Building Cooperation

This morning’s email at the Community-Driven Institute brought this request:
I need help finding a list of community organizations in order to form alliances.

This was such a pleasant break from the ever-present request,“How can I get grants?” that I thought I’d answer it here rather than individually, as I am hoping you all might have some answers I had not considered.

First, a philosophical answer – not the kind of thing an individual can use, but the kind of thing we have been talking about with community leaders throughout our just-completed tour. Put simply, it comes down to this: Communities need to build infrastructure that makes cooperation and alliance-building easy.

Community leaders often bemoan a perceived scarcity of cooperative efforts in their communities. (I say “perceived” because there is a great deal of cooperation going on already. Because community leaders often see life through a lens of competition, that can become all they see. But I digress…)

In response to those community leaders, we note that most communities lack an easy way for those who do want to find cooperative partners to accomplish that task – like the gentleman who sent the note.

We have seen great infrastructure-building efforts. One we found during the Community-Driven Tour was ConnectRichmond.org – an online resource for finding community resources. But creating infrastructure can be far simpler than what ConnectRichmond offers and does not have to be costly. It merely requires the intent to have those systems in place.

This would be a terrific role for Resource Centers (often called Nonprofit Resource Centers, but we are hoping that will change to Community Benefit Centers). If their mission is to maintain the health and strength of the sector, what better way to do so than to build cooperative infrastructure?

Ok, now for the direct answers to the gentleman who asked (this is where I am hoping you all will add to the list):
1) Contact your local United Way and Community Foundation. These organizations often have a list not only of the organizations they fund, but sometimes all the organizations in town.
2) If your community has a Nonprofit Resource Center, ask them for a list.
3) If your local city or county government fund local organizations, get a list from them.
4) Do a Google search for area coalitions. Insert the name of your community, then the words “arts coalition” and “human services coalition” and etc. Animal welfare, environmental, education. Ask those groups for lists of their members.
5) You might also search words like “association” or “federation.” (If anyone has any other ideas, please comment – too much Thanksgiving has left me dry of other words!)

Lastly, once you have compiled your list, share it. Send a note to everyone on that list and ask them if they want a copy. Be the change you want to see in your community by walking the talk of cooperation.

Anyone else have other ideas?

Curious about our use of the term “Community Benefit Sector?” Click here to learn more.

4 Responses to Building Cooperation

  1. Hi Hildy,
    A few addtions come to mind – information & referral services, volunteer centers (although both might be under United Ways.) Chambers of Commerce – I’d love to see Chambers more actively engaged in supporting the sector if they aren’t already, Libraries, Community Colleges and other colleges in the community…

    And I hope you and Dimitri have a well-deserved rest after your incredible trek!

    Take care,
    Bob

  2. Hildy: Good question. In my experience, the success of alliance-building depends on what you intend to do with it – ie. developing new/improved services for the community? satisfying funders wishes? build community engagement? I’m sure many readers will have participated in alliances, federations, networks, etc. that have been created to to demonstrate “partnership”, but where there is no actual experience of such a thing emerging. So purpose counts.

    Alliance building works best with a particular focus. One such alliance that I’ve helped to develop in my community is focused around ensuring that local community benefit organizations (and the city as a whole) are providing a welcoming experience for immigrants settling here. In this alliance, it’s my role as facilitator, to make sure the group keeps their “eye on the prize”, which means that new Canadians experience successful settlement. This vision is what has kept the group together for the nearly 3 years. And it requires determined, conscious effort to keep the 35 members focused on collaboration, rather than competition. But we’re still moving forward!
    And my final point is to encourage a culture of celebration in these alliances/networks. Collaboration is experienced as being hard work for many organizations (exactly because we’ve been behaving like we’re competitors rather than creating community benefit). Celebration can be disarming, and serve to put competitive mindsets off-balance (even if just for a little while).
    These are just a few of the conditions that help pave the way for successful building of an infrastructure of community cooperation.
    I look forward to learning more from other contributors.
    Best wishes,
    Gayle Valeriote
    Volunteer Centre of Guelph/Wellington (Ontario)

  3. Wonderful wonderful stuff, Gayle. And the advice to create a culture of celebration is simply perfect – thank you for that!
    Hildy