QUESTIONS AND ANSWERS

THE ART OF COLLABORATION
(How to Get There from Here)

If you are looking to learn more about the art of collaboration, take a look at the sampling of questions and suggestions below. Seasoned practitioners will tell you that the questions represent the most important part of the process. Questioning means you are mindful of the complexities involved and of balancing those elements as well as possible. Then you must take a leap of faith, while remembering to keep your eyes on the horizon when challenges arise. For surely they will surface!

This is not intended to be a "checklist," rather it is a menu of helpful considerations. But be forewarned: this list may be too complex to absorb all at once. Check back from time to time, with particular topics in mind, to see if something resonates for you. Once you have determined the most reasonable course of action, take some ideas, add more, consult with your colleagues (or find new ones to help you), and create your own good stories. For the complete Q & A list, refer to Groundswell

How do we get started?

How do we find the right partners-both organizations and volunteers?

How do we find the resources we need?

The Door to Reality — Buckle Island, Maine

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

How can we get the word out more effectively? How do we work with the media?

How do we keep enthusiasm and momentum going through the long haul?

A few of us do most of the work - how do we bring in more people and help them to perform?

How do we create continuity and depth of leadership?

How do we keep the momentum going after the founders slip away?

How do we keep volunteers engaged and working with us?

How do we include cultural differences and concerns?

How do we learn to deal with the complexities of collaborative work?

How do we make our work relevant to people "beyond the choir?

How do we keep from burning out ourselves?


 

How do we get started?

  • Choose good projects to inspire and remind people what's worth putting time into.
  • Articulate a clear vision for your project to get people engaged in helping.
  • Brainstorm the big picture, and then focus initially on what is actually achievable.
  • Create a slogan or title that best captures your cause. Test it on people not directly involved to see how it resonates with them, not just to your "choir!"
  • Shift your focus toward people and away from buildings, statistics and results.
  • Identify the key person to direct your project, and define his or her role well.
  • Establish a consistent presence: a mailing address, phone, email and office, if possible, so people know where and how to contact you.
  • Determine what makes your project unique and figure out a way to highlight or differentiate it from other causes.
  • Remember to be well prepared, and speak from your heart. You only have one chance to make a good first impression.
  • Practice more doing, less talking. Talking goes only so far. Enthusiasm results far more readily from "doing."
  • Achieve tangible results early and often (even if they are largely symbolic at times).
  • Recognize that people don't necessarily "get something back" right away - rather they are giving service by investing their time and energy.
  • Don't think you need advanced degrees to participate; you need one only from the Graduate School of Life and Common Sense.
  • Look at other successful initiatives. Take and adapt them to your own ideas, even if the project focus is not similar to yours. Notice how success engages supporters.
  • Observe related trends occurring around you - locally, regionally and nationally.
  • Talk to opinion leaders about your project - local, regional and beyond, if applicable. Keep them informed.
  • Create an organizational framework that works best in your community. It need not be formalized, merely consistent.
  • Recognize that some people need to express their concerns about how things are proceeding; this tactic may reflect how they process and gauge their own interest.
  • Take a step back from the trenches periodically to determine the right questions and solutions - individually and collectively.
  • Seek to make your work or project meaningful to people's daily lives.

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How do we find the right partners-both organizations and volunteers?

  • Take a step back to strategize; be realistic about timeframe, funding, political and economic climate, and other elements affecting finding good volunteers.
  • Understand who cares about, and will be affected by, your project.
  • Choose people (and organizations) who will work constructively and positively.
  • Work in concert with municipal, corporate and government entities. They add value: credibility, expertise, funding and in-kind support.
  • Acknowledge that outsiders need to prove themselves, but, once they do, they can bring a great deal to the mix.
  • Involve people you think may be difficult from the start; you do not want surprises near the end. Encourage them to participate. Accommodate them as much as possible.
  • Listen for the common thread to be revealed by both likely and unlikely partners.
  • Cast a wide net to consider all possible constituents. Keep the door open for more.
  • Recognize that good volunteers are invaluable - and hard to come by. They take careful cultivation.
  • Incorporate and feature the emotional, aesthetic, philosophical and economic aspects of a project to capture a broader audience.

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How do we find the resources we need?

