Friday, August 7, 2009

The Art of Collaboration

I had the pleasure of meeting Jerry Adams about a year ago and the pleasure of seeing the Human Services Coalition (HSC) of Prince George's County in action at a conference this summer. What the HSC does is fantastic! It leverages its members' capabilities and helps those Nonprofits build capacity. There cannot be a more important time than now for Nonprofits to come together, share resources and support one another. I am reminded that whatever issues we face in our communities, it is usually Nonprofits at the forefront of solving those issues and providing service. I hope this article gives you some great ideas and be sure to visit their website to see how dynamically the HSC is serving its community. Bunnie

The Art of Collaboration: The Human Services Coalition of
Prince George’s County

by Jerry Adams, Executive Director

Incorporated in 2001 the Human Services Coalition of Prince George’s County (HSC) has hit its stride over the last three years. HSC has gone through the pretty typical growth pattern that many if not all emerging nonprofits that are now members of the coalition go through. We pretty much serve as an example to our member organizations as to how to become a sustainable nonprofit organization. Here is what has transpired:

The founders of the HSC were themselves executive directors of thriving nonprofits in Prince George’s County. They saw an extreme need for an organization that would 1) build the capacity of so many struggling nonprofits to deliver the best services to more people, and 2) advocate for resources and public policies that would enable nonprofits to be more effective and efficient. As with most start-up nonprofits, they had very limited funds. They committed themselves to be the volunteers who would start addressing the capacity building and advocacy needs with the help of a part-time consultant. After the first two years of trying to develop a program offering that was based on grouping organizations into affinity groups according to the type of services they provided (Youth, Aging, Disability, etc.), the leadership felt that they were not being very effective. The organization had no clear membership, and no committee structure to engage members in the work of the coalition. Something had to change.

In 2003, two of the HSC leaders went to visit the Howard County Association of Community Services, a very successful coalition of service provider organizations, to see how they were structured. Upon their return, they recommended a complete restructuring of the HSC. A Membership dues-paying structure was implemented. Four new committees were formed to engage the membership in developing and delivering a set of services to members: Membership, Public Policy, Programs, and Annual Conference Committees were formed. A part-time administrator was hired (still didn’t have much financial support). The board surveyed members to see what interests the members had. Membership meetings were based on those interests.

By 2004, the structure was in full swing and a small grant was awarded by United Way to replace not augment the previous funding. Most members felt that the organization’s offerings were not robust enough to impact on building capacity, and to make a difference with regard to advocating on behalf of the sector. During the next two years, membership dues, and corporate sponsorships from the annual conference provided the HSC with a growing fund balance. In 2006, the board decided to make a bold move to hire an executive director who could take the organization to the next level.

Since that time, the membership has seen a more than 100% increase. The organization’s budget has increased from $50,000 to over $300,000. These funds represent a growing awareness in the funding community and the county government of the value to all of the citizens of Prince George’s County of having an entity that can help nonprofits be more effective, and that can advocate on their behalf. These funds have come from a variety of sources and support significant new programs. HSC now operates an historic Nonprofit Incubator program funded through the Community Development Block Grant program. The Incubator provides core training, peer mentoring and professional executive coaching to 11 nonprofits. HSC has applied to the US Department of Health and Human Services for $500,000 to expand this effort to more than 20 additional nonprofits, and be able to re-grant $200,000 to some of those nonprofits.

HSC has a vibrant Public Policy agenda that has three sub-committees (made up of members and chaired by board members) that are seeking to 1) work with county departments to improve the efficiency of payments to nonprofits that contract with those departments, 2) seek to influence the development of the county budget so as to see the allocation of more funds to nonprofits, and 3) pass an ordinance requiring that a Community Benefit Agreement (CBA) be part of every development and re-development plan that goes forward through the Planning Division. This effort is supported by a grant from the Washington Area Women’s Foundation as each of the public policy initiatives will assist single women headed households with children under 18 and incomes under $40,000 to achieve financial security. The Women’s Foundation grant allows HSC’s Public Policy Committee to have the support of a professional public policy consultant.

HSC continues to have wonderful support from the Prince George’s County Executive, and has recently been awarded a grant from the Morris and Gwendolyn Cafritz Foundation for general operating. We enjoy ongoing collaboration with other funders and capacity building organizations. The Partnership for Prince George’s, a philanthropic effort hosted by the Prince George’s Community Foundation, has funded HSC to develop a public policy initiative concerning the county budget. We also collaborated on hosting three excellent forums on advocacy seeking to get more of our members comfortable with joining the advocacy efforts.

The Eugene and Agnes E. Meyer Foundation funded our strategic planning effort that will be our guide for the next five years. They have also asked HSC to submit a proposal for general operating funds as they see that we have reached the limit of our current staff, space and equipment capacity to expand our work to help more nonprofits succeed and thrive. In light of the dire economic times, HSC hosted a dynamic one-day Nonprofit Survival Kit Summit that encouraged member organizations to collaborate, share resources and otherwise help each other survive. A panel of funders also told members what they had to do in this new economy to attract funds ... COLLABORATE! ... our theme for the year.

1 comment:

  1. I recently came across your blog and have been reading along. I thought I would leave my first comment. I dont know what to say except that I have enjoyed reading. Nice blog. I will keep visiting this blog very often.