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The third session held on April 23, 2019 took LGM26 class members north of Madison to Sun Prairie to check out what kinds of important, collaborative work is being done there and elsewhere in the community. With a focus on working together, class members began their journey of exploration into some excellent, successful community partnership examples. Click below for reflections on the session from Ann Tieman, Alanna Meaderis and Nick Schroeder.   

Ann Tieman, Monona Bank

It is no secret that we are better together. In our communities, this is especially key to progress regarding our most complex societal issues. Through collaboration, we are not only able to pool resources, but also learn from each other and increase our means of communication. When collaboration is successful, we are able to increase exposure to tools, resources and ideas.

I have many times thought about the importance of this among nonprofits, but also learned more about the benefits collaboration can have as we include for-profit businesses and government agencies. Collaboration needs to happen across and within many networks to better understand problems and provide support to those in need of it.

Joanna Cervantes, Executive Director of The Sunshine Place, shared with us the benefits of having many nonprofits housed under one umbrella. A very public and recent display of the success of this collaboration was during the July 10 explosion in Sun Prairie during which this collective of agencies was able to respond quickly and effectively. They had a strong familiarity with the other nonprofits and a strong line of communication already built to help the American Red Cross, volunteers and those in immediate and unforeseen need.

The presence of collaboration itself is not enough. As we bring people together, we must also continue to look at who has a seat at the table. Sun Prairie Mayor Paul Esser spoke about the importance of having a city government that looks like our population. To better understand the problems that communities are facing, there is a diversity of cultural communities that need to be provided with a voice to speak on their own behalf. If you are struggling with a problem, but do not know who to reach out to for a solution, we cannot expect that these issues will get resolved because they will never make it to the table for discussion.

We ended the day with a visit from Martha Cranley of the United Way of Dane County. Living in a community that has an abundance of nonprofits seems like a good problem to have. This is only the case, however, if the groups are working together and sharing their expertise, knowledge and vision. United Way plays a key role in the collaboration of these organizations by bringing the many voices together. The other piece of their work is just as important: Providing a clear mission with measurable goals to communicate to the public and encourage giving and volunteerism.

“None of us, including me, ever do great things. But we can all do small things, with great love, and together we can do something wonderful.” Mother Teresa

Alanna Meaderis, Overture Center for the Arts

As we entered Sunshine Place for our session on April 23, we were greeted with now familiar faces and eagerly took our seats to dive deep into the topic of collaborative leadership efforts to meet community needs.

Across from me, in the spirit of collaboration and the inspiring work that is being done at our host site, the word “gather” prominently hangs on the wall, aptly providing a backdrop for the day. We had an ambitious agenda in front of us including a variety of perspectives from community builder to funder to politician, non-profit leaders and more.

Some of the key lessons I took away from the expert panel, discussions, speaker and tour today are:
  • Collaboration is powerful and necessary: I have always been a strong proponent for collaboration enriching any experience and today solidified that further and pushed me to think about things that would not be possible without it. From the personal (marriage and parenting was discussed a good amount during ice breakers), to the professional (a myriad of successful and challenging examples was offered by our guests), it is clear that at its heart collaboration increases impact, avoids duplication and brings its own value. At a minimum, you always come away learning and hopefully growing from the experience.
  • Before diving in, take time to dream and do your research: Joanna Cervantes, Marcia Hendrickson and Steve Goldberg in particular talked about the importance of imagining what is possible and ensuring research and communication helps a new collaboration address a real - not just perceived - need.
  • Stay centered: Several speakers, Melissa Haunty, Mayor Esser and Martha Cranley spoke to the importance of keeping the community members being served at the center of the work. Focusing on this allows egos to be “left at the door” and make the best decision for the collective rather than the individual. True collaboration requires you to step outside of yourself for the greater good – difficult but critical for success.
  • There are many levels of collaboration: From CARDS Closet’s public/private partnership model to the merger that resulted in NewBridge, and Sunshine Place being the umbrella infrastructure for a comprehensive suite of social services to them simply partnering with Enterprise for shared driveway and parking spaces, we saw many different types and levels of successful collaboration in action.
  • Collaboration is necessary for systemic change: In particular, the strategic approaches of United Way, Sunshine Place and Mayor Esser spoke to the power of collaboration being key to driving systemic change.
  • Collaboration requires continuous improvement and determined benchmarks: Many of our speakers both those on the implementation side and funding side repeated that flexibility, adjustments and evaluations are needed for collaboration to be truly successful. 