  • Cast a wide net and winnow down the possibilities.
  • Get to know members, your board, constituents and partners, so you can call on them for targeted assistance. (But be sure your mission and message is consistent.)
  • Promote the value of in-kind donations of materials and/or labor.
  • Use advisors outside your immediate circle for feedback. You might well end up enlisting them to help. But keep them informed!
  • Create a menu of options for attracting donations from individuals, corporate, municipal, state, federal agencies and foundations.
  • Develop good relationships and communication with potential funders for future reference.
  • Be straightforward, don't embellish - it could backfire!
  • If turned down, call to ask why. Those conversations are helpful now and in the future. Remember that "no" doesn't mean "no" forever. Circumstances change.
  • Consider procuring an initial "challenge grant" to entice others to chip in too.
  • If you don't at least ask, you'll have no chance at all!

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How can we get the word out more effectively? How do we work with the media?

  • Communicate regularly, using compelling, professional-looking graphics and promotional materials. Look for volunteers possessing related skills to help.
  • Establish a visible pattern and winning tone to your communications.
  • Feature the works of a variety of people/volunteers in your publications and at events.
  • Determine appropriate media contacts and potential supporters in print and broadcast markets. Add them to your mailing list and inform them of newsworthy events.
  • Consider this work as political organizing - it is a campaign!
  • Feature a variety of artists and artistic interpretations. Recognize art as a catalyst for greater environmental awareness and action.
  • Collect and display testimonials from people with broad interests and skills enjoying your project; they speak volumes!
  • Encourage and acknowledge children as future stewards for your project, but also recognize the importance of education at all ages.
  • Grow a comprehensive email list - it is a cheap and effective way to communicate.
  • Observe and save publications you like. Borrow them to use in your own way.
  • Hold a series of fun and complementary events to feature your project. Positive word of mouth brings people to help.
  • If you are going to create a tee shirt, make the design (and color) a smashing one!

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How do we keep enthusiasm and momentum going through the long haul?

  • Prioritize tasks and find people with a variety of interests, skills and strengths to accomplish them.
  • Recognize that positive people are more persuasive. Make them spokespeople.
  • Celebrate often, even when things seem bleak.
  • Understand that rhythms and opportunities wax and wane like anything else.
  • Acknowledge contributions of time and funding often. Give credit where it is due. Doing so will not dilute your organization's reputation, only enhance it.
  • Pause periodically to take stock of what is working and what needs improvement.
  • Keep your eyes on the big picture, especially during tough times.
  • Take small steps, or even backward steps, when necessary.
  • Take risks when appropriate: confer with colleagues and use your instincts to know the difference between justifiable hesitation and "nothing ventured, nothing gained."
  • Leave room for good ideas to form, and for new people possessing them.
  • Be realistic about estimating and articulating the time aspect. These projects almost always take notoriously long to implement. Long-term relationships are key.
  • Remember that how long it took doesn't matter; what matters is that it happened! When looking back, you will not recall the agony as readily as you will the triumphs.
  • Understand that the process itself is invaluable. The magic occurs during the journey.
  • Know that if the idea is good, the people, timing and events will come together to make it possible. Yet sometimes even a good idea will languish until the time is right.
  • Remember that progress is hard to judge objectively when you are in the middle of it. You are likely doing better than you think.
  • Ask the opinion of others outside the process to help gauge your momentum. Stress that any good project is worth doing well.
  • Encourage your volunteers by saying, "Just showing up is half the battle." It is!

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A few of us do most of the work - how do we bring in more people and help them to perform?

  • Take a step back to get an overview of the issues, people and politics for clarity.
  • Strategize to make your message more relevant, and to attract greater support.
  • Define roles and tasks well, starting with the whole group and narrowing down.
  • Don't overlook potential constituents or interests.
  • Foster public imagination around your project, and ways to capture and present it.
  • Look to newcomers seeking ways to get involved in their communities.
  • Get to know people before assigning tasks; strive to make a good fit. Mismatches waste precious time and energy.
  • Empower people to succeed. Start small if necessary and build from there.
  • Be willing to shift volunteer roles around if necessary.
  • Develop training and mentoring processes to encourage new people to join in.
  • Create effective, cohesive teams to work together on challenging or lengthy issues.
  • Check in periodically on their progress. If you cannot, assign someone dependable, with consistent communications skills.

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How do we create continuity and depth of leadership?

  • Tell people the stories behind how the idea was hatched, along with any other early history, to help them feel engaged and in-the-know.
  • Empower people to succeed at their tasks by making them distinct and achievable.
  • Allow people to help while their time, energy and enthusiasm exists.
  • Empower people to step away with heads held high regardless of duration of service. Acknowledge them warmly when they depart or reduce their involvement.
  • Consider asking key people to stay on in an advisory capacity.
  • Use volunteers thoughtfully and sparingly to avoid burnout or overkill.
  • Create a mentoring system, pairing seasoned with newer participants.
  • Bring people along; make them feel important and appreciated all along the way.
  • If entire families are involved, feature them; others may follow suit.

