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Brad Wood, River Valley Resources, Madison, IN
08/Jul/2019

We are excited that today’s blog author will be featured as one of 8 presentations at this year’s Sharing Innovation 2019. Like what you read? Register today at www.nonprofitcenters.org/sharing

Stop, collaborate and listen – more than just the lyrics to a popular song from the ‘90s, the Clearinghouse of Jefferson County Indiana has taken these words to heart. Since its inception in 2007, the Clearinghouse team has been through a series of peaks and valleys, always focused on the end goal of creating a larger network of social change. Created as a multi-tenant facility where workforce development entities and community agencies live and work under one roof, the Clearinghouse was the brainchild of River Valley Resources (RVR). Originally founded to provide workforce development services, RVR’s mission has grown to include a variety of services to help individuals become self-sustaining. The organization currently provides education and training services in 17 Indiana counties and employs more than 80 people.

These three words – stop, collaborate, and listen – have been an integral part of RVR’s process to create and sustain a vision of building a network of community partners all working together to help individuals become self-reliant.

It seems counter-intuitive that the process starts with the word stop. But over the years, we have learned that it is by stopping to assess what’s around us and responding accordingly that true magic begins. Sometimes, in such a large organization with multiple services, we can get so caught up in what we are doing as individuals that we don’t stop to recognize where others can add value. It is by practicing the pause that organizations discover there is more than enough if we all sit at the same table.

Stopping also shifts focus from a singular mission to one that is expansive and eliminates the duplication of efforts. Because we have practiced the art of stopping to collaborate and listen, our relationships are non-competitive, holistic, and client centric. We have a deep knowledge and understanding of what each member of our team provides, allowing us to link clients to the services that best meet their needs. We put this in practice by holding a monthly Clearinghouse meeting where each team is represented and has a voice. We use this time to talk about upcoming programs, events, and new partnerships that are mutually beneficial to the mission of assisting clients in becoming self-dependent.

As important as it is to stop, it would be pointless without a genuine focus on collaboration. It is one thing to share space with other organizations involved in similar work. However, it is another thing entirely to set the ego aside and approach each conversation from a place of needing to understand the perspective of the other party. When we can free ourselves from our ego, it opens up a whole new channel to see a clearer picture of the work we are all part of. This clear picture allows us to see how all of the pieces fit and how we are all connected as agents of change.

A perfect example of this is something we call the Madison Model. In Madison, we have a female correctional facility that focuses on re-entry. We sat down with their administrators and the local community college to find a way to integrate these women into our community during their pre-release. Through listening to their needs, we developed a transitions model that helps them learn job readiness skills and earn a certification in high wage, high demand occupations. This prison partnership extends to helping feed hungry kids through the Summer Meals program, and is the only one in the nation that has a partnership with a correctional facility. The women volunteers love giving back to the community and one said, “I love volunteering because I know my kids receive free summer meals back home.”

This collaborative effort would not have been possible without the patience of listening. These out-of-the-box ideas can only come to fruition when we are not dismissive of things that have never been done before. As we teach our students in the transitions class, effective communication utilizes three strategies to positively address issues and nurture a relationship of equals – communicate purposefully, communicate honestly, and communicate responsibly[1]. We have found that listening, when paired with this style of communication, leads to our most successful projects.

It’s easy to say all this, but practicing it is another story. This is especially true in rural communities where resource scarcity is a reality. But as we continue to grow our network, we realize that we don’t have to do this work alone. It is a beautiful thing that we can focus on our piece and trust that our partners will continue to do their part well too. There is a quote by Brene Brown that says, “Opposite of scarcity is not abundance, it’s simply enough.” When we stop, collaborate, and listen we don’t have to solve the problems of the whole world at once. We do what we can with what we have and it is simply enough.

[1] “Employing Interdependence.” On Course: Study Skills Plus, by Skip Downing, Wadsworth, 2016, pp. 135-162.


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Pamela Geddes and Angie Smith with Alberta Parenting for the Future Foundation
01/Jul/2019

We are excited that today’s blog author will be featured as one of 8 presentations at this year’s Sharing Innovation 2019. Like what you read? Register today at www.nonprofitcenters.org/sharing

 

Colossal failures and some initial successes caused us to stumble into social innovation in a shared space.  We didn’t see the journey taking this route, we just needed more space.  While we work in a large rural setting, there are very few appropriate rentals to fit our needs.

