Thursday, June 18, 2009

On Yosemite and the Colorado Nonprofit Sector - They DO Relate!

For those of you that know me, you know that I am pretty comfortable speaking to groups. I frequently conduct trainings for CRC and facilitate meetings like board retreats on almost a weekly basis. Big groups, however, scare me. Thus, I have been a little nervous about opening the morning session at Rural Philanthropy Days this morning.

So, instead of trying to find something profound to say on my own, I decided to borrow a story that I recently heard. I think it is worth repeating here because it demonstrates one of the points I always stress when working with my nonprofit consulting clients and other community groups – collaboration is so much more than a buzzword – it is an essential strategy for nonprofit success and sustainability.

I recently got back from a vacation that included visits to some of the most beautiful places in the United States, including Yosemite National Park. I am fascinated with mountaineering and rock climbing, but my innate clumsiness means that I must live vicariously through others. While we were in Yosemite, I had the opportunity to sit in on a lecture by a renowned rock climber who has been climbing in Yosemite for more than 20 years. While I went for the stories about climbing, I left with a few lessons that are highly relevant for nonprofit organizations.

In recounting stories about the evolving way in which he sees the world, he mentioned that he would never have participated in something sponsored by the National Parks Service, like the lecture I was attending, even a few years ago. From his perspective, the National Parks Service interests could never align with the interests of the climbing community.

At some point, he realized that the climbing community in Yosemite could give up a little and get a lot more in return in terms of realizing their goals if they would work collaboratively with the National Parks Service. Learning to serve as a leader and as a catalyst for promoting this way of thinking among his fellow climbers has been a profound experience for this man, which says a lot for a man who has had a number of very profound experiences. While the relationship between the climbing community and the National Parks Service certainly is not perfect from his perspective, collaboration and working together to achieve some common goals has brought some significant results for both groups.

So, my message to the audience this morning focused on how each of us in attendance today could be a catalyst for promoting more effective collaboration and less duplication within the nonprofit sector – an essential strategy at this particular time in our sector’s history. We can often achieve more together than we can on our own, but we too often do not think beyond our organization’s own walls.

So, what can you do to serve as a catalyst for this kind of positive change within the nonprofit sector?

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