Monday, October 3, 2011

Our new Ebook Six Secrets of High Engagement Presentations is available

This hands-on e-book includes all the background and tools needed to become a high engagement presenter. It shares our tried and tested high engagement presentation strategies in an easy to follow workbook style. What we hope to do with this e-book is inspire people who want to make their presentations more interactive and support them in trying something new.

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Article on Collective Leadership

Sarah and I wrote the following article on our work with the Community Foundation of Southern Arizona.

Nonprofit Boards and Governance Review Newsletter
Collective Leadership and Shared Governance: A New Approach to Increasing the Impact of Foundation Investments
Wednesday, June 29, 2011

This article is co-written by Cassandra O'Neill and Sarah Griffiths.

In 2009, the board of the Community Foundation for Southern Arizona (CFSA) began the process of rethinking the way the foundation granted its unrestricted funds. The board believed that the foundation’s community investments were not always getting them the biggest impact, or thinking another way, the best bang for their buck; and that even though their unrestricted funding allocation was relatively modest, the grants process could be leading to greater community impact.

In starting the change process, the first step of the board, and the Community Investment Team (CIT) — a community committee charged with the oversight of the foundation’s grants process — was declaring a new goal: to increase the impact of their funding. The second was to develop a set of guiding principles aligned with their values and the new model they had decided to adopt. The guiding principles adopted by the board are as follows:
• We treat our grantees and donors as valued partners
• We believe that people support what they create
• We invest resources to build on strengths in the community
• We believe that providing general operating support allows organizations to be more effective
• We support collaborations because, together, we can create more positive impact in the community
• We understand that sustainable change takes time
Two years later, the community foundation has changed its funding model. It has moved entirely away from its traditional model of funding small amounts to individual organizations. Its new model is focused instead on building and funding multi-organization teams that are working together on a system change goal. This is the story of the process.

We have divided the story into two short articles: Article 1: Explores the model, the process and gives a brief overview of the work of the collaborative teams. Article 2: Looks at what makes this model unique, its philosophical underpinnings and alignment with best practices in the field.

CFSA’s 2010 Community Investment Model
The foundation has now funded three multi-organization, collaborative teams working toward a shared system change goal. These teams have been awarded larger multi-year grants (three years). The teams are characterized by:

• Self-selection—during the community investment process the community foundation invited any community organization that wished to participate to come together and explore what they could possibly do together that they could not do alone. The self-formed groups articulated their own “big goals”—all decisions around the goal chosen, participation, and strategies or activities selected to reach that goal have been made by the collaborative teams themselves (not the community foundation).

• Collective leadership—each collaborative team has a broad leadership team that is engaged in the process of developing the skills and behaviors that foster collective leadership. Throughout the course of the three-year grants, all members of each collaboration team will be participating in a self-administered collaboration assessment aimed at gauging the efficacy of the collaboration and their journey toward building collective leadership.

• Shared governance—although each of the collaborative teams has a lead, fiscal agent, the work of governance is shared within the collaborative teams and each team has developed an infrastructure to facilitate this process.

• System change focus—the work of each collaborative team has been structured around system change. During its early facilitated meetings the community foundation introduced all participants to Julia Coffman’s systems change framework (Julia Coffman, “A Framework for Evaluating Systems Initiatives,” August 2007). This provided the structure for the proposals and has formed the basis of the evaluation of each collaborative team toward its system change goal.

• Evaluation of impact—the community foundation CIT and board are very interested in the measurable impact of this new model. All teams are expected to do two levels of evaluation (mentioned earlier in this section). The first is aimed at demonstrating the progress that each collaborative team is making toward its system change goal. The second is aimed at gauging the efficacy of the collaboration and the journey toward building collective leadership and shared governance.

• Reflection—at each step of the way the collaboration teams are being invited to reflect and adapt. To consider where they have come to, where they need to get, and to adapt as necessary.

The Community Foundation’s Community Investment Process
In 2010, the community foundation hosted two large community meetings. The goals of these meetings were:

• To give participants an opportunity to explore collaboration and reflect on what they could possibly do within a collaboration that was greater than what their individual organization could achieve alone.
• To introduce the new community investment (grants) process, including a draft proposal template for the participants’ review and an overview of next steps.
• To share the system change framework that has been used throughout the application and implementation process.
• To help people meet others who might share the same goal.

