Posts Tagged ‘collaboration’

Is your glass half-full with assets?

“More than 80% of the kids at our school live at or below the poverty line; many of our families have to choose between food/diapers/rent…,” said the parent’s note when it was handed to my husband.

Every December for the past nine years, my husband’s company spends an entire day decorating and preparing a local school so they can throw a holiday party that evening for the students and their families. They host a holiday meal and enjoy games, face painting, portraits and a visit from Santa.

As the parents enter the school with their kids, most look exhausted from a long day, perhaps working more than one job, but their moods lift when their children see the celebration awaiting them. One of the mothers put this small folded note into my husband’s hand as she scooted past him and entered the classroom designated for face painting. She’d clearly typed up this message and made copies so she could hand it out to the volunteers that evening.

Once an in-house holiday party…

My husband’s company identified its annual holiday party as an opportunity to provide its celebration to an organization with greater need. After developing a relationship with the school administrators, they discovered how much these school communities need a break from the constant financial strain of living at or below the poverty level. Rather than hold a corporate party for the employees, the company decided to offer a party for one school and its community on an annual basis.

One asset leads to the discovery of others

While choosing a different school every year was appreciated, they soon realized the heightened value of continuity and the importance of developing a relationship with one school over time. Plus, they could collaboratively identify other ways of working together. Last year, the company made a three-year commitment to one school in particular because of their shared commitment to education and college-bound students. The partnership provides a forum for discovery of what each partner can bring to the table and a channel for additional educational initiatives, including monetary donations, technology and volunteer hours. Activities and events include support for launching the school’s first library, a Book Trust fundraising drive, reading campaigns, science lab enhancements, teacher appreciation luncheons, learning technologies and teacher meeting spaces. The partnership will also help the school expand their curriculum to include fourth and fifth grades by the 2015-2016 school year.

Focusing on assets versus needs

This partnership between the company and school is a perfect example of identifying one’s assets to address a local need. The authors of When People Care Enough to Act would ask you to pay close attention to a community’s assets rather than immediately and exclusively focusing on needs, which yield limited results. By partnering with this school, the administrators were able to identify and tap into their own strengths as well as pursue a vision they had for their students, one of which was building a curriculum for fourth and fifth graders.

When People Care Enough to Act is based on the Asset Based Community Development (ABCD) approach that focuses on “discovering and mobilizing the resources that are already present in a community,” say Green, Moore and O’Brien. In other words, the authors demonstrate that every community has more potential resources than any one person knows.

What’s inside?

This workbook is meant to be a friendly catalyst to you, the community builder. No matter what your role–agency leader, staff community organizer or citizen—you will learn about your options to act more effectively for a stronger community. You’ll learn about the three qualities of effective community development, the five building blocks of any healthy community and the three interconnected activities surrounding Asset Based Community Development. Finally, the authors will explore key themes that define a framework for action.

Guiding principles for asset-based community building

I asked author, Mike Green, to elaborate on the difference between an asset-based approach and needs-based approach. Below you’ll find his answer and an excerpt of 12 guiding principles:

Green: Most communities address social and economic problems with only a small amount of their total capacity. Much community capacity is not used and is needed! This is the challenge and opportunity of ABCD. Everyone in a community has something to offer. There is no one we don’t need.

Here are the first four of twelve guiding principles of ABCD in action:

1.) Everyone has gifts. With rare exception people can contribute and want to contribute. Gifts must be discovered. Gift giving opportunities must be offered. Strong communities know they need everyone. There is unrecognized capacity and assets in every community. Find it.

2.) Relationships build a community. See them, make them and utilize them. An intentional effort to build and nourish relationships is the core of ABCD and of all community building.

3.) Residents at the center can engage the wider community. People in leadership in everyday life (associations, congregations, neighborhoods and local businesses) must be at the center of community initiatives rather than just helping agency leaders. It is essential to engage the wider community as actors (citizens) not just as recipients of services (clients).

4.) Leaders involve others as active members of the community. Leaders from the wider community of voluntary associations, congregations, neighborhoods, local businesses can engage others from their sector. Community building leaders always need to have a constituency of people to involve. This following is based on trust, influence and relationship. Strong community leaders invite a growing circle of people to act.

