Photo: Fantastic Five

In the Spirit of Collaboration and Joyful Stewardship

Posted on August 25, 2021 by Kiarra Louis, consultant with The Patterson Foundation
In July, I had the privilege of being on the consulting team for Advancing Mission Thrivability’s (AMT) Fantastic Five. The Fantastic Five are five organizations that spent five weeks working with consultants Larry Clark and Michael Oxman 1:1 to examine their decision-making and opportunities to ensure mission alignment and impact.

Specifically, I had the opportunity to work with Larry Clark, a consultant for the Patterson Foundation and cofounder of No Margin, No Mission, as he met with the Multicultural Health Institute (MHI). When I said yes to joining the team, I had no idea what I was getting into, but I knew it would be an incredible experience! And it was that and so much more.

Every week, I joined Larry on a Zoom call with the MHI team consisting of Dr. Lisa Merritt, Barbara Solomon, JoOni Jones-Abnar, and Rose Sloan. These weekly meetings exemplified The Patterson Foundation’s idea of joyful stewardship. Larry came to each virtual meeting ready to learn, share, and strengthen. However, the sessions were only valuable because of MHI’s willingness to be transparent and vulnerable. When you’re as passionate about your work as this fearless team is, it’s not easy to admit that you could be making better decisions.

Their openness proved to me that vulnerability is a stepping stone to success. Although Larry has a wealth of knowledge and expertise, it would be of no use to them if he did all the sharing without hearing from them about their perceived concerns, needs, and opportunities for optimizations. Their willingness to share in the conversation made our meetings targeted and productive. It was a collaborative meeting filled with an exchange of thoughts, ideas, and aspirations. From our five meetings, I had three main takeaways that I’d like to share.

As a volunteer of many nonprofits and a recipient of their services, I don’t think I’ve ever taken time to appreciate how their passion drives their work in serving the people and animals they care so deeply about. This caring nature pushes nonprofits like MHI to keep going, especially when unexpected challenges arise like the pandemic.

A nonprofit’s mission is like a compass directing it towards decisions aligned with its mission to increase profit margins. During Larry’s consulting work, he continued to tie everything MHI did back to their mission and encouraged them to follow it and capitalize on the existing services or programs and perhaps step away from those that might be a stretch. Although obstacles like wanting to get more funding, which I discovered is always lacking in the nonprofit world, may pull nonprofits away from their mission, they have to stick to it as one would stick to a compass.

Leadership is another essential element to success. A good leader knows how to create shared aspirations for the organization and its staff. By rallying people together to support these aspirations, leaders create a working environment where each individual is genuinely invested in the work being done, making the experience all the more meaningful for the people served.

The culmination of this entire experience was attending The Knowledge Sharing session with The Fantastic Five: Lemur Conservation Foundation, Military Heritage Museum, Samaritan Counseling Services of the Gulf Coast, Venice MainStreet, and Multicultural Health Institute.

We met virtually for about two hours to share and learn from one another. Although each organization consulted with either Larry or Michael, each experience was unique because of the varying needs, weaknesses, strengths, and opportunities.

The session reflected what I witnessed during our 1:1 meeting with MHI on a larger scale. In a word, all the attendees shared their experiences. Of the many words shared, I loved empowering, stimulating, meaningful, and transformational! The positivity of their experiences set the tone for the rest of our time together. Although there were way too many takeaways for me to share in a single blog post, I’d like to share two brief ones.

Each organization learned to value the experience they provide to the people they serve by monetizing it in one way or another. Interestingly, their 1:1 sessions gave them permission to attach a monetary value to their programs and services and empowered them to ask without feeling greedy. Despite being nonprofits, how are they supposed to serve their community in all the ways they do without asking for funding or support in return? Now, they see value in engaging their community in that way and creating opportunities for people to give more than the bare minimum.

One of the biggest challenges that the Fantastic Five had to overcome was themselves and their current mindset. It made me remember a quote many of us know, “We are our greatest enemy.” When they allowed themselves to reinvent their mindsets, they could see how to concretely put their ideas into action, not necessarily within months or years, but within days or weeks.

This experience has come to an end, but it will remain with me for years. Not every day does a 21-year-old young woman get to say she could sit in on consultations with an organization as meaningful as MHI or hear powerful reflections from thought leaders in her community. I have a greater appreciation for nonprofits and an eagerness to show that I value their work by donating. A donation goes a long way, further than I may have ever imagined.

I am thankful to Debra Jacobs for the invitation and Larry for allowing me to witness the spirit of collaboration and joyful stewardship in action!

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