Following these meetings, proposals for planning grants were invited. The proposal template did not include a needs question, rather applicant teams were asked to state their big goal. There were several reasons for keeping the process open in this way. Most organizations are used to working at the program level, identifying strategies that will lead to a larger goal. However, by focusing primarily on organizational strategies, organizations often end up trying to convince potential partners to adopt their strategies, rather than jointly developing strategies that meet a shared goal. By asking organizations to identify a broad, shared, system change goal, and then think about how they could achieve this by working together, a completely unique set of strategies were developed. And by using the systems change framework, the proposed strategies were aligned with system change efforts that would benefit the collective, i.e., all organizations operating in the chosen system, as well as residents or clients impacted by the select systems. This way of thinking was new to many organizational staff and the boards of the organizations applying as collaborative teams.

A challenge for all applicant teams was to develop shared leadership among the organizational partners. Organizations are used to partnering on grant proposals as subcontractors. Meaning, they divide up a pot of money amongst the groups. This does not lead to system change. The applicant teams were challenged to figure out how to devote resources to the system changes that would, if successful, benefit the entire system. Changes were made in all aspects of the application process including the budget forms for proposals, so that the requested funding was designed to match the work necessary to change the system, not split up a pot of money. This shared governance requirement, was new to some of the organizations and partnerships, and posed one of the greatest challenges to the collaborative teams.

The key to this new approach was letting these teams form themselves—and choose which big goal they would work toward, how they would achieve the goal, and whom they would work with. Key to the operation of the teams is shared governance, reflected in a multi-organization letter of agreement signed by the partners and a lead agency which serves as the fiscal agent. An example of one of the collaborative team’s system change goal is the goal of a rural community in Southwestern Arizona. This team seeks to change all aspects of the food system to result in healthier food being grown and eaten in the town. The other two teams are working toward neighborhood revitalization, and changing the way seniors experience supports, services, and opportunities as they age.

Ajo, Arizona Regional Food Partnership
Lead Organization: International Sonoran Desert Alliance (ISDA)
Ajo is currently defined as a “food desert.” Fresh fruits and vegetables are not grown locally and must be brought in from Phoenix. There is a severe problem of obesity and diabetes in the nearby western communities of the Tohono O'odham Nation (next to the town of Ajo). Diabetes was nonexistent in the 1960’s among this population, when the local diet was based on traditional, locally grown foods. Economic development in Ajo has been limited since the mine that employed many of the local residents closed. The Ajo Regional Food Partnership, through a diverse collaboration of groups, intends to address these issues resulting in a sustainable local food system, new community awareness and engagement in making healthy food choices, restoring the residents’ rich cultural foods heritage, and developing new food-based economic opportunities for community residents. This means that food would be grown, distributed and processed locally with robust educational support not only for the growers, distributors and processors, but also for the whole community. The result will be improved community health and an enhanced local economy.

• Transforms Ajo from a food desert to a desert oasis
• Integrates Ajo and Tohono O’odham food, economic development, health and obesity initiatives
• Involves all elements of the food system and engages entire community leadership

Part 2

Different Process, Different Results
Wednesday, July 13, 2011
This article is co-written by Cassandra O'Neill and Sarah Griffiths.

In December of 2010, the Stanford Social Innovation Review published an article called “Collective Impact” (John Kania and Mark Kramer, Winter 2010). This article explores multiple collective impact initiatives and looks to find the common ground, or best practices, in collective impact efforts designed to help multiple organizations work together to achieve an outcome greater than any one organization could create by themselves. These findings align with the findings of the Community Foundation for Southern Arizona (CFSA) in this shift to increase impact. The work that the community foundation has undertaken to design this Community Investment model and partnering to build the collaborative teams is not easy. It requires shifts in thinking and behavior.

The First Shift in Thinking
Collaboration and competition are frequently framed as an either/or. Through this either/or lens, strong collaborations and strong organizations are seen as mutually exclusive. Organizations can either collaborate or they can compete, but according to many of our mental models and our organizational and community dialogues, they can’t do both.

When the community foundation began looking at collective impact as a goal, it recognized that collective impact and individual organization impact are not mutually exclusive; that organizations must be able to work together toward large system change goals while remaining successful as individual organizations. It saw that organizational goals are directly aligned and nest within the system change goals. Both are required for a good result, and for people to commit to the time and energy required of system change, they must be able to see that by reaching their system change goals, they will also help meet their organizational goals.

Key Elements of Collective Leadership
The key elements of collective leadership are described by Alain Gauthier in “Developing Collective Leadership: Partnering in Multi-stakeholder Contexts” (2006). Gauthier states: “Leadership can be defined as speaking, listening, and acting in a way that enables an organization or community to address its challenges and opportunities. Collective leadership (or co-leadership, for short) is, simply stated, leading together as partners.” He goes on to cite Petra Kunkel’s definition of collective leadership, “The capacity of a group of leaders to deliver a contribution in service of the common good through assuming joint and flexible leadership, according to what is perceived and required.”

