Collaboration is the foundation for success

Collaboration. What does that mean? Is it the same as cooperation? Is it a product? A process? A concept? A notion? Or just a buzzword?

At United Way, we build our success on solid and positive collaborations. We know it’s something much bigger than an industry buzzword. We know it is both a product and a process. We believe it is the driving force behind triumphant initiatives. We believe collaboration is the game changer, the difference maker, the battle winner. Collaboration is the very heart of Living United.

Why do we believe so strongly in the power of collaboration? Mostly because we recognize the danger of the absence of collaboration. In the void of collaborative efforts and attitudes lies perilous states of disaffiliation, division and… silos! Silos! Not the towering architecture of a vast farmland, but rather the ominous isolation that happens when organizations disaffiliate from the work and efforts of others. No organization sets out to be a silo. No one crafts that into their strategic planning and thinks that working in that manner is the best strategy for success. Silos are a mentality, and most typically a developing status that erodes success as it grows and spreads and ultimately consumes. Silo mentality begins to develop when an organization stops prioritizing conversations; when communication outside of its own walls is not a priority, then they become susceptible to “silo-ism.”

In the nonprofit world, everyone is trying to “do good.” It’s why we exist. We launch programs, build fundraising efforts, assess problems, craft responses… you get the picture. We are passionate people, mission driven people, focused on fixing problems and addressing systemic issues. Again, a susceptible set of circumstances. As we march feverishly forward, we are so driven that we can easily lose sight of those marching beside us. We sometimes start to only see our mission, our path, our goals and our successes. We get so wrapped up in our own efforts that we stop talking to others in the field… and even more, we stop listening. When we stop sharing what we are doing and stop asking what others are doing, the walls of the silo grow higher. When the walls grow higher it becomes harder and harder to see around, or over. When this limited and obscured vision becomes our framework, that’s when we start duplicating services, making inefficient use of resources, and ultimately we begin to diminish not only our impact but the impact of those around us. When we don’t share and reciprocate, then everyone loses. The organizations, the volunteers, the donors and most tragic of all… those we set out to serve.

Collaboration is beautiful; the absence of collaboration is truly dangerous and destructive.

This is why we strive constantly to create meaningful conversations in our community that bring people and ideas together. We seek out others who are trying to impact the same issues and we talk. We listen. We banter. We brainstorm. We collaborate. We tear down silos and set aside displaced, proprietary feelings. We worry less about feathers in a cap and more about the ultimate impact potential. We join hands, ideas, resources and hearts. When we do this — when we really do this — and commit to the process, we are able to accomplish things larger than we ever dreamed. We are able to make a collective impact bigger than ourselves, bigger than our single organization; we are able to make immeasurable difference.

This week we had the opportunity to reach out in a new collaboration and it was fabulous. We partnered with our wonderful friends at the Mountaineer FoodBank in Gassaway to bring a mobile food pantry to the Ritchie County Community. The FoodBank had the product, some manpower and the truck, but that wasn’t going to be enough to make the plan a reality. We became the conduit for volunteers and logistics. Our United Way team was on the ground and joined by volunteers organized by the Family Resource Network in Ritchie County as well as volunteers from a workplace campaign partner– Huntington Bank. Together, we directed traffic, registered pantry clients, unloaded palettes from a truck, loaded client’s vehicles and connected some to additional resources and opportunities. The effort served more than 150 families in less than 90 minutes. Not one single agency involved could have made that happen alone. Yet, together it seemed nearly effortless (well, a little hot and sweaty, but…) We forged friendships, we laughed, we shared concerns over systemic issues and we brainstormed about how to serve better, step stronger and change more. Sometimes we shy away from collaborative projects because we think it is going to take more time if we are working with more people and in the nonprofit world, we never have enough time. Sometimes we sidestep the opportunity to collaborate thinking it will dilute our recognition or decrease our visibility. Let me tell you that those are non-issues for us when we work with dozens of partners. Collaborating doesn’t mean more time or more effort. It most often means less time, streamlined efforts… just more impact! There doesn’t need to be a battle over visibility or recognition. Serve with the best of intentions. It’s that simple. The people who want to know who is behind the work will see you. The people that need the services so desperately, they will appreciate you no matter what your nametag says.

Meaningful collaboration is good for organizations. Most importantly it is good for our community. It is how we truly make a difference. It is how we maximize resources and minimize duplications. Collaboration is we can all truly LIVE UNITED.

Stacy DeCicco is executive director of the United Way Alliance of the Mid-Ohio Valley, located at 935 Market St., Parkersburg.


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