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Your county has hundreds of nonprofit organizations. If they combine their superpowers, we all win.

Nonprofit organization directors must decide: Protect a broken status quo maintained by hydras or heroic giant leaps forward?

“HEROES VS HYDRAS” SERIES

This fifteen-part series introduces you to the heroic partners you and your community will require to survive and thrive during pandemics and economic disruptions. The articles also provide tips on avoiding the three-headed hydras of apathy, envy and fear, those people in positions of power who are fighting to keep a broken status quo.

Our nonprofit organizations can either work in silos or collaborate in a result-focused, networked county system of coordinated service to foster health, education and job readiness.

Your Nonprofit Organization Directors

The following quote is one I often repeat, much to the displeasure of my stateside friends who run nonprofits. “Are nonprofit organizations needed?” asked a friend of mine from my old grad school days who was visiting from Sweden. “Why,” she continued, ”don’t your taxes pay for government programs to ensure your most basic needs of health, safety, education, job placement and a clean environment — as they do in ours and other countries?”

It’s a provocative question, especially as most of our work focused on ensuring the ten services for surviving and thriving depend on nonprofits. At least for now. Governments give to nongovernmental agencies, in a patchwork of contracts, in hopes they get to results that include a healthier population.

First, let me say clearly and loudly that I have been blessed to connect with people doing heroic work within their nonprofit agencies. Some are vital agencies that are the last chance for individuals and families to avoid homelessness and hunger. Other nonprofits, led by less skillful directors, may be merely supporting the status quo.

Replacing competition with collaboration

Imperfect though some might be, nonprofit organizations play a significant role in meeting the needs of children, parents, grandparents and all community members. They also compete, often racing against one another to write the best proposal to be funded. For this and other reasons, many nonprofit agencies work in silos, isolated from others. There are bright exceptions, where executive directors of nonprofits attend meetings to share insights and work toward collaboration.

100% alignment to get to shared goals

On the field worker levels, nonprofit staff engage in coalitions. For this reason, there is a bold opportunity for creating a countywide network to support the strengthening of ten vital services for surviving and thriving. Such a cross-sector network can function as a data-driven and result-focused coalition that can focus on addressing the root causes of all the problems nongovernmental organizations are funded to address. This is a long list that can include drug misuse, DWIs, child maltreatment, harassment, bullying, school dropout, teen pregnancy, lack of nutrition, human trafficking, gang violence, low birth weight babies and lack of job readiness.

Just to be clear, what I am pitching is different from what we have today. Instead of 20 coalitions in one county working out of alignment on 20 goals, we have one coalition that can address all the problems the 20 coalitions seek to end. And with one strategy. That would be the one strategy informed by decades of research focused on the social determinants of health, health equity, and historical trauma.

Each county will benefit greatly (and avoid duplication of services) from one (1) countywide strategy and action-oriented coalition to ensure every resident grows up with access to the vital services for surviving and thriving that includes timely and quality medical and mental health care.

Funding data-driven and tech-empowered strategies

One of the biggest problems we see in nonprofits is no different than what we see in child welfare: agencies are underfunded and staff are doing three jobs just to keep the lights on. There is very little breathing room for innovation or big-picture thinking.

One thing we have learned through our collective impact work is that funding makes a huge difference in a nonprofit’s ability to think outside the box and collaborate. In fact, we have learned that sometimes all it takes to fund collaboration is providing enough money for a meeting space and some snacks. Today, it means addressing the digital divide so all county players can connect on video conferencing to strengthen a collective countywide vision, goals, and how data will be used to guide all activities.

Which nonprofit agency directors should I meet with and how?

Nonprofit directors can be hard pressed to find time to meet, but we have found that most people in this line of work are passionate and dedicated to the populations they serve. They will likely be some of your earliest adopters.

Nonprofit leaders recognize that they are in an awkward place, knowing that it’s important to align all efforts of all nonprofits serving all residents, yet also competing with other organizations for funding. That said, a quick review of an agency’s website will reveal if potential alignment exists between your work and those of a particular nonprofit agency. As with all community leaders, reach out with an invitation to talk and explore the benefits of potential collaboration.

A brief word about tech in the nonprofit sector

Some nonprofits are state of the art when it comes to software, technology and a tech-oriented mindset that helps them view problems and solutions differently. Other nonprofits struggle to join tech revolutions decades after they started. If you work in or with nonprofits, a huge favor you can provide is linking management up with talented tech experts. See our tech chapter for ideas and have some fun checking out a few apps designed for nonprofits.

Bottom line

Results are what matter most, and nonprofits can collaborate to create a countywide coordinated and seamless system of care, safety, learning, job-readiness and empowerment for every resident. This will require an unprecedented level of commitment to a data-driven and collaborative process.

The future is what we make it. Join the evolution.

Please excuse any typos as I construct an article at 3am on only one cup of Joe. These stories are mine and mine alone. I do not represent any organization here. If one of my illustrations looks like a real human or three-headed hydra, that’s total coincidence. Words and images ©Dominic Cappello but share with everyone you know. Any questions? The future awaits: www.tenvitalservices.org

Written by

A NY Times bestselling author, social justice activist, Oprah guest, co-author of Attack of the Three-Headed Hydras, 100% Community and Anna, Age Eight.

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