FY23-FY25 Strategic Plan

Access. Equity. Opportunity.

We are committed to access, equity, and opportunity.

Since our humble beginnings of one man going from shelter to shelter to connect people experiencing poverty with quality employment, the work of Cara Collective has always focused on the notion of building access, equity, and opportunity. Today, more than three decades and 13,000 jobs later, we are proud to share the blueprint for the next chapter of this organization. Below and in this report, you will get an overview of how, over the next three years, we will elevate and deepen the impact of our work, drive equitable and systemic change through our influence and experience, and foster and grow our participants and staff to promote real and lasting success.

Our Mission

Build an inclusive economy by developing employment pathways to advance transformative individual and community success.

Our Vision

Fuel a courageous national movement to eradicate relational and financial poverty.

Our Racial Equity Statement

Racism and white supremacy culture are pervasive in society and influence us all. To ensure that we are centering our work around the individuals and communities we serve, Cara Collective commits to taking an antiracist approach in all we do: in our program design, representation in our staff, partnerships we choose to enter, and our external and internal communications and policies. We leverage our individuality and differences as a way of deepening community and expanding opportunity in and around our organization.

Our Core Values

At Cara Collective, we believe in the idea of “one band, one sound,” meaning we are at our best and strongest when we work together as a community. Born out of the concepts we consistently saw when evaluating what we do and why we see results, our refreshed values honor the foundation that has gotten us to this point and ensures that equity is rooted in all we do.


Motivation propels. We identify, instill, and hold onto it. Where there is a desire to succeed, there is an opportunity to transform thought into action.


Affirmation reinforces. We celebrate instances of progress, understanding that the journey in the right direction is just as, if not more, important than the final destination.


Community connects. We actively build networks that strengthen us all. If we can get each other, we can serve each other best.


Intentionality aims. We focus on the endgame during planning and design. In doing so, we build roadmaps to real, lasting success and avoid deriving validation from a quick win.


Equity informs. We commit to taking an antiracist approach in all we do. We leverage our individuality and differences as a way of deepening community and expanding opportunity.

Our Strategic Priorities

The overall goal of our plan is to build new pathways for the people we serve – in our service
offerings we will co-create with our participants, in the inclusive job market we will build with
our partners, and in our country as we work to dismantle the social inequities our community
faces. To live out our Values, realize the purpose of our Mission, and achieve our Vision, we
identified four strategic priorities to guide our work over the next three years and beyond:

Deepen Participant Impact

At the center of everything we do is our participants. Over the years, we have augmented our service delivery to best reach job seekers where they were at – but ultimately, our participants are what guide us in our work and in our decision making. As we look to the next chapter of this organization, we recognize that our needs and our challenges will change as our programming becomes more nimble, accessible, and effective. As we adapt, we want to ensure that at the heart of this work we are first and foremost in service to our participants.

Strengthen Team Purpose & Value

None of this work we do is possible without our staff – who we often refer to as the best and brightest in social purpose. While our goal has always been to be an equitable employer of choice that offers career depth and mobility, Cara Collective has not been immune to “The Great Resignation” most industries have seen over the past year. As we continue to evolve as an organization, we want to do so while guaranteeing an employee experience that excites, invigorates, and prepares everyone for the career they hope for over the long-term.

Champion Racial Equity

For more than 30 years, the work of Cara Collective has been steeped in racial equity. The majority of the community we serve is black and brown and we recognize the societal challenges they face, and how those challenges contribute to barriers to employment. We know we cannot do this work without talking about our commitment to racial equity explicitly and we want to hold ourselves and our partners accountable.

Catalyze Systemic Impact

If we are going to be successful in our vision of eradicating relational and financial poverty, we must change the dynamic. Through the work of our social enterprises and expansion arm, we have demonstrated how spreading our reach and influence can increase opportunities for gainful employment. However, as this need is still great, we must ask ourselves how can we better leverage our partners (new and old) to close the wealth gap – in Chicago and beyond.

Our Goals

To guide us in our priorities, we identified 12 primary goals we will work toward over the next three years:


Goal 1: Involve participants and alumni in program design, strategy, and governance

Goal 2: Re-energize and innovate programs and culture to reach and retain more participants

Goal 3: Cultivate self-determination and financial stability


Goal 1: Ensure our leadership, culture, and policies promote and support staff health, wellness, and belonging

Goal 2: Facilitate workplace practices that enrich pay mobility, job satisfaction, and foster retention

Goal 3: Encourage team learning and development opportunities


Goal 1: Build upon Cara Collective’s equity platform and define organizational practices that unite us

Goal 2: Increase intentionality in internal hiring and advancement for/related to staff in key identity areas

Goal 3: Root racial equity in our external partnerships


Goal 1: Create more career pathways by developing new and deepening existing strategic partnerships with corporate partners

Goal 2: Expand national workforce development strategy to impact more job seekers’ ability to obtain, retain, and advance in quality jobs

Goal 3: Explore investments in new enterprises and communities that provide sustainable earnings for participants

Our Outcomes

As we achieve these priorities and goals, this is how we will measure our success:

of participants in Cara Collective’s services will meet Send Out Eligibility status within one month from our measured point of traction.
of staff will rate Cara Collective a great place to work and grow in unbiased, independent surveys.

of staff and participants will rate Cara Collective as an organization that advances racial equity, and our racial equity platform will be applied to 100% of our partnerships.
increase in the number of job opportunities for our participants, inclusive employers practicing our methodology, and revenue generated to fuel this work.
  • “Most programs don’t help people understand that they have a part in this process. Cara’s approach is not paternalistic, and the participants have a say and a stake in the process.”
    – Cara Collective Staff Member
  • “Cara Collective can do more to understand why people are joining the program and what they are looking for in order to provide the best experience. People come with all kinds of baggage and having an understanding of their ‘why’ may help them persevere.”
    – Cara Participant
  • “There is potential out there. The future of new careers and new sectors are coming. Let’s keep our eyes open to be aware of the new opportunities.”
    – Cara Collective Board Member
  • “The heart of Cara Collective is the people. Relationships from the highest level to participants and in between.”
    – Cara Collective Partner
  • “Cara Collective is known for its effective model and is sought out as a thought leader. How do we leverage this legacy to have greater impact, at greater scale, and move the needle through systems change?”
    – Cara Collective Supporter
  • “Cara Collective is at a real turning point. It is a good opportunity to set ourselves apart.”
    – Cara Collective Supporter

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