Community leaders have long encouraged nonprofit collaboration. The cooperation can take many forms, from programmatic alignment to interdependent service development. Thought capital has been especially proven to inspire strategic and tactical momentum.
In an exploratory gesture, a team from the League of American Orchestras’ Emerging Leaders program extended an invitation to connect with several high-profile thought leaders in the nonprofit space, specifically those that have scaled programs which were integrated in a broader – presumably national – operational system. Amongst their thoughtful research and reconnaissance efforts, the team connected with YMCAs in each team member’s community. Among those, the Community Engagement Director at The Florida Orchestra connected with the YMCA of Greater St. Petersburg.
“Real change and community ownership comes from authentic and personal connection to an organization, as well as a stake in the vision and strategic planning,” said Erin Horan, Community Engagement Director of The Florida Orchestra. “Our team found our collaborative interviews with nonprofits, like the Y, to positively reinforce our direction while illuminating potential opportunities.”
While their programmatic missions differ, the YMCA and The Florida Orchestra have both achieved strong, sustainable growth in the Greater St. Petersburg community and beyond. With a shared commitment to the betterment of the community – through youth development, healthy living, the arts, and family engagement – both NPOs share some cross-over segmentation of local service markets – specifically active older adults and young families.
Integral to the key findings, shared at the 73rd National Conference for the League of American Orchestras in June 2018, was the importance of refining how NPOs interpret and address community needs, most notably through the simple art of listening:
- Monitor community news: subscribe to local general and business news
- Monitor demographic fluctuations, government and social service agency reports
Surveys Win for Efficiency
- Consider the specific question you have of your community, and craft your inquiry around it
- Online surveys or comment cards can provide immediate feedback from constituents
- Remember: effective surveys require a clear goal and plan of application of the results
Stay Sensitive to Trends in Funding
- Are your funding sources shifting their areas of focus? Are government grants requiring new data or training for staff? These can signify evolving community needs.
- Appreciative inquiry can inspire deeper engagement just by asking your community to participate in visioning the future. Aim to constructively view the future though the lens of your strengths. Ask your community “What could be?”
Advisory Boards and Community Listen Sessions
- Build advisory boards with engagement patrons who may not possess the time or financial means to join your board. Advisory board members can be your ambassadors to the outside community. Similarly, community listening sessions can give you a direct opportunity to hear from members of the community you may not already be reaching.
Develop Personal Connections
- Personal connections can provide immediate and honest feedback. Developing relationship with patrons, fostering good communication with board and staff, and keeping in touch with community partners and funders can help recognize patterns of strength while also identifying areas where more attention is needed.
Responsiveness Made Clear
This is where a Strategy Screen can be extremely helpful: a tool utilized by program developers, be it board or staff, to proverbially “gut check” their exploratory ideas prior to moving towards executions. When vetting a particular concept or project, run the idea against a list of predetermined questions that could include:
- Does this advance our mission?
- Would this change provide access to new patrons and supporters?
- Does this fulfill a need in the community not otherwise met?
- Will this change reinforce or establish a positive perception of our organization?
- How does this fit into or distract from current programming?
- Do we have the data and resources required to support this change?
- Are there other organizations fulfilling this need? Does this warrant partnership exploration, or is there a unique business advantage to our organization’s approach?
- Do you have the financial resources and organizational capacity to manage this change?
Do you have strategies to add to the list? Leave them in the comments below.