I encourage you to use this time of year to evaluate your personal, organizational and community assets and look for ways they can be of service to others. Mike Green and his coauthors would argue a community that focuses on its assets and how they can be best utilized has far more potential than a community absorbed by its needs.

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Toss your list of needs: Give thanks instead

“Seeing all assets of a community is like looking through a kaleidoscope: many colored chips of glass fit together in many different ways as you turn the scope,” say the authors of When People Care Enough to Act.

One of the guiding principles of this book we are currently reviewing for CausePlanet is grounded in the notion that we achieve genuinely effective community solutions if we focus on our assets rather than solely on our needs.

Authors Green, Moore and O’Brien would be proud of the students of Lancaster High School in Lancaster, California. The student body recently raised $80,000 earlier this year to design an accessible house for fellow community member and disabled Iraq War veteran, Jerral Hancock. Hancock was paralyzed and lost an arm in combat in 2007.

The entire community got involved soon thereafter. Local contractors, architects and real estate consultants donated manpower, local hardware stores offered discounts on supplies, and inmates at the local prison hosted an art sale to raise proceeds.

In chapter seven, “Building the Bridge From Client to Citizen,” the authors explain that “there is no one we don’t need” in a community. The Lancaster residents are a perfect example of this perspective. The authors further explore the great possibilities with inclusiveness and “seeing with a citizen’s eyes.” The people of Lancaster, California, viewed themselves as equal partners in creating a solution they cared about. When people care enough to act, it’s remarkable what can be accomplished.

Focusing on our community’s assets couldn’t come at a more appropriate time for Americans since we celebrate Thanksgiving this week. Our Canadian neighbors have already celebrated in October but the meaning is the same for both holidays. Thanksgiving commemorates a harvest festival celebrated by the Pilgrims in 1621 and is a time to give thanks for what we have.

Rather than default to your list of needs, I encourage you to look at your organization and community and identify the assets. How does this perspective change your ability to tackle complex issues? What other organizations could be viewed as assets if you collaborate? Green, Moore and O’Brien would say it’s a great week to give thanks.

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Highlights from our live chat about collaboration with Tom Wolff (Audio)

“In its simplest form, collaborative solutions means doing together what we cannot do apart,” says author Tom Wolff. If you find yourself in the position of considering collaboration or you discover your organization is lacking a specific competency or resource, consider Wolff’s book, The Power of Collaborative Solutions, your next read. From introduction to index, it’s full of interesting case stories, web-based tools and useful guidance.

Interview highlights

We recently held a lively interview via webcast with Wolff and he answered CausePlanet reader questions. Wolff opened our discussion by highlighting his book, why collaborative solutions are encouraged, six principles for effective coalitions and concerns with our health and human service system.

Sound bite about what’s broken?

These concerns translate to other service agencies, so I wanted to share them with you in a sound bite from the interview with Tom Wolff. You can follow this list below as you listen (the sound bite covers one through eight):

  1. Fragmentation
  2. Duplication of effort
  3. Focus on deficits
  4. Crisis Orientation
  5. Failure to respond to diversity
  6. Excessive professionalism
  7. Detached from community & clients
  8. Competition
  9. Limited and inaccessible information
  10. Loss of our spiritual purpose
  11. Failure to engage those most directly affected

Professionalism versus democracy

Number six, “excessive professionalism,” resonated with me in particular. Wolff talks about how we’re quick to get a room full of “experts” to solve a problem when what we really need is a more democratic process. In other words, involve those most directly affected by the problem to identify root cause and generate potential solutions. Is it messy? Sure, but it will help you arrive at the answers you’re looking for. Wolff says, “When we are facing serious community problems, shouldn’t we just get professionals to solve the problems and avoid the messy process called democracy? The answer to this question is a resounding no.”

