Building a Bridge Between Strategy and Action

Building a Bridge Between Strategy and Action
PATH International Logo


An association’s commitment to impact and transformation isn’t limited by its size, but the ability to execute on that commitment can look radically different for small-staff associations with constrained resources. Some of the hallmarks of a small association, such as its nimbleness and an “all-hands-on-deck” culture, are not necessarily enough to transform the strategy and business model.

In 2018, the Professional Association of Therapeutic Horsemanship International (PATH Intl.) committed to broadening its focus to become a stronger convener of the community and an essential resource for the profession. Yet how could PATH Intl. achieve this type of change with limited resources and a changing, complex external environment that eventually included a global pandemic and economic crisis? A series of critical and scaled initiatives helped PATH Intl. develop a focused plan and define specific steps to achieve it.

Project Highlights

  • A strong brand identity is a powerful tool, but PATH Intl. sought to grow its leadership and support of the profession. Staff and leaders needed to answer the question: What one or two areas of focus would have the greatest return for the profession and the association?
  • Needing to balance an ambitious agenda with limited resources, PATH Intl. sought a partner that would navigate the diverse perspectives of volunteer leaders and staff to develop a data-informed, focused and realistic plan.
  • It was critical for staff to understand effective practices and challenges of other associations so that it could translate its own strategic plan into action. In other words, PATH Intl. wanted to apply the knowledge of others to develop an efficient and effective implementation strategy.
  • As the COVID-19 crisis unfolded, PATH Intl. needed to commit to a highly focused agenda. By formally re-evaluating its strategic plan through the lens of the pandemic, it could distill its core purpose and identify what should be delayed or permanently retired to make way for other critical initiatives.


Representing one of the fastest-growing sectors of the equine industry, PATH Intl. promotes safety and optimal outcomes in equine-assisted activities and therapies for individuals with special needs. In 2016, PATH Intl. took the ambitious step to create a Credentialing Council, separate from its board of directors but still a part of PATH Intl., to oversee the credentialing and accreditation program. The program was highly successful and, as a result, spun off into a separate subsidiary. While the move helped PATH Intl. diversify its revenue streams and solidify its market leadership, it eliminated one of the primary value drivers for membership.

Strategy and Solution

PATH Intl. committed to enhancing the member value proposition by focusing its near- and long-term priorities through strategic planning. Like many associations, PATH Intl. soon realized that the scope and timing it had envisioned would need to evolve as the project unfolded. McKinley supported PATH Intl. with three distinct project phases:

Strategic Planning

The first project phase launched with a robust research effort, including interviews and a survey with PATH Intl.’s key stakeholders. McKinley also conducted an environmental scan to understand prevailing trends and changes in the equine, political, healthcare, credentialing and education landscapes. The results were shared with the PATH Intl. Strategic Planning Task Force (SPTF) and further synthesized to inform the spring 2019 Board of Trustees strategic planning retreat.

From the strategic planning retreat, PATH Intl. identified three areas of opportunity, which were further expanded into detailed objectives and success measures. In addition to PATH Intl.’s new areas of focus, staff and leaders felt it was critical that the plan acknowledge the organization’s critical “ongoing work.”

Graphic showing three areas of opportunity that arose in the strategic planning retreat: Community and Connectivity; Center and Career Sustainability; Awareness, Outreach and Impact

Mission and Vision Facilitation

Before PATH Intl. could confidently share the strategic plan with stakeholders, staff and leaders felt it was important to revisit the organization’s core mission and vision. McKinley facilitated a subsequent one-day session with the Board, and the 2020-2022 Strategic Plan was finalized shortly thereafter.

2020 Game Plan Facilitation

PATH Intl. quickly realized in early 2020 that environmental factors would likely have a significant impact on its strategic plan implementation. Staff asked McKinley to facilitate a highly focused and collaborative session to bring insights from the association community and help identify the best path forward for implementation. Given the change to PATH Intl.’s credential and accreditation program and the subsequent loss to the member value proposition, McKinley decided to focus the facilitation on the benefits portfolio. The session began with a summary of the most relevant data collected from the strategic planning process, included an overview of association best practices in program development, and culminated with a staff-driven portfolio assessment of PATH Intl.’s existing programs and identification of gaps related to priority member needs.

   Graphic illustrating that the portfolio deserves immediate attention

Following the launch of the strategic plan and 2020 game plan facilitation, staff developed operational plans that linked back to the organization’s overall objectives. PATH Intl. was committed to building a more data-informed culture, and staff worked to develop a dashboard and tracking system to enable monthly updates from the staff to the Board. These dashboards and metrics have also allowed staff to review performance each week, ensuring that the organization stays on course and providing a case for adjustment when necessary.

Meet the Team:

Photo of Suzanna KelleySuzanna Kelley, MBA, FAIA


Photo of Daniel Grainger

Daniel Grainger


“The team at McKinley was so skilled at listening. It was critical for the PATH Intl. Board and staff to feel heard and to have what they were saying and thinking reflected throughout the project. We specifically challenged McKinley to bring in outside expertise so that we could benefit from the lessons learned and effective practices of the community. McKinley was able to do that subtly and professionally—without giving the board and staff the impression that they were being told what to do. With concrete data, skilled facilitators, and a whole team of experts that could support us from the first project meeting to our 2020 game plan facilitation, we had what we needed to make this a true investment in PATH Intl.’s future.”
Kathy Alm