was rooted in history and then use versions of this message in government testimony, membership appeal, foundation case statement, and media. Other tactics included timely, sophisticated data collection and outreach to the media. 

Image by Annie Spratt

Impact at four months

In the early days of the COVID19 pandemic, Lauren moved into the subject matter expert space with influential government leaders including the Congressional staff of both U.S. Senators, members of the State Administration, and leaders in the Illinois State Legislature. She brought fresh information to the table from her team who had quickly convened human service focus groups organized statewide and from Illinois Partner members working deep in their communities. She is now an established and  trusted resource for State and Congressional leaders. 

Lauren crafted a new message and vision for Illinois Partners which speaks to this moment of COVID 19, Black Lives Matter movement, and the systemic inequities both reveals. From her first day at Illinois Partners, Lauren had begun talking with Board leadership about systemic racism and how the human service sector might change itself.  She has reached out to current funders and to her diverse membership to communicate the new vision and plans for the future. This is an important moment for her to move forward with a vision that goes beyond a call to invest in human services. 

And this is only the beginning. 

Image by Lance Anderson


As a new Executive Director facing a global pandemic, I needed guidance on how to best steer my organization and respond to the needs of my coalition, while remaining authentic to my leadership style and pushing the organization to grow and evolve.  Suzanne and Roberta were instrumental in this process and in my growth as a leader.  They have been absolutely essential to me as I navigated some of the toughest months of my career.  From making key connections to decision-makers and legislators, to providing me honest and thoughtful insight, and many "tough love" moments, I am so grateful to them for taking me on as one of their initial clients!  They are worth every penny (and more) and I am so excited to have them on board with Illinois Partners for the long haul."

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