One of our interview attendees, Kim Fossey with Louisiana STEM Works, had this to add to our discussion afterwards:

“This was perhaps the most enjoyable webinar I have attended in some time. The concerns for providing comprehensive services and achieving impact are right on as well as the six “common sense” principles.  My biggest takeaway was the need for applying more values-based discussion to our work and use of the six requirements for effective participation.  I see these both as missing –particularly in education-based reforms.  Thanks for a great webinar.  I plan to purchase the book and recommend it to others.”

In The Power of Collaborative Solutions, Wolff says he shares “the ‘highs’ of seeing coalitions gain momentum, attract and hold a solid membership, set a focused agenda, achieve results, gain early, small wins and reach significant changes in program policies and practices. The book also covers the ‘lows’ when the opposition is fierce, the membership dissolves, our best plans collapse and we feel like giving up.” Find out more at

CausePlanet members: Register for our next live author with Kari Dunn Saratovsky when we’ll discuss the why and how of Millennial engagement and the book she coauthored with Derrick Feldmann, Cause for Change, on Wed, Sep 25 at 11 a.m. CST.

Find out more about the book, The Power of Collaborative Solutions or our Page to Practice™ summary in our CausePlanet library for subscribers or the Summary Store.

See also:

Nonprofit Mergers & Alliances



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Isolate your root cause with democratic problem-solving

Mahatma Gandhi said, “The spirit of democracy is not a mechanical thing to be adjusted by abolition of forms. It requires change of heart.” The change of heart Gandhi speaks of can only be accomplished by an inclusive process that observes the viewpoints of those directly involved and affected. Tom Wolff’s The Power of Collaboration stresses the importance of democracy in the collaborative process and uses the North Quabbin Community Coalition to demonstrate his point. We asked Wolff about democracy in our Page to Practice™ interview and included an excerpt from our summary:

CausePlanet: You discuss the importance of encouraging democracy in the collaborative process. How do we encourage democratic participation without overwhelming the process?

Wolff: What we have learned from coalitions is the productive use of democracy builds ownership and participation in coalition members. Through shared decision making we get things done. Why is practicing democracy a critical part of community building? When we are facing serious community problems, shouldn’t we just get professionals to solve the problems and avoid the messy process called democracy? The answer to this question is a resounding “no.”

While professionals have a great deal to offer along the path to solutions, they understand the view from above, not the view from the ground. Without everyone’s perspective, any solutions devised will focus on symptoms, rather than root causes. Some are concerned that democratic processes grind coalitions to a halt. That may be the case in the U.S. Congress but does not have to be in our communities.

A synopsis of Wolff’s North Quabbin Community Coalition case

“Without everyone’s perspectives, any solutions devised will focus on symptoms, rather than root causes,” explains Wolff.

To practice democracy, we need systems to fairly and productively elicit public opinions, and people in the community need to have the skills and confidence to participate. Communities need to have a say and be involved, not just vote on an issue. We need to look at our systems’ encouragement or discouragement of democracy, the people we wish to engage, and the interactions between our systems and constituents.

How democratic are you?

Wolff suggests a Ladder of Participation, originally developed by Armstein and modified by Williamson and Fung, to help identify how democratic your process is. The ladder ranges from manipulation to citizen control. Wolff also provides ways to encourage the democratic process ranging from arranging the room in a circle to collaborative leadership suggestions to study circle techniques to a consulting resource, The Public Conversations Project.

Valuing Our Children democratizes their solution

The North Quabbin Community Coalition had struggled with addressing child abuse. Finally, it received generous funds to pursue its concerns. It formed Valuing Our Children (VOS). First, its hired director went door-to-door to low-income neighborhoods to find out the stresses and needs for support in their families. It spent time talking to the residents and formal and informal helping services before jumping into a program too soon. Then, VOS found a parenting curriculum. Afterward, it focused on its grassroots goals to involve those most affected in the program. It recruited low-income parents (some whose children had been taken away by Social Services) and trained them to become leaders, who participated in many VOS programs. They also had opportunities to communicate with the Department of Social Services to voice their concerns. Ultimately, this program engaged the community in the democratic process first to develop a successful program that fulfilled its needs.

Learn more about The Power of Collaboration by purchasing the book, executive summary or subscribing to our executive summary library and author interviews. Watch for our interview with Tom Wolff on August 22 at 11 a.m. CST. Register now for our interview with nonprofit financial expert, Richard Linzer on Thurs, June 27 at 11 a.m. CST.

