January 22, 2020
Hope Summit Brings Nonprofits Together; Continuity Takes Effort

By Jay W. Vogt

August 13, 2010 — The first step toward collaboration among nonprofits can be as easy as inviting someone to coffee. A group of 10 organizations in Arlington gathered together for two hours over coffee one morning to discuss their needs and resources. They called their gathering—a simple act in opposition to their own isolation—“The Hope Summit.”

The Children’s Room, a center for grieving children, hosted representatives from nearby organizations doing similar work in areas such as home health care, cancer support, substance abuse counseling, and the arts. The agenda was simple: each person would introduce themselves and their organization, and share their needs, and what they had to offer.

One by one, the needs—such as fundraising help, volunteer assistance, and marketing aid—and the offers, like ample space, amazing services, professional development resources, and promotional venues, tumbled out. Based on all this sharing, participants named some emerging opportunities for collaboration, including visibility, fundraising, space sharing, networking, web resource sharing, joint needs analysis, and volunteerism.

The meeting ended with a commitment to document the needs and offers, compile a contact information sheet, and meet again in a month. After that, the group continued to meet monthly. About six organizations stayed with it. The agenda shifted: each month one or two groups presented what they do, where they are going, and what challenges they face, thus raising the level of mutual understanding and regard.

When the initial round of briefings came to a close, the group refocused on the most fruitful areas for mutual collaboration. They tried to balance the desire to do small, relatively simple projects that would give them a quick return on their collaborative investment, with the temptation to take on larger, more complex tasks—like joint fundraising—that could bring them the most significant gains.

They were told by more than one funder: “Everyone wants to fund collaboration these days. We want to fund new collaborations among groups experienced in partnering.” The Hope Collaborative, as they called themselves, started learning about collaboration, one small step at a time, searching for projects that were a natural fit, where together they could uniquely add value.

“It’s good to be small,” said one of the principals, “It’s more manageable. We’ve got good momentum.”

Alas, the reasons why nonprofits don’t collaborate more than they do ultimately prevailed. Despite great intentions, and good feedback from funders, the effort unraveled. Why? Difficulty keeping people involved. Other pressing priorities and demands on everyone. Key people transitioning out of their roles and into jobs elsewhere. Lack of resources for coordination and support. Getting stuck and not having the energy to get unstuck.

A year later, the Summit’s host reflected, “It is a framework that worked to a point, and could work again. Every individual took something from it. It was a good learning experience. And some of the organizations have become more collaborative as a result of it.”

Organizations that want to host their own summit, and see it through, should consider the key actors in their geography:
  • Consider the key players in your segment of the nonprofit sector.
  • Consider town government, and the local chamber of commerce.
  • Build your list, find a place, pick a date, make your invitations, and brew some coffee.
  • Keep the first meeting simple – focus on introductions, needs, and offers.
  • And be willing to stick with it to get results.
Collaboration is a conversation and a process, not an event. Still, with some luck and a little grit, your own Hope Summit may some day grow into your own Hope Collaborative.

Jay W Vogt, who facilitated the Hope Summit, is the author of Recharge Your Team: A Grounded Visioning Approach. Reach him at jay@peoplesworth.com.

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