What Management Support Orgs Make Possible

(This is the final installment in a 4-part  article. Head here to start with Part 1.)

Management Support Organizations have immense potential. Looking beyond just helping the individual organizations they serve, their highest potential is the highest potential of our communities themselves.

No one could be more interested in that potential than Gayle Valeriote and Rick Carter.

Gayle is the Manager of Training & Consultation at the Volunteer Centre of Guelph/Wellington, a Management Support Organization in Ontario, Canada.  Gayle is doing Community-Driven work from within the Volunteer Centre, and she is also working to develop a full-service Community Benefit Resource Centre in Guelph – an entity that does not yet exist.

Rick Carter is Executive Director of the Human Services Federation in Lincoln, Nebraska, USA.  Lincoln does not currently have a Management Support Organization, and Rick is hoping to help develop and perhaps even incubate such a resource.

Both Gayle and Rick have studied at the Community-Driven Institute. The following is excerpted from email and phone conversations with the two of them about this topic.

Hildy: What would be different in your community if there were a Community-Driven Resource Center?

Gayle: First, people from all walks of life would be having regular and fruitful conversations with each other about building the community they love. They would no longer be thinking about an “other” to distrust, shun, be puzzled by, ignore, discriminate against or harass.  There would be only “we.”

Rick: Exactly. I would see us having deeper cooperative efforts within and across community sectors, based upon trust.  We would be building upon the capacity and strengths of all sectors to work together and impact the way we think about and view our community.

Gayle: As part of that strength, community members would see themselves as active partners in the success of every initiative whose aim is community improvement.  Our community would be described as a model of welcoming and inclusiveness.

The community would also be regarded in a holistic manner. People would be treated like citizens who have a significant interest in the outcome of efforts to improve their community. And they would be participating in making that happen.  They would be skilled in the art of engagement and action, in service to that vision of a healthy, vibrant and joyful community. There would be substantial participation and a high degree of community “ownership” in the outcomes.

Rick: And that’s the most important – the outcomes themselves would be driven by community visioning that identifies the shared future we all want to be a part of.

Hildy: What then would be different internally for an MSO that was Community-Driven?

Rick: Currently our community’s capacity building efforts provide technical assistance, trainings, education, and other opportunities for organizations deemed “lacking” in certain areas.  I envision an MSO that highlights organizations’ strengths and builds upon those strengths.

It all comes down to whether we narrowly define organizations as “problems to be solved” or if we are reaching for a vision of what is possible.  If we’re reaching for a vision, we would ask different questions, starting with that vision.  What would our community look like if not only community benefit organizations but all sectors who care about the community had the support to make the community better?

Gayle: The vision would be that we are building a vibrant community. And I mean that literally – community-building. A Community-Driven volunteer centre would see its job as creating a deep abiding relationship between people who are helping each other.  We might stop calling them “volunteers” and start just talking about building a community where all people help each other.  Then we would figure out how to measure how much difference our work is making in the community.

Rick: I think it speaks to how we work together as well.  A truly Community-Driven MSO would cross all sectors. It would start with the vision, saying, “We can be a better community if we work together towards that end – businesses and educational institutions and chambers of commerce and governments and community organizations.”

The question is then not, “How do we build capacity for nonprofit organizations?” but “At the end of the day, if I care most about how to have a positive impact on the lives of the people in my community, what management supports need to be in place? And for whom?”

Gayle: Another key area is how and why we collaborate. Programs at a Community-Driven MSO would be built not just by the professionals at the MSO, but by everyone who would be affected by the program.  Instead of the programs being expert-driven, we would be asking, “Where is the expertise in the community? How can we learn from each other?” We would be building learning communities, rather than having only “experts” teach.

Rick: I see those learning communities as places where we all would come to the table with an open mind, to learn from one another without labels of “weak” or “strong.”

Another point about collaboration is how we actually do it.  I have seen programs that are almost entirely finished before they are presented to potential partners. And then the organization says,“We have sketched out what this program will do, and here is how we want you to collaborate with us.”  That is very different from building programs together from the beginning.

So often collaborations are based on a revenue model, rather than asking, “How will the community be better because of what we do?” the concern is more about, “Who can we partner with to make our organization stronger?” Partnering becomes a mechanism for financial or political power to build a strong organization, rather than a way of being – that we always do our work in a way that builds a strong community.

Gayle: Another place a Community-Driven MSO might differ from the standard model is that leadership would be developed at all levels of the organization.  By including and involving not just experts but everyone in the community learning together, the organization would create more opportunities for increased skills and a greater certainty regarding “representation” and “voice.” It’s again about community building, community organizing, building relationships – all focused on making our communities strong and healthy.

Rick: In the end, it’s all about learning how to leave “my agency” behind, and focus on reaching for the vision we have of “our community.”  It’s about teaching how others can do that, and modeling that in the work the MSO does itself. It’s about being the change we want to see, not just in the organizations the MSO helps, but building the community we want to live in.

*****

In virtually every community in the developed world, one finds a chamber of commerce and/or a government-sponsored economic development office.  It is time that same emphasis on infrastructure was devoted to the efforts that make our communities healthy, safe, vibrant, resilient, compassionate places to live.


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