See also:

Community by Peter Block
Do More Than Give by Crutchfield, Kania and Kramer

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Are nonprofit clients involved in your collaborative vision?

“In its simplest form, collaborative solutions mean doing together what we cannot do apart,” asserts author Tom Wolff in his latest book, The Power of Collaborative Solutions.

Today’s complex social issues require the strength of many. Wolff’s Power of Collaborative Solutions is our new Page to Practice™ feature at CausePlanet and is a highly useful guide for nonprofit leaders who want to assemble an efficient and collective effort toward their causes.

Wolff leverages his 40-plus years of community problem solving to tackle each of the areas where we fail to collaborate and illustrates how to develop healthy partnerships through numerous case stories and examples.

Wolff has distilled effective problem solving into six essential principles we must follow as collaborating leaders. He shares extensive insight into winning coalitions as well as hard lessons learned from habitually troubled collaborations where resistance is fierce.

I asked Tom the following interview question about why community problem solving efforts fail. Here’s what he had to say:

CausePlanet: You discuss 11 different ways traditional community problem-solving methods fail. Which of these is the most common and why?

Wolff: Many of the dysfunctions in our helping system that I describe in the book happen way too often. The one I am most concerned about at this moment is the lack of connection of our coalition efforts with those most affected by the issue. In the book I emphasize the importance of engaging those most affected by the issue–sometimes called the grassroots communities. Depending on the focus of the work, this can mean youth, immigrants, communities of color, survivors of domestic violence, the LGBT community, etc. We cannot do authentic community work without their voices at the table as shared decision makers.

In my experience when we do not have them at the table we develop programs that are more likely to be ineffective. In my book I note the ones who succeed at engaging those most affected by the issue tell us consistently there are a series of efforts that we must make to adapt our practices so that the community can come to the table. These include: holding the meetings in the evenings, providing child care and transportation, feeding the group, providing translation services if needed, and even providing a stipend (a coupon for a local grocery store, etc.).

CausePlanet members: Learn more from Tom Wolff and register for our author interview with this collaboration expert. We’ll dive into his six essential collaboration principles, plus address more of the common failures to avoid. Mark your calendars for Thursday, August 22 at 11 a.m. CST. Register now for our July interview with nonprofit financial expert and coauthor, Richard Linzer.

Not a member yet? Learn more about our summary library and author interview schedule and archives.

See also:


Nonprofit Mergers & Alliances

Do More Than Give

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Collective impact and what this trend means for your organization

Many trends in the nonprofit sector pop up and then fizzle as quickly as they have appeared, while a few stick around and have a significant impact on how organizations operate. After having the opportunity to work with a few organizations that are pursuing a collective impact model and hearing this term at nearly every meeting I attend, I am convinced this trend is one that will stick around and could result in fundamentally changing the way some organizations do their work and achieve their missions. Additionally, many funders are enthusiastic about the concept of collective impact and how such models have the potential to really advance social change and improve outcomes in specific sectors, like education.

If you are not familiar with this concept, an article from the Stanford Social Innovation Review’s Winter 2011 edition (see link at the bottom of this article) summarizes it this way, “Unlike most collaborations, collective impact initiatives involve a centralized infrastructure, a dedicated staff, and a structured process that leads to a common agenda, shared measurement, continuous communication, and mutually reinforcing activities among all participants.” Essentially, individual organizations, often from across the different sectors, work together to define common goals and intended outcomes and then work in a coordinated manner to achieve their often audacious goals over time.

One long-time critique of the nonprofit sector has been that many small organizations work in isolation, essentially using up resources to only peck at very complex problems. In the view of the authors, John Kania and Mark Kramer, of SSIR’s “Collective Impact” article, the result is that “nearly 1.4 million nonprofits try to invent independent solutions to major social problems, often working at odds with each other and exponentially increasing the perceived resources required to make meaningful progress.” With a collective impact approach, organizations across sectors start working in a coordinated and aligned manner with the goal of making significantly greater progress on the issue they are addressing with the additional goal of better utilizing resources.