Gauthier adds the following:
• “Unlike heroic leadership, co-leadership embraces the diversity of people and perspectives and frees up self-initiative and collective intelligence. When practiced across sectors, it creates the conditions for societal learning and innovation through an increased sense of interdependence and a deeper trust in self-organization.”
• Collective leadership can be “A transformative experience that enables each co-leader to grow personally, while generating benefits for the whole that could not have been produced otherwise. This is only possible when partners are committed to both support and challenge each other, so that optimal learning conditions exist within the partnership.”

The following additional information on collective leadership from the W. K. Kellogg Foundation’s, The Collective Leadership Framework, builds on this understanding.
• “Collective leadership becomes possible when the members of a group, motivated by a common purpose, begin to build relationships with each other that are genuinely respectful enough to allow them to co-construct their shared purpose and work. This is about expanding from the solo perspective of “I” to include the “We.”
• “The process begins with a shared dream that forms in the heart of a group of passionate individuals with diverse skills. As relationships are formed around a shared purpose, the group creates a common awareness of challenges and develops ownership of creating new approaches/solutions. This type of leadership engages communities in activities that can effect sustained and systemic change. It connects those who are often seen as “outside” of an institution with those who are on the “inside.”
• “It means being willing to be pushed and pulled as a result of being in relationship with others who share the dream. It means developing group and individual potential. It means finding what will be most effective in making needed changes in a specific time and place.”
• “Building collective leadership is a cyclical process; it does not happen once and end. Instead, it continues evolving as communities change. As groups grow and move, they continue to learn and relearn about their community as they change and it changes.”

Managing the Polarities of Collective and Individual Leadership
A useful lens in looking at competition and collaboration is polarity management (see Barry Johnson’s book Polarity Management: Identifying and Managing Unsolvable Problems. 1996.) Polarities are “seemingly opposing forces that are both required for a good result,” like collective and individual leadership.
The book provides a detailed account of how to map polarities. However, for our purposes it is useful to look at the result of the process:

What happens when you have the best of both collective and individual leadership?

Individual Leadership

When its working well it looks like this:
• Measurable results attract funding and investment
• Individual organization satisfaction
• Autonomy
• Empowerment
• Control
• Alignment with mission

Collective Leadership

When its working well it looks like this:
• Shared resources
• Increased impact
• Shared goals
• Connection with person
• Clear communication
• Shared goals
• Alignment of organization’s mission and collective good
• Constructive dialogue

If an organization is hitting the mark in each area the result would be: broader impact, efficiency, synergy, creativity, capacity to do even more, and would result in the ability to make a difference.

The polarity map illustrates that the greatest success can be achieved by having the best of both collective and individual leadership, and by extension, collaborations and organizations.

Capacity Building for Collective Leadership and Shared Governance for System Change
The collaborative teams funded by CFSA have received technical assistance to develop their capacities for reaching their big goals by building collective leadership and shared governance. In a recent publication by St. Luke’s Health Initiative called “Learning through Networks” three types of capacity building were described in a pyramid. The base of the pyramid is the basic skills, infrastructure and relationships that all organizations need to function effectively in a highly regulated and competitive environment. The intermediate level focuses on practices that lead to high impact in organizations. The top level is collective impact through networks and systems change. This is the level of capacity building that has been provided to the collaborative teams. Ongoing technical assistance has been focused on helping the teams develop the capacities, skills, behaviors, and knowledge necessary to operate through shared governance in multi-organization collaborative teams.

The Second Shift in Thinking
The first shift in thinking explored the implications of embracing collective impact and seeing this as a way of increasing both individual organizational impact and collective impact. Viewed through the lens of polarity management, collective impact and individual organization impact are not mutually exclusive, they are both required for a good result.

The second shift in thinking explores how we view process. Process matters. Different processes lead to different results. The process builds relationships and provides the scaffolding for developing the skills and behaviors associated with collective leadership and shared governance.
In addition to developing engagement strategies that helped people identify and manage polarities that affect their collective work, the application process provided multiple opportunities for participants to build shared leadership and governance strategies and engage in a new way that focused on system issues.

• The Community Investment Team (CIT), in the process of choosing the grantees, utilized the same methods of engagement and facilitation that created conditions for learning and inquiry. This resulted in a shared understanding of the new language, processes, and expectations for both applicants and CIT members. This is a major departure from traditional review processes.

• The engagement of participants was at the highest level of Peter Senge’s ladder of engagement—co-creating; the lower levels are buying, selling and attempts to get buy-in. Co-creation is more generative and results in more informed planning, decision making, shared passion, and collective leadership.

