Note From Beth: One of the principles in my book, The Networked Nonprofit, was that networked nonprofits consider people and organizations as part of their networks to make change. They also know how to work as network versus single entities and all of this done through the building more and better relationships. This is a terrific reflection about working as a network.
Creating The Village It Takes To Do Coalition Work – Guest Post By Anastasia Goodstein, Chief Program Officer, Crisis Text Line
I’ve spent most of my career creating media about, for, by or with teenagers. I often thought it’s because I have a case of arrested development, but the real reason is that I struggled a lot as a teenager. I filled pages (yes, paper pages) of my diaries with angst (depression) and could have really benefited from the opportunity to connect with help anonymously. That’s what led to my work over the past two years with the youth mental health site ReachOut.com. When I saw DoSomething.org CEO Nancy Lublin’s TED talk about creating a national Crisis Text Line for teens, I knew I wanted to be a part of this effort to reach teens using the medium they now love most – SMS.
In order for us to be successful, we knew that we needed to leverage DoSomething’s expertise in using SMS to reach teens, data analysis, technology and marketing and partner with the experts in crisis counseling to provide the direct service teens so desperately need. In other words, we needed to do some serious coalition building. In the non-profit landscape where funding is scarce and redundancy is wasteful, I set out to connect with all of the major players in the mental health space to invite them to work together to create one national textline for teens in crisis. We’ve been relatively successful in doing this so far as you can see from our National Advisory Board, and I thought I would share what I’ve learned along the way.
Do as much research on an organization, its history and your organization’s history with that organization before you reach out to them. Coming across as familiar with a potential partner’s scope of work and accomplishments can only help build trust.
One way to reinforce what you learned before the conversation is to ask questions that get your prospective partner to open up about their challenges and needs. Active listening without pushing your own agenda is essential to collaborative thinking
Which leads to be open.
Collaboration and coalition building requires give and take, flexibility and a willingness to be accommodating. This doesn’t mean compromise on aspects of your vision you truly believe in, but it does require a spirit of being open to tweaking your plan to be more inclusive to others.
Nancy Lublin is the most optimistic person I think I know. She has already taught me to temper my built-in skepticism (which I think is healthy but can get in the way of thinking BIG). I also learned that being optimistic and excited about the big picture is contagious. No matter what you and your potential partners may disagree on, if you share the same big picture vision, i.e. helping teens in crisis, you can find a way to collaborate.
Get together in person.
Ironically as the Chief Program Officer for the Crisis Text Line, I believe that virtual communication does have its limits. Nothing can truly replace the magic that can happen, face to face, when you shake someone’s hand, look at photos of their child together or crack up over something silly. To really seal the deal for a long-term working relationship, try to meet in person (or at least video chat!).
If this was helpful to you at all, and even if it was not, please check out our campaign to raise $50K for the Crisis Text Line on IndieGoGo
Anastasia Goodstein was the founder of the influential youth marketing site Ypulse.com and the author of Totally Wired: What Teens & Tweens Are Really Doing Online. In addition to her recent work with ReachOut.com and Crisis Text Line, she is the proud mom of an almost 3-year-old and lives in Maplewood, NJ.