You hear this again and again: The Patterson Foundation builds connective tissue to create new realities. Folks often look puzzled, but most don’t ask me to explain. Embarrassed, I guess. So, I usually follow up with telling them to think of it as the synergy of connecting dots -- ideas, people, entities -- for greater impact. Oh. I get it now.
Connective tissue in action actually put me in touch with Jodi Woessner, vice president of Belle Children’s Services of St. Louis Arc. Woessner was kind enough to share the collaboration journey between The Belle Center and St. Louis Arc, which led to a merger. This is a story of two organizations that provide complementary services to people with disabilities and found each other as they were independently searching for partners for synergistic growth. I enjoyed listening and learning about the journey from Woessner’s perspective--and there are many good points to write about. I’m going to focus on a couple.
Looking for a partner was a tactical decision.
Belle provided early intervention services for young children with disabilities. During the most recent 10-year period, it had experienced dynamic growth—81% increase in the number of families served (1300) and double the staff (30). Belle began a strategic ‘thinking’ process to help it figure out how to expand services. After thoughtful consideration of alternatives, the leadership settled on finding the right partner.
In a parallel universe, St. Louis Arc was also undergoing a strategic ‘thinking’ process. St. Louis Arc offers programs to teens and adults with disabilities and also provided support systems for families. When the Belle Services and St. Louis Arc found each other, they quickly determined there was mission alignment, willingness to expand and openness to explore new realities.
Egos stayed out of the negotiations and families won.
One of the barriers to successful nonprofit partnerships is that board and/or staff members put themselves first—sometimes forgetting that they are at the table because of a deep passion for a community benefit organization (aka nonprofit). The ‘reign of the ego’ becomes particularly acute during negotiations.
I felt inspired as I listened to Woessner recount how the folks involved in the partnership talks checked their egos at the door. She shared two examples—both warm the heart!
• At some point during the journey it became clear that the conversations needed help. One of the board members had a nonprofit background and offered to serve as a facilitator. He was trusted by both organizations and stayed with the process until the end.
• Woessner had been the Executive Director at Belle. After the merger, her title reflected the work she would be doing with children’s services--VP. She told me that there was a perception by some that she had taken a demotion. Woessner told me that she’s now the VP of a much larger organization. She saw it as opportunity.
Learn about these and other concepts used in TPF's approach to philanthropy.
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