Karmen Lemke, Executive Director of Catholic Charities of the Diocese of Green Bay

Although the future is really in the hands of our Almighty God, we can use our wisdom to best prepare Catholic Charities for our next years of service. That’s just what we’ve been doing since 1918. Catholic Charities of the Diocese of Green Bay began when the Rev. Paul P. Rhode was appointed to the position of Bishop. His familiarity with outreach to the poor prompted Bishop Rhode to conduct a local survey which highlighted needs for services within the Green Bay area. He created a plan to implement a social services arm of the Diocese of Green Bay.

Fast forward to 2023–as the eleventh Director of Catholic Charities, I credit my predecessors and the divine work of the Holy Spirit for making Catholic Charities what it is today. But now, as Bishop David L. Ricken and the leadership team look to the future and the possibilities of what Catholic Charities will look like, the tools of Strategic Foresight are guiding our vision. Associate Director Tara Degrave and I enthusiastically represented the Diocese in Envision’s Strategic Foresight training program. We were excited to bring back these tools to help our team of 35 professional social workers, counselors, and case managers to prepare for and shape the future. 

One tool that was most helpful was domain mapping, which we used to help plan our annual fundraising event, Inspired to Act. Planning and executing a major fundraising event takes many volunteers and staff time. We created our domain map at a leadership retreat day, and it helped articulate major components of the event including sponsors, volunteers, venue, marketing and more. Essentially, it became the road map as the planning committee set out to make 2023 their best event yet, netting $150,000 to help fund the Catholic Charities mission. The domain map was most impactful as we charted out new marketing opportunities, including introducing an early bird table price.  Our event was a huge success; for the first time ever we were “sold out” months before the event. This is the domain map we created.

Another tool that has become invaluable is scanning for signals, which both Tara and I and our teams continue to use today. Signals inform and educate us about topics related to the environment in which we’re operating: mental health counseling, children and families, financial health, immigration and refugee services.  It’s easy, through Google alerts, to track topics of interest, and key words like “mental health” bring us valuable information and trends to read and reflect on.    

It’s no surprise that mental health (aka mental wellness) continues to be at the forefront for all of us.  All have been impacted in some way in the last few years by the pandemic and today’s social landscape. Through Google Alerts we have been able to see how others are responding, identifying trends in meeting those growing needs, and how we can all be a part of a future where there is peace and well-being for all.  It got us thinking at Catholic Charities about our specific niche and focus in helping others heal and find peace. Together we considered what we really want to be known for in this space and how we can best serve those in need.  As a result, we have a new vision for our counseling program to be more community-centered and Christ-centered in walking with those in need. Last month our vision was featured in The Compass. Although we are just in the beginning stages, we have discovered how we can use our mission and gifts to best change the mental health trajectory of the communities we serve. 

By monitoring the rapidly changing environment and community needs through these and other tools learned in the Strategic Foresight workshop, Catholic Charities has been able to develop a more detailed strategic plan.  The team meets twice a year for planning purposes, and Strategic Foresight is not only an agenda item but also a new way of looking at our current state and where we want to be in the future. 

The goal of Catholic Charities is to be known as the preferred faith-based social services agency in northeast Wisconsin, serving all those in need through a community and Christ-centered model – and I think we’re well on our way! So, acknowledging that the future is really in the hands of our Almighty God, we now have new wisdom to help navigate and best prepare Catholic Charities for the next 50 to 100 years of service.