Moving your organization toward a full collective impact model requires willing partners across sectors, a long-term view and often a dramatically different approach to your work. Thus, it can be out of reach for some nonprofit organizations. Still, organizations can learn from and adapt some of these approaches to improve their effectiveness without becoming part of a full collective impact project. Consider the following ideas as a few places to start in thinking about what the collective impact trend means for your organization:

Help board and staff members understand the collective impact model as an emerging and important trend in the nonprofit sector. Share the SSIR article during board and staff meetings and allow time to discuss the implications for your organization’s work.

    Get a sense of how other organizations, inside and outside of your community, are using this approach to accomplish goals that are similar to your organization’s goals.

      As part of your next planning process, consider how elements of a collective impact approach could be applied to your organization’s approach and programs.

        Consider how better aligning your goals and measures of success with partner organizations could help improve outcomes and effectiveness for everyone involved.

          If you could see the collective impact idea working for your organization and your mission focus area, start working with partners to possibly put this kind of model into effect. More organizations are becoming involved in these kinds of initiatives, so some of your colleagues maybe able to share ideas and lessons learned to help you get started in advancing this kind of approach. Nationally, the Strive Partnership ( is one of the more prominent examples of collective impact in action. Locally in Colorado, Boulder IMPACT ( and the Adams County Youth Initiative ( are two examples of organizations advancing this model in different ways and at different stages of development.

            With the concept of collective impact gaining momentum and support and resources continuing to become more scarce, it is essential for nonprofit leaders to consider how their organizations could achieve more through these kinds of deep partnerships. For organizations working on complex social problems, collective impact approaches may become the standard, so your organization should be prepared to shift your approach, take part and possibly provide leadership in this new way of working.

            You can read more about collective impact, example initiatives and how such initiatives are often structured here:

            See also:

            Do More Than Give

            The Power of Collaborative Solutions

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            Power shared becomes power returned

            This article is second in a series that looks at practices of seasoned nonprofit leaders.

            It’s four o’clock on a Tuesday afternoon. The school dismissal bell rings and most students leave for the day. One classroom fills with middle school students. These students walk to desks, pull out academic materials and quietly begin to work on school assignments. The quiet seems surprising enough until five minutes later when an equal number of high school students from the campus across the street come in to pair up with the middle school students and mentor them in hushed, church-like tones. In those interactions lie the hope and dreams of what academic success might mean. These students are the dreamers of the Colorado I Have a Dream Foundation (CIHAD) whose mission is long-term dropout prevention for youth from disadvantaged communities in the Metro Denver area.

            Dreamers begin in the program as early as third grade and if they graduate from high school, they are given financial support to attend college. Each class of dreamers is financially supported by an investor who donates enough money to run each class from third grade through high school. These donors make a large and sustained commitment. Each class is assigned a project director or PD. The PDs are special staff who mentor, guide, direct, push, encourage and see each dreamer as a whole person capable of great contributions. Often the PDs stay with CIHAD for the entire dreamer’s experience of ten years. In addition, CIHAD is governed by a board that can have more than 35 members.

            At the intersection of these multi-aged student dreamers, powerful and incredible donors, a large board and amazing staff is one woman. Mary Hanewall has been the ED since 2000. Mary will retire in the fall of 2012. For more than a decade, Mary has led through her will and her willingness to let everyone in this organization lead when needed. When I sat down to interview Mary, the topic of her succession quickly evolved into the discussion of when and how to give or share power to get organizational results.

            Before Mary was an executive director, she was a development director. In that role, she used her creativity to tell the stories of the constituents served by the nonprofit. In those stories she learned the power of each individual. Mary has learned and now believes the way to run an organization is finding the power of every individual who touches the organization. Each board meeting begins with a “Dreamer Success Story.” Often, these stories are about dreamers who made mistakes but in the end turned those mistakes into positive personal learning moments. Examples abound in the experiences of the high school students who mentor dreamers younger than themselves, attempting to model good teenage choices.

