Sometimes it takes a neutral party to help you hear the truth

Sometimes it takes a neutral party to help you hear the truth

Posted on August 22, 2013 by Pam Truitt

 You can accomplish anything in life, provided you do not mind who gets the credit. - Harry S. Truman

Our community is blessed in so many ways. We have a vibrant downtown, a plethora of arts and culture offerings, the No. 1 beach in the USA (Siesta), a large retirement population with many willing and able to share their time, talent and treasures, the two largest community foundations in Florida; 300-or so-private foundations; a river designated as wild and scenic AND a year-round mild climate. With all of these assets, you might be wondering if we actually have any problems.

Nothing is unsolvable, but what we might be lacking is the recognition that silos create barriers that we may not see unless a neutral party points them out.

The following scenario is unfolding in our community today.

We have a homeless problem that has dragged on in the public eye for too long. It has been both embarrassing and frustrating for the citizens, service providers, funders, downtown merchants and the homeless population.

A few months ago, the Community Foundation of Sarasota County and Gulf Coast Community Foundation jointly funded a homelessness expert to visit our community to take the collective temperature on willingness to take on the problem and to do a quick assessment. In my book, the community foundations get more than a polite thank-you for funding the consultant. They deserve: Way to go! You guys rock! 

Having followed the stories about homelessness in our local paper, I was more than mildly interested in how one tackles what seems to be an unsolvable problem. I'm a consultant to The Patterson Foundation, working in the space of independent facilitation for nonprofits that want to work smarter together. The Patterson Foundation is not a direct service provider. So, as I follow each news article and editorial, I think of it as a chapter in a process for positive change.

A neutral look at collaboration (or lack thereof)  in our community

During the homelessness consultant's first visit, the expert complimented the many human service providers on their work. But he noted that there is a serious lack of coordination, cooperation, communication and collaboration. According to the news reports, the expert asked a range of service providers opened ended questions:

What is needed?

If you were King what would you do?

The most common (4 out of 5) responses were that heads of organizations wanted their individual organization's needs addressed--and they provided such a range of responses, one wonders if they talk with each other.

Fast forward. Our expert has just concluded his second visit, and today’s newspaper reported it on the front page, above the fold. This caught my eye:

People are still thinking narrowly, he said.

“I have yet to meet with anybody who says something nice about another agency yet," Marbut said at a Community Alliance executive committee meeting Wednesday, a comment that seemed to be met with disbelief.

Yes, competition among community benefit organizations is more common today as resources change or shrink and demand grows.

A look at Collaborative Partnering

The Patterson Foundation’s Collaborative Partnering Initiative was developed to address this challenge. We don’t pretend to know the answers. We only know the ingredients needed to get folks working toward mission impact.

• Share what you know and learn from others. Two heads are better than one and everyone benefits.

• Rather than grant cycles, TPF provides “thinking space” which allows community benefit organizations to learn, share and process without the pressure of coming up with the “correct answer” to ensure that their next grant application will be funded.

• Form follows function. What are the organizations seeking to accomplish? Let that drive the business infrastructure.

I’ve saved the most important for last….

• Willingness to be open and honest with a large dose of humility, a focus on mission, commitment to the journey and trust among partners and think constellations….not stars.

What are you seeing in your communities regarding the willingness for organizations to work more collaboratively?

  • Learn about these and other concepts used in TPF's approach to philanthropy.


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