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How do we keep the momentum going after the founders slip away?

  • Create a solid framework for future boards and volunteers.
  • Allow the mission and focus to evolve with the group.
  • Engage those remaining in strategic planning for the future.
  • Share the organizational stories with new people so they have a sense of context.
  • Acknowledge the roles of founders to inspire descendents and encourage continuity.
  • Encourage founders to participate in occasional events to inspire others.
  • Consider creating an advisory board to engage and retain founders in a targeted capacity, but be thoughtful about using them sparingly.

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How do we keep volunteers engaged and working with us?

  • Plant the seeds today and yield the harvest tomorrow.
  • Remember that one distinct success inspires another. Any size will do.
  • Don't promise what you can't deliver. Be realistic.
  • Instill responsibility for the future by promoting good stewardship.
  • Give volunteers real responsibility and then empower them to succeed.
  • Provide support without micromanaging.
  • Create a menu of tasks, both long and short-term, to engage people.
  • Help them to understand how all the pieces fit together, their role included.
  • Listen to their ideas and act on the good ones; find a way to acknowledge all ideas.

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How do we include cultural differences and concerns?

  • Invite, interpret and share the stories of people, land, history and culture.
  • Brainstorm and plan positive and inclusive events.
  • Ask different cultural groups to plan specific (or parts of) events.
  • Introduce differing cultural practices to give people perspective and context.
  • Understand that "one-size-fits-all" does not work in rural vs. urban settings.
  • Honor and facilitate the connection between different constituencies and disciplines.
  • Acknowledge and celebrate the roles played by all interests.

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How do we learn to deal with the complexities of collaborative work?

  • Sometimes good projects can have negative consequences or surprising adversaries. (For example, preserving or rehabilitating a place may force long-time residents out because of the resulting elevated land values.)
  • Learn to recognize and acknowledge the paradox in many well-intentioned projects. The issues, options and their consequences often are not simply black and white.
  • Consider the "ripple-effect" factor. Be willing to accommodate unforeseen results.
  • Keep your eyes always on the big picture as well as on the details.
  • Discuss and define the concepts, issues and complexities of your project.
  • Strive to maintain traditions while accommodating healthy growth and change.
  • Recognize and explain that the "how to" and the "why" of projects are interwoven - one aspect does not, and should not, exist without the other.

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How do we make our work relevant to people "beyond the choir?

  • Connect your project to their hearts, their families and their common experience.
  • Promote the interconnection of loss and opportunity in jumpstarting a project.
  • Establish the importance of environmental values along with social, economic, etc.
  • Strive to embody credibility.
  • Show, don't tell. Good project results sell themselves. Gimmicks are not needed.
  • Recognize that successful organizations must offer multiple ways of reaching different constituencies (i.e. projects in several neighborhoods, a diverse board and newsletter articles appealing to people with a variety of interests and backgrounds).
  • Seek connecting threads among diverse entities. Highlight and celebrate them.
  • Acknowledge that the quality of everyday life matters.
  • Focus on core values in your mission. Others will recognize those you share.
  • Make your message relevant to children through education programs, outings and visits to schools and other groups. They are your future, and they often can convince their parents to shift their habits and outlooks.
  • Don't overlook engaging people of all ages. It is never too late to learn or change.
  • Realize that land conservation is a means, not an end, to creating healthy and stable communities. Make your language and actions reflect that concept.

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How do we keep from burning out ourselves?

  • Stay conscious of your workload and take time to get away - whether for an afternoon, a weekend or a real vacation. You won't be any good to anyone, most of all yourself, if you don't. Just do it - don't argue! People will respect you more for taking care of yourself and your sanity.
  • Learn how to ask for help when you need it. (This is a big one.)
  • If you feel close to meltdown, share this with your most trusted colleagues. Speaking about it out loud can help to defuse the tension. Ask for their advice. Then make your own decision about what you need to do.
  • Learn how to say No! People appreciate knowing where they stand, what's possible and what's not. Timing may be better for you later, or perhaps never. That's okay too. You can only do your best.
  • Make time to visit the places you are working so hard to save or create. It's easy to lose track of the reasons behind your focus when you are mired in a million details. Being on site will ground you and reconnect you to your mission.
  • Take the time to reflect and remember why you initially took on this project. Often we become so immersed in logistics and details that we lose sight of those reasons.

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GIVING LIFE TO GOOD IDEAS
Contact: info@alixwhopkins.com