            Hearing those stories, board members learn the power of the mission and vision. Mary describes the humility she feels around those donors who choose to fund dreamer classes. Mary works hard to give those funders the right amount of say in the program and to fuel their passion for the organization. Donors are encouraged to know the dreamers as well as collect data about how their investment is faring. The investment numbers are good: 120 of the 550 dreamers have received recognition for scholastic achievement. The high school graduation rate ranges from 65-95% compared with the 10-15% in some of the dreamer’s high schools.

            Mary is devoted to and admires her staff. She believes in their power of idealism. These are employees who give their heart, head and soul to the success of dreamers. Mary does not see herself as a traditional manager. She knows her staff leads every day and her job is to let them. Power shared becomes power returned as the staff accomplishes so much through their innovation and belief in the work.

            Mary talks about her philosophy that with such a large board, she must spread her power and leverage the board’s ability. She believes the board/ED relationship is split 51%/49%. The board chooses which percentage it desires. Mary knows a powerful board will guide a great organization. She educates and encourages by sending out pertinent materials on student achievement, acknowledging board members successes and always celebrating the dreamers, the foundation of the organization. I asked Mary if she ever feels as though she acquiesces too frequently. Mary quickly replied she is the connector, and what benefits the organization, the mission and the dreamers is how she defines success.

            Mary and I finished our conversation by describing what she hopes are the qualities of the next CIHAD Executive Director, qualities that serve any leader well. These include passion, business sense and a belly. Passion includes devotion to the vision, the people and the outcomes of the organization. Business sense is the ability to assure financial sustainability for an organization that supports each dreamer for at least ten years. The belly allows the director to advocate for those who serve and are served by the organization.

            See also:

            Leaders Make the Future

            The Six Secrets of Change: What the Best Leaders Do to Help Their Organizations Survive and Thrive

            The Power of Collaborative Solutions

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            Collaboration award winner shares six success factors

            Collaboration comes in many forms. From cross referral arrangements to full mergers, the 175 applications for the 2011 Colorado Collaboration Award represented a wide range of collaborations. This year’s winner was the Northwest Colorado Community Health Partnership (NCCHP).

            What set the winning collaboration apart from the other 174 applications was the breadth and depth of commitment from all six organizations to full, unimpeded collaboration and the results this commitment had achieved in six years. From sharing funds to joint processes to group consensus on decisions, NCCHP functions in all capacities as a collaborative.

            Lisa Brown of the Northwest Colorado Visiting Nurse Association (NWCOVNA) said she was surprised NCCHP won the first-ever award. She thought their work was commonplace. “Doesn’t everyone work this way?” she asked. And given the great outcomes for the communities in Routt, Rio Blanco, Jackson and Moffat Counties, the increase across the state in collaboration as a standard operating procedure has great potential for increasing the impact of the nonprofit sector.

            The first-ever winner of the award, the NCCHP, includes six organizations: Colorado West Regional Mental Health, Independent Life Center, Yampa Valley Medical Center, Northwest Colorado Dental Coalition, Routt County Department of Social Services and the Northwest Colorado Visiting Nurse Association. The collaborative was formalized in 2005 and has a budget of roughly $70,000 per year.

            Factors for Success:

            Formal agreement and strategic plan

            NCCHP is following best practices in collaboration by having clear memorandums of understanding that outline the roles, responsibilities and expectations of all involved. The NCCHP is guided by a six-person steering committee, but much of the work is carried out by various subcommittees and work groups. The overall work of the partnership is guided by the work plan, which serves as a kind of strategic plan for the group. Engaging subcommittees has allowed the work to remain relevant to a variety of constituencies as well as involved more individuals throughout the partner agencies.

            Mission-focused organizations

            The overall goal of the partnership is to “develop a sustainable, regional network of care.” One of the key ingredients cited in the application was the mission-focused nature of all six partners. Each organization is committed to the overall mission of the collaborative, instead of simply perpetuating its own individual nonprofit organization. As stated in the application, “The core commitment of partners to a vision that transcends the needs of individual organizations has served as the true backbone of NCCHP’s structure…partners have come together to realize a shared vision regardless of the benefit to individual agencies or their particular constituents.”

