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Multi-Agency Collaboration: Strengthening
Services, Maximizing Resources
The Lutheran Foundation of St. Louis funded a collaborative appreciative
inquiry project for six non-profit social service agencies.
The Foundation’s desired outcomes were to create a collaborative
community among the agencies that strengthened social services and
maximized funding resources.
The Foundation sought to:
- Provide common language around collaboration models that all
agencies could use;
- Build agency capacity both individually and collectively;
- Raise awareness of each agency’s mission, vision, and
strengths throughout the Lutheran community.
According to the Internal Revenue Service, in 1986 there were 375,000
charities in the United States and in 2002 there were 850,000. Unfortunately
the pace of giving has not kept up with
the tremendous growth in the number of charities. Furthermore, 80-90%
of all funding goes to the largest 10% of organizations, leaving many
more non-profits competing for the remaining pool of funding. Add
to that the weakened economy and many charities – large and
small – are having to change the way they do business just to
be able to keep providing services.
This was the second attempt by the Foundation to create integration
and collaboration between these six agencies. After the previous attempt,
only one of the six agencies was open to a full merger.
What We Did
Using Appreciative Inquiry, we engaged over 200 stakeholders from
the six agencies to define the roles constructive collaboration could
play in encouraging organizational and inter-organizational effectiveness.
Through an appreciative design, we had the six agencies identify each
agency’s strengths; define multiple forms of collaboration;
identify each agency’s goals, desires, and potential benefits
of collaboration; create a collective vision for inter-organizational
collaboration; and address strategic area’s in which the six
agencies could create a collaborative community. Prior to the design
summit, we engaged the Lutheran Foundation Board in appreciative interviews
to discover their collective definition of collaboration, and create
clarity regarding their desire for these six agencies to collaborate.
The significant immediate outcomes of the project were: The creation
of a common language for collaboration; the education of all Executive
Directors and Boards of Directors on the forms of collaboration; a
paradigm shift regarding collaboration; understanding the strengths
of each agency; creating a common mission and purpose to benefit the
community; collective sense-making between the Lutheran Foundation
board and the six agencies on the goals and desires for collaboration;
the strengthening of relationships among executive directors, staff
members, and board members at each agency; the opportunity to collaborate
with individuals or individual agencies or collectively with multiple
agencies; the identification of area’s for collaboration and
the lifting up of services throughout the St. Louis and Lutheran communities.
Short-term success included: Three of the five remaining
agencies actively collaborated around funding opportunities, volunteers,
and public awareness. They secured a collaborative grant to hire a
staff person to work with local congregations on planned giving and
recruiting and training youth and adult leaders from throughout the
community to benefit the three agencies. Through these collaborative
efforts the three agencies have created an effective, efficient partnership
and have recently begun merging into one stronger agency, Humantri.