• The strategies the collaborative teams are using are aligned with strengths-based approaches to change, and differ from deficit-based approaches because these approaches rely on activating people’s passions and building resiliency. This is a departure from approaches in old paradigms that attempt to make positive change by activating fear or anger in residents and community members. The strengths-based approaches are reflected in the language used by the teams in their descriptions of the strategies, goals and outcomes they have. The teams report an unprecedented level of collective leadership, excitement among partners, energy, and participation in this work.

Key Differences from Traditional Philanthropic Approaches
The community foundation process and the outcomes (increased engagement and collaboration among organizations toward shared goals and the development of collective leadership) are aligned with and were informed by the following:
• Recommendations of the Committee for Responsive Philanthropy related to increasing funding of advocacy and community engagement, and making the funding application process requirements comparable to the amount of funding being awarded.
• Alternative approaches to grantmaking of a community foundation, shifting focus to collective impact and system change rather than focusing on growing and sustaining organizations. The traditional approach focuses on increasing the number of programs, the number of staff and the amount of services delivered by an individual organization.
• Positive psychology and neuroscience research about how to create positive sustainable change.
• Strengths-based philanthropic approaches that promote resiliency and build on strengths rather than traditional deficit approaches.
• Changing worldviews and paradigms regarding what creates sustainable, positive change.
• A framework for comprehensive system change developed by Julia Coffman from the Center for Evaluation Innovation (see Part I of this article).
• The collective impact work described by Mark Kramer and John Kania. They suggest that “. . . substantially greater progress could be made in alleviating many of our most serious and complex social problems if nonprofits, governments, businesses, and the public were brought together around a common agenda to create collective impact.
• Collective leadership.
• Research about high impact and movement building.

During the community investment process the collaborative teams have been given technical assistance and have now formed a community of practice. They meet quarterly to share progress and network. A key focus of these meetings is to support the teams in continuing to build the skills and behaviors necessary for collective leadership and shared governance.

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Axiom News Article on Sociocracy and Participatory Decision-Making

Changing the World by Changing the Way We Make Decisions
Sociocracy, participatory decision-making creates systems that allow people to express full potential, says consultant
Monday August 8, 2011 -- Camille Jensen

While there are countless ways to better the world, Decision Lab facilitator Nathanial Whitestone says changing how we make decisions is the most critical and profound change we could make.

Co-founding Decision Lab one year ago, Whitestone says the U.K.-based organization aims to accelerate better decision-making in organizations by introducing models that encourage participatory decision-making and improved communication flows.

“At every point we are able to fix things technologically,” says Whitestone. “The key for me is every person having control over the way they work . . . . You can’t fully express yourself, fully express the gifts you have in life, if you don’t have input on the design of how you express them.”

To transform companies into models that encourage broader decision-making and ownership over one’s work, Whitestone says it’s essential to create a governance system defined by key principles that hard-wires processes into an organization so if there are changes in management, the model doesn’t evaporate.

A model Whitestone has seen work with small and large companies alike is sociocracy, also known as dynamic governance. Based on four principles, the model involves consent-based decision-making among circles, which act as semi-autonomous policy making and working groups comprised of departments or teams.

Each circle has its own aim and directs its work by performing all the functions of leading, doing and measuring its operations. The circles share at least two members; an operational leader from an upper circle and a representative from a lower circle to ensure greater feedback and self regulation.

Whitestone says a powerful testament to sociocracy — it's also the model used to govern Decision Lab — came when working with the organization Aptivate. The innovative and values-based organization that provides IT and participatory services for international development had slipped into the habit of decision-making by endurance, where board members stayed up late arguing about the best way forward. Any Aptivate board member not interested in a late night failed to have their voice heard.

The approach was resulting in exhausted board members, a lack of people wanting to serve on the board and declining staff engagement.

Working with Decision Lab, Aptivate began to implement sociocratic design to introduce formal decision-making processes based on consensus. Within three years, the company embraced a culture where everyone’s voices are heard, meetings end on time and, most importantly, people want to participate in board-level decision-making.

When some of Aptivate's most experienced managers left for positions at prominent development organizations like the World Bank and the International Aid Transparency Initiative, the team used its well-structured participatory decision-making process to collaborate effectively, learn necessary business skills and develop new work. Describing Aptivate's response as powerful, Whitestone commends the company for turning a loss into an opportunity.

“Six months after that happened the biggest problem was fitting all the work into their schedule and hiring quality people fast enough,” he says.

Whitestone says he’s seeing increasing uptake in organizational models like sociocracy and workplace democracy, demonstrating valuable new ways to organize. Combined with the development of