            Group trust

            The group representatives and organizations have built a high level of trust over years of working together that is critical to their ongoing work. The partnership has clearly expressed values, which
            include excellence, integrity, compassion and community, that all parties practice. These shared values provide a common foundation for discussions and decisions. Each organization has an internal culture of collaboration and respect that transfers into their collective work. Trust is built over years, not days, and is integral to the ongoing communication, commitment and adaptability of the collaboration.

            Roots in community

            The partnership was formed in response to a lack of health care services for low-income and underinsured or uninsured residents in the northwest region of Colorado. More than 100 individuals were involved in the early stages of developing the partnership’s mission and goals. These conversations were well underway among the groups when additional funding from The Colorado Trust became available. These dollars helped to institutionalize the work, not begin it. The Colorado Trust money allowed the partnership to move forward more quickly and validated its hard work. As the initial funding streams phase out, the increase in monies the collaboration has brought to the region plus the Collaboration Award dollars will help maintain the partnership.

            High-level staff commitments

            Strong collaboration such as the NCCHP takes a commitment of time and effort. Each organization in the winning partnership dedicates leadership level staff to the steering committee as well as other personnel for various projects. However, each organization doesn’t feel like this is a burdensome commitment. As noted in the application site visit, one participant said, “It’s been a really good return on investment” to be part of the collaborative. The effort has paid off for the partners and the community.

            Dedicated staff

            The partnership is supported by a half-time project director and a half-time project assistant, both employed by NWCOVNA. Having dedicated staff has helped to maintain the momentum of the organization and has improved communication while clearly outlining responsibilities. Each partner organization contributes staff and resources to the work, and the specific staff support keeps the project on task, coordinated and updated.

            Significant Community Impact

            The NCCHP has achieved the following impacts:

            obtained medically underserved and health professional shortage designations for the involved counties, allowing an increase of federal funds allocated to the area.

            established a federally qualified health center in Moffat County that provides services to 3,000 individuals each year.

            developed an integrated behavioral health project between the FQHC and Colorado West Regional Mental Health, serving 1,000 patients.

            obtained funds from HRSA and the Colorado Rural Health Center to purchase medical equipment for centers in the region.

            formed an eligibility committee which created a regional system of providing a sliding-fee scale for services to uninsured residents with many providers agreeing on a single eligibility process and accepting a common eligibility card.

            formed a medical transportation committee which created a local system of medical transportation.

            decreased the cost of healthcare in the region as more and more people receive preventative and primary care services instead of relying on ER services.

            This collaboration has proved to be more than the sum of the parts, as the outcomes achieved could not have happened without all six partners working together.

            Questions to ask about your collaborative efforts:

            Are we mission-focused or organization-focused?

            What support mechanisms are in place to support this extra work, budget, people, culture?

            What are the shared values/goals between partners?

            How can we formalize what is working well and continue to evolve?

            Is there a breadth of commitment to collaboration throughout our organization? Staff, board, volunteers, clients?

            How do we continue to remain relevant to community needs?

            What systems are in place to ensure the longevity of the collaboration (MOU, protocols, staff assignment, strategic plan, etc.)?

            See also:

            The Power of Collaborative Solutions


            World Cafe: Shaping Our Futures Through Conversations That Matter

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            Mergers and alliances: Check your culture at the door

            So often, you find yourself asking why things transpire they way they do in your organization and 9 times out of ten, you can point to culture. No, we’re not discussing pop culture or arts and culture. This culture is the underlying and invisible fabric of how your nonprofit behaves, what the underlying assumptions are and what the organization values. Thankfully, we all are given a free pass on striving for a perfect culture because the truth is, there is no perfect culture. With perfectionism out the way, we can go about factoring organizational culture into one of the more important roles it has to play, which is in an alliance or merger.

            With our Page to Practice feature of The Nonprofit Organizational Culture Guide this summer, we learned about the importance of organizational culture and how pervasive it is with everything you do as a nonprofit leader—from hiring decisions and board training to marketing and strategic planning, organizational culture, as the authors Teegarden, Hinden and Sturm say, “reveals hidden truths that impact performance.”