In October, we will explore how we applied the Panarchy Theory to our journey to success.

Exploration – We started looking for a space just our size but what we found was one three times what we needed.  Using our silo lens, we began looking for tenants to help pay the rent and it wasn’t until our largest prospective tenant, with deep pockets, backed out at the last minute. We essentially hit a road block that forced us to completely shift our thinking. Our detour took us into social innovation and changemaking.

Development –  We thought that we had planned the perfect journey booking all our rooms in advance when really, we needed to do more research on the route and what we would find at each location.  Shifting our perspective meant that we needed to learn. We attended conferences including the 2015 Building Opportunities Conference in Vancouver (complete with boot camp), the Tamarack Institute’s conferences on Vibrant Communities and we enrolled staff in trainings and courses such as MacEwan University’s Social Innovation Certificate program. It was at this junction in the road that we learned that failure can actually be a tool for success.

Growth –  We applied our learnings and after early successes with initiatives such as multilevel leases, flexible space, purposeful artwork and signage to celebrate inclusion and daily networking opportunities we began to see where we fit within our own centre and where the centre fit in the larger community. We doubled down on compromise rather than emphasizing policy and procedure to create social cohesion.

Maturity – We were able to celebrate our successes and leverage small partnerships into larger scale innovations, most recently receiving a McConnell  Foundation grant, along with other partners in the community, for the creation of a social lab to create systems change in education.  Maturity is about not getting stuck in one location, rather looking at what needs to scale up or scale out and recognizing when it’s time to let go and continue the journey.

Release – Moving on, whether by choice or through the choice of others can be emotional and discouraging, like a flat tire or engine trouble.  We can choose to sit on the side of the road and have a good cry, then we need to embrace the failure as a tool that puts the air back in our tires. Letting go opens doors to new opportunities, we need to slow down so we can see them.

Organizations moved into our centre because it was economical but they stayed because they have a shared belief in the importance of our centre in the community and they see their ideas in action.

We learned to intentionally create opportunities for input and collaboration, we learned to recognize emergent themes, and we learned (the hard way) to let go and move forward collectively.  These learnings all form the foundation of our centre’s success.


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26/Jun/2019

NCN’s Steering Committee Member Saul Ettlin, a real estate consultant for Community Vision in San Francisco, CA, was recently featured in Shelterforce Magazine’s Spring 2019 issue. His article “Buying Power: Why Nonprofits Should Own Their Own Space” highlights four important reasons that locally-based organizations should own a building where they work. Saul writes: Nonprofits, and the wide range of human, social, cultural, and artistic services they provide, can be critical to anchoring communities and stabilizing neighborhoods. When they’re invested in the place in which they’re located, nonprofits become important hubs that create opportunities for those they serve; they lift up voices, and build placed-based power. For these groups to be successful in meeting their missions, they must be resilient themselves.


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10/Jun/2019

Recently I was very fortunate to tag along with a delegation of incredible community and student leaders from the Boston area who participate in the Solidarity Economy Initiative and Center for Economic Democracy and Tufts New Economy. Together we visited Montreal to learn from practitioners about local efforts to build the social or solidarity economy. Speaking with local practitioners, we learned about an available apartment designated specifically “for someone who will never earn income again;” a seasonal, manufactured, beach front - designed on land used to store snow in winter – that boosts social engagement and enjoyment of the coast; and a flourishing farmer’s marketplace that offers community lunch and movie nights. Our visit included time spent with:


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03/Jun/2019

It’s been a long winter in Denver…and yes, I know it’s June! But within my son’s last 2 weeks of school, it snowed at least 3 inches, and we received an epic middle of the night hail storm. My plants were already struggling to grow even before they were pummeled. But finally, the sun is peaking out, and it’s beginning to warm up. New growth is around the corner, and I can taste sandal weather. It seems nonprofits and local leaders are coming out of hibernation as well lately. NCN has seen quite the uptick of people inquiring about our services, joining our network, considering building spaces or wanting to learn more about shared services. What gives? Here is some of what we’ve been hearing lately:


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28/May/2019

NCN works with clients in a variety of ways, including though coaching. Recently, I worked with a group who was developing a full cost budget for their space for the first time. When you’re doing this kind of work, you need a few concepts in your back pocket. What’s a full cost budget? That’s a budget that looks at the entire picture of an organization, not just a portion of it. It includes all of the unsexy overhead costs that we need to be effective, like liability insurance, cleaning, grounds maintenance, and more. All too often in the nonprofit sector, we only look at what it costs to run a particular program, and we ignore all the other costs that aren’t up front. One concept you need is the idea of direct costs vs. indirect costs. Direct costs are those expenses that you need to spend for a specific purpose. If you’re making a meal, the tomatoes, pasta, meat, and spices are your direct costs. However, your meal won’t be very flavorful if you dump them into a pot uncooked. You need a stove in a kitchen with running water. Not to mention plates and forks! All these other things should be accounted for as “indirect costs” because you need them for making all your meals, not just your delicious pasta.


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Chelsea Donohoe
13/May/2019

It’s Time to Register for Sharing Innovation 2019! It’s time to register for the third annual Sharing Innovation event! (Don’t miss the best registration rate! Early bird discounted registration ends Friday, August 30th). We are ecstatic at NCN about this gathering. It has continued to grow each year, and we are even more impressed with the groundbreaking collaboration happening all over the US and Canada. Every day, more groups are creating shared spaces and shared services to enable organizations to realign how they use resources to tackle the biggest challenges in their communities. No matter the size or scope of your organization, our speakers will have relevant, actionable advice and creative strategies for sharing. Sharing Innovation is a different type of NCN gathering. It’s a time to amplify ideas, dream big, and discuss what’s possible. You will hear from our network about the increased efficiency and effectiveness folks are experiencing from sharing space and other resources. We sought out speakers who are using infrastructure to achieve impact, and we wanted to hear how they are shaping their communities through collaborative, place-based initiatives.


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Jackie Cefola Director, Consulting and Shared Services
07/May/2019

The Nonprofit Centers Network is happy to announce the Upcoming release Rethinking Overhead: Daring to Share Resources Preview, a new on-line publication designed to help you consider why shared back office services could be fit for your organization.* Why are we asking you to think about shared services? As a sector, we need innovative strategies that support nonprofit organizations to access essential overhead services. As nonprofit center developers and operators, we understand the power of collaboration and the potential for shared services to add value to shared spaces. As organizational leaders, we know that our operations gain strength and resiliency through high-quality back office services. And as mission-based practitioners, we want to focus our time and effort on mission-based activities. Sure, this all sounds great in theory but what are the real reasons why organizations participate in shared services? To answer this question, the NCN team asked the leaders of 12 organizations (six service providers and six clients/partners/members/projects) to tell us their shared services stories.


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29/Apr/2019

Last week we gathered for another Ask-NCN Live member-only call to discuss evaluation.* Despite this being a requested topic, there was a tangible fear that kept people from submitting their questions on the registration form. But this is not new to NCN, and we don’t blame people! We purposely sought out an evaluation expert for NCN’s Evaluation Project 2 years ago and brought the same organization – Laura Sundstrom of Vantage Evaluation - in for our call. (These have always been member-only calls, but we knew this call would need some outside support!) We get it – who’s got the expertise, the time to execute, the human power to get it done and what do you do with the data once you’ve got it? Can we just stick to operating spaces and improving collaboration? Yes, you can. But it’s all connected. Evaluation is not just for reviewing what’s working or not working. It informs your next steps – your offerings to your tenants and your programming for future collaboration. So, I’m sorry to report that we should be doing this more. But, where do you start? Here are a few tips around what to focus on, how to do it, and how to advocate to your community and funders the importance of evaluation. What to focus on?


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Chelsea Donahoe
08/Apr/2019

We host Ask-NCN Live video calls to build our community and give another opportunity for shared problem solving. Before the webinar, members submit questions to guide the conversation. Unlike our Ask-NCN forum, attendees get instant feedback from peers. We find that our members are excited to share their expertise whether it’s their successes or hard lessons learned. Our March Ask-NCN Live focused on the topic of collaboration. It’s a common assumption that if you stick a bunch of nonprofits in one building, it’s inevitable that they’ll start collaborating, right? Well, maybe sometimes, but it’s usually challenging in one way or another. Here are a few of the highlights. How do we encourage collaboration without forcing it?


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