Oregon Dressage Society turns 50 next year. Just think about that for a second. Five decades ago—two years before United State Dressage Federation formed—likeminded individuals came together to start an organization to foster dressage in our state. That’s a pretty amazing history. With the 50-year milestone on the horizon, we as an executive committee knew we wanted to create a plan to successfully propel ODS into our next 50 years, and that would start with a strategic plan. But where would we start? Fortunately, the ODS membership offers a well of knowledge and experience. One such member is Gillian Ockner, of Bend, who has years strategic planning, nonprofit, and project management experience, and she’s agreed to guide our strategic planning committee and organization through this process. Thank you, Gillian!
ODS: How long have you been an ODS member and involved in dressage?
Gillian Ockner: I’ve been an ODS member for nearly 10 years. I first fell in love with dressage as a kid taking lessons periodically in Los Angeles. I thought the outfit was great and the saddle seemed way more comfortable than the western saddle I used trail riding in the Sierras during my summers, but without a horse or trainer easily accessible it wasn’t something I got to do much. My mother-in-law, Patty Dewey (also an ODS member) reintroduced me to the sport in 2002 and gave me my first horse in 2008, one of the Arabians that she bred. That’s when I started consistently training in dressage. We moved to Bend in 2010, where I met Natalie Perry, and I soon became a member of the Central Oregon Chapter of ODS and started competing locally. The horse I’m currently training in dressage is a 12 -year-old Quarter Horse/draft gelding who’s amazingly good natured and willing to try hard. We showed at Training Level last year, and we are training at First Level now.
ODS: What is your professional background?
GO: I’ve spent most of my career over the past 20 years as an environmental professional focusing on water quality protection, sustainability management, and ecosystem economics. As a project manager, I’ve been part of creating utility infrastructure master plans, development plans, and most recently with the City of Bend I was part of creating the first Climate Action Plan locally. I have worked in government and the private sector and have served as a member of the board of directors for EarthShare Oregon, Deschutes Land Trust, and Hope Mountain Vaulters, a non-profit organization which I helped form.
ODS: What is your interest/experience in strategic planning?
GO: During my terms on the board of directors for the various non-profit organizations I participated in their strategic plan development. With my Gallup StrengthsFinder (a test an program focused on personal and professional development) results showing my top five strengths as “Strategic,” “Activator,” “Connectedness,” “Learner,” and “Communication,” it’s no surprise I gravitate to strategic planning and organizational development. I’ve also been part of leadership teams in the public and private sector, where I’ve had the opportunity to participate in and lead strategic planning at different points in my career. I get really excited about working with people to get clear on what it is they want to achieve as a team or organization and then helping them plan the steps to realizing their dreams.
ODS: Why did you want to get involved in ODS’s strategic planning?
GO: Helping ODS with strategic planning enables me to combine two of my passions, and I hope this work will support the organization’s sustainability, so my family and I can enjoy dressage competitions and educational programs through Oregon for years to come.
ODS: How can organizations benefit from this kind of planning/process?
GO: I recently explained ODS’s board of directors that your “mission statement” is why you’re doing what you’re doing; your “vision statement” describes what happens when you succeed at doing it, and your strategic plan is creating the map and defining the route for how you will get there. This tool for charting your course provides the opportunity to take stock your strengths and weaknesses, as well as evaluate the opportunities and threats to the organization, which provide the detail on the map. Then, you can define steps in the direction you want to go that navigate through this landscape. The process of going through strategic planning with an organization can be challenging because it takes time when there are urgent needs for the organization to move forward with day-to-day business. However, taking time to engage the leadership in working together to determine the organization’s strategic direction and agreeing on what you want to stop, start, and continue in service to your membership can help everyone walk forward together more effectively.
ODS: What’s your goal for ODS’s planning process?
GO: For ODS, what an exciting time to be going through this process with the 50th anniversary just a year away! I hope this process will strengthen the organization by defining what it will do and how it will do it using a near-term operational plan with clear actions in the areas of financial management, communications, and volunteer engagement for successful implementation of things that matter most to members. I hope ODS can be flexible enough to create the first iteration of a strategic plan fairly quickly, building in checkpoints over the next year or two for evaluating whether the chosen actions are delivering the desired value and be prepared to adapt the plan as it learns. If the plan ends up on the shelf, then we haven’t done our job well.