            That’s why it comes as no surprise that our currently featured author, Tom McLaughlin, spends some time in his book, Nonprofit Mergers & Alliances, on the importance of taking a “culture check” as one of the preliminary steps for considering collaboration. “Culture is stronger than strategy, so it is crucial to understand and be comfortable with a potential partner’s organizational culture,” says McLaughlin.

            He further adds that since people take action and demonstrate behavior every day using underlying values, blended cultures translates into blended value systems that don’t always complement one another. In fact, 75 percent of hospital mergers fail if cultural issues are not taken into consideration, according to McLaughlin.

            Ultimately, “one of the most reliable rules of thumb for post merger implementation is that the tighter culture always prevails,” says Tom, and the larger organization doesn’t automatically dominate, nor will the loudest or flashiest. So, how do we go about identifying one another’s culture before engaging formally in an alliance? McLaughlin has provided a list of good places to look for evidence of nonprofit culture that we reviewed at the beginning of the month:

            • Composition of board and management team
            • Degree of centralization versus decentralization
            • Demographics of clients
            • Demographics of staff
            • Financial investment policies
            • Financial performance
            • Geographic location
            • Management compensation policies
            • Marketing materials
            • Number and type of management meetings
            • Number of board meetings per year
            • Philosophy regarding staff turnover
            • Process for recruiting and selecting new board members
            • Requirements of major funding sources
            • Size of board
            • Size of management team (especially versus comparable nonprofits)
            • Unwritten/unspoken hiring preferences

            Not every item on the list will yield insight and some will produce contradicting impressions. However, if taken together, these areas can help you create a composite of your potential partner’s culture.

            See also:

            Do More Than Give: The Six Practices of Donors Who Change the World

            The Necessary Revolution: Working Together to Create a Sustainable World

            Leveraging Good Will: Strengthening Nonprofits by Leveraging Businesses

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            What’s your return on effort?

            When considering a nonprofit merger or alliance, we tend to agonize over identifying all of the joint possibilities, which is a task in of itself. While it’s important to consider what you bring to the table as well as what your potential collaborator can offer, Nonprofit Mergers & Alliances author, Thomas McLaughlin, would add that sometimes it’s helpful to draw upon a laundry list of benefits and take the ones that fit.
            See McLaughlin’s list below:
            • Acquire intangible assets (e.g., a prized board member or brand name)
            • Acquire tangible assets (e.g., a building)
            • Add breadth and depth of services to meet consumer need.
            • Assist in repairing a damaged brand.
            • Capitalize on a chief executive’s departure.
            • Change the organization’s name.
            • Change staff compensation patterns.
            • Create more varied career options for employees.
            • Create operational efficiencies.
            • Ease the transition from a founder-led organization.
            • Expand the programming continuum.
            • Gain cost savings in order to add program resources.
            • Gain greater visibility in the community.
            • Gain market share.
            • Gain more clout with the national office (federated organizations only).
            • Improve fundraising.
            • Improve prospects for a new service.
            • Increase political clout.
            • Rejuvenate the organization.
            • Make it easier to satisfy lender requirements.

            Having just read this list, you’re saying, “You’ve forgotten the most important benefit!” If you haven’t guessed already, “saving money” was left off of McLaughlin’s list. McLaughlin cautions readers who contemplate this savings logic. Here’s why: The first blush response to the 2008 recession among nonprofit leaders was to seek out administrative collaborations where two or more charities could find savings in the least painful way, which usually meant administrative spending cuts. He notes that the problem with this strategy is “that it is guaranteed to fall short of the desired outcome” because of the mathematics behind administrative budgeting.

            When two or more organizations find ways to cut expenses in an administrative line, it’s likely to be modest—let’s use a respectable 10 percent savings, for example. “A 10 percent savings on a line item that itself is likely to be no more than 10 percent of the total administrative spending amounts to a fraction of a fraction, says the author. While every amount of savings helps, this is a small win for a big effort. McLaughlin reminds us that collaboration is a powerful tool, but the return should match the effort.

            Email us at for a free article by author Thomas McLaughlin, “The Cost of A Merger.”

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