I also came to understand that the group project will look very different for each group. Melissa Haunty and Lynn helped us unpack the group project and shared some varying examples which were reassuring and inspiring. Key takeaways I heard were:
  • Ask thoughtful and purposeful questions of those engaged with the issue
  • Be okay with things happening organically
  • Determine how much prior knowledge/expertise you want to bring to your group vs. how much you want to explore new territory outside of your current skillset/background
  • Think carefully about establishing a timeline to move from conceptual to tangible phases • Recognize and leverage the strengths and resources of team members
  • Decide how your group project will be positioned in relation to the issue (behind, alongside, in front of etc.)
  • Be aware of “the savior complex” in your approach
  • Evaluate and be flexible throughout your process

Nick Schroeder, Madison Gas & Electric

It was exciting to have a packed agenda again for our Sun Prairie April session. But before we started things off Lynn took a moment to get us going with some ice breaker questions. It’s always interesting to hear different perspectives around the room, from serious to whimsical.

We then dove into a panel discussion “Collaborative Efforts to Meet Community Need,” facilitated by Steve Goldberg (LGM11). Steve highlighted how collaboration among non-profits has improved in the region over the years and how LGM fosters collaboration among alumni.

Included in the panel was our host, Joanna Cervantes of Sunshine Place. When Sunshine Place first opened in 2007 services were scattered in different locations. Through a series of collaborative efforts, they were consolidated into the complex that we were in. Joanna talked about how collaboration is as much about the sharing of ideas and creative thinking as the sharing of time and resources.

Marcia Hendrickson of New Bridge gave a fascinating account of how the four different Madison area senior coalitions had recently combined to form New Bridge after four years of hard work. I found it especially interesting hearing her descriptions of the challenges and opportunities related to combining the people and resources of these long-standing organizations. One of the keys was to keep everyone focused on the shared mission.

Stephanie Hayden (LGM21) of TASC talked about how as an employer, TASC facilitates a very generous employee giving program that is focused not just on financial donations, but also volunteer hours. The extent to which TASC partners with their employees to make a difference in the issues they care about is truly impressive.

Abby Schulz of the TASC family foundation discussed how the corporate and family giving sides at TASC collaborate to maximize their impact. A recent venture of theirs is the "Greater Give" which is working on advancing pre-tax giving legislation. I had been wondering how recent tax code changes have been impacting the charitable donation landscape. The panel seemed to all agree it has been problematic.

It was interesting how collaboration in non-profits is often at the behest of donors and funders. There is also a higher emphasis from donors to show results from metrics and indicators around the impacts of specific programs. Not only non-profits, but also funders collaborate in Dane County. For instance, many funders will refer applicants to other funders if their need does not exactly align with the funders mission. Applicants who can show that their project has a collaborative nature are more likely to get funding than those that do not.

Next, we heard from Melissa Haunty (LGM25) about the LGM project her team worked on last year. LGM25 took a geographic approach to their projects. Melissa’s group focused on re-entry, specifically in the South Park St community. Madison Area Urban Ministries and Nehemiah Development Corp were already doing a lot of work here. Her team consisted of people from different backgrounds. They met with various agencies one-on-one and explored their needs. The team decided to support the Just Bakery vocational training program within MUM by developing marketing materials for them. We were treated to viewing the Just Bakery evergreen promotional video they made. Quite well done. It got me brainstorming about how other organizations might be able to benefit from similar efforts.

Over lunch we heard from Sun Prairie Mayor Paul Esser. He illuminated some of the challenges facing the City, specifically around the themes of growth, diversity, affordable housing and transportation. He highlighted the new high school, new branch library or library expansion and the collaboration required for the new Madison Metro Route to downtown Madison from Sun Prairie. It was reassuring to hear about all the efforts cities like Sun Prairie are making to ensure they are coordinating with other local governmental bodies in Dane County.

After lunch Joanna Cervantes treated us to a tour of Sunshine Place and highlighted the myriad of groups that work together to provide a dizzying array of services.

Martha Cranley of the United Way then talked about the United Way’s mission and collaborative strategy through the three pillars of their Agenda for Change: Education, Income and Health. In addition to discussing how focusing on these areas has evolved over time, she spoke about collaboration among agencies on how to measure successes of outcomes. The United Way, like other funders, is challenging agencies to develop collaborative proposals.

Detrimental competition in the non-profit sector is an issue I have heard discussed and have experienced first-hand over the years. It was great to have a session dedicated to showing how various groups have gone on to achieve greater successes by breaking down the traditional barriers to cooperation. It seems that focussing on missions and goals rather than organizational identity is key. We heard some good stories about how great leaders were able to refocus attention from day-to-day fire fighting to these larger, strategic goals.
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