Thursday, February 16, 2012

Learning From This Week's Webinars: Collaboration

In more than two years of directing the NonprofitWebinars free professional development webinar series, I’ve had the pleasure of hosting something on the order of 170 webinars on topics ranging from advancement to governance and management to organizational development and planning.

We began with a broad focus on basics such as Effective Marketing Communications on a Shoestring, Creating a Fundraising Plan, Financial Management Basics, and Effective Nonprofit Internet Strategy (all recorded and available for viewing).

Recently we’ve focused on more advanced topics, such as Knowledge Networks, Conflict Resolution, Stewardship as Revenue Enhancer, and, just yesterday, The Power of Collaborative Solutions, presented by Tom Wolff.

Tom offered a fascinating look at how we think about collaboration, especially in addressing the needs of our communities. In just an hour, he outlined a large body of knowledge, noted the barriers that typically prevent effective collaboration, and offered both conceptual structures and specific tools for embarking on successful collaborations.

I was especially struck by his definition of an agency-based vs. a community-based approach. An agency-based approach focuses on what services can be provided to address specific needs, and is thus invested in an infrastructure of problems and solutions. A community-based approach looks at strengths, assets, and aspirations, emphasizing the role of all involved—individuals, institutions and funders—in collaborative explorations and action. Instead of providers trying to market their solutions to a community, an approach based in inclusive, participatory collaboration engages the community in defining issues, identifying problems, making decisions, and controlling and owning the process.

This distinction reflects my own approach to planning within an organization. Engaging all stakeholders in a strategic planning process, or all professional staff in a program planning process, unleashes enormous enthusiasm, energy, and resources in the pursuit of mission.

This, after all, is the nonprofit sector at its best: people coming together to make the world a better place. This is the essence of our webinar series as well.