Strategic Planning for the USCGA

Strategic Planning Case Study: The United States Coast Guard Academy


Strategic Planning for The US Coast Guard Academy, established in New London, CT in 1932. The USCGA provides instruction and advising to over 1,700 cadets annually in nine major areas of study. Its main source of revenue is federal funding through an annual DHS appropriations bill, followed by alumni giving and membership fees.

The faculty has had a history of seeking grant funding, for research and development projects with students and in their own professional academic growth, as ‘individuals’ outside of the academy’s operational governance. This of course is problematic as the Academy had no universal accounting or authority over who was seeking grants among its faculty, who was being funded, and where those funds are banked.

In addition, in our work with the Academy on grant development for their summer STEM programming for area schools, we learned that the Academy is prohibited from receiving corporate grant funding and sponsorship as a federal entity.

The restrictions on funding sources, along with the inability of departments to secure grant funding directly, put the academy at a significant disadvantage in competing for students, academic awards, revenue, and retaining faculty placements.

They invited Harvest in to guide a strategic plan development to identify viable options for mitigating some of these obstacles, allowing a more competitive environment, increasing grant and sponsored program funding, and organizing the faculty grant award processes.

Our Approach:

Our first approach was to do a deep dive into the issues, obstacles, and legal restrictions preventing the academy from competing for grant funding. We worked with the Academy Alumni Board of Directors in developing a data collection plan that worked with the federal restrictions for vendors, met all communication with alumni and community guidelines, and elicited the information needed to determine a go/no go on strategic planning for a special office of grants and sponsored programs at the academy.

Once we had established the parameters for the data collection, we worked with the board to determine a long list of stakeholders. In this particular strategy project, it was important that we include faculty affected by the grant obstacles, deans overseeing research projects in their departments, and the academy administration in administering governance overall. We also had to collect insight from the grantors, who previous to this concept either had knowledge of the inability or obstacles to the academy seeking grant funding or had no knowledge the academy might be a grantable institution. And finally, we needed to interview academy legal authorities to ensure we had scoped out all legal restrictions and requirements to produce a strategy that could be applicable.

Similarly, we formulated the questions being asked of the stakeholders to elicit the data needed to determine:

  • Benefits and value of an office for grants and sponsored programs
  • Risks and threats of same
  • Feasibility of funding and the sustainability of funding through such an office
  • Operational and administrative considerations in operating an office
  • Forecasting the revenue and expense of such an endeavor

We hosted fifteen one on one interviews across the spectrum of stakeholders identified. We hosted a survey of funders and a separate survey of faculty to elicit insight into the ‘fundability’ of the academy programs as well as the perceptions, attitudes, beliefs, and fears of faculty in shifting the way they currently had operated in securing grant funding toward a more bureaucratic governed model.

Additionally, we did an internal audit to produce the needs assessment of designing, producing, and operating such an office within the academy structure and the cost basis of doing so,

And we performed a competitor analysis to determine the economic and market environment in which the academy would need to break into in securing grant funding for their programs.

Finally, we drafted a financial pro forma showing revenue generation over 5 initial years of the operations of a grants and sponsored programs office.

The data collection period extended over 6 months because of the complexity of navigating the academy structure, the political offices required to offer data points, and the community availability for engagement in interviews and surveys.

On completion, our Strategic Planning Findings Report outlined the strategic imperatives for designing and producing an office. Separately in the report, we also identified a section on imperatives for operating an office of grants and sponsored programs at the academy. We separated these two areas of imperatives because of the single most significant data finding in our audit and assessment: The academy was a billeted service organization, meaning that they do not receive a line-item budget of dollars, but a listing of positions and departments. In order for an office of grants and sponsored programs to exist, the academy needed to increase its billet allotment (or reduce a position/department) in order to add the office and any staff positions to the office.  To increase the billet required an Act of Congress, which is a process of many months, even years.

While the board was disappointed in this significant finding, it did provide them with the important data to avoid a go-forward plan that would have failed. This information influenced the board in putting the strategy planning on hold until such an act could be obtained.

Three and a half years passed before the Coast Guard was able to move forward on building a strategic plan for the new office. The Coast Guard Authorization Act gave the head of the Coast Guard the authority to establish such an entity, and on its adoption by Congress, we began the process of strategic planning with the organization, using the findings report produced three years prior.

We did a quick refresh on data points and then worked with the board to establish a strategic plan that addressed: a purpose statement, a vision, and mission for the office, as well as an administrative structure; policy and procedure development; communications, marketing, and faculty community development; grantor forecast, program inventory, and funder engagement; organizational position diagram and position summaries with role and responsibility; a board governance model with board member role and responsibility; a process for obtaining corporate entity and 501C3 status from the IRS; development of bylaws and article of incorporation; as well as a financial pro forma showing expenditure, COG, and income over 5-years.

The result of our project with the US Coast Guard was the commissioning of a brand new office of grants and sponsored programs, called SPRI (Sponsored Programs and Research, Inc) announced here in their commissioning ceremonyThis office was the first of its kind for any service academy in the United States and has drawn considerable interest from other military academies.

Our strategy development with this organization also resulted in the principal of Harvest receiving the prestigious Impact Private Sector award from the National Grants Managers Association (NGMA) in Washington DC, given in recognition of exceptional contributions in advancing the field of grants management by an individual from the private sector.


Subscribe to Harvest Insights

Sign me up to receive insights from Harvest
We hate SPAM too and will only send you information that is useful to your nonprofit leadership efforts. And we won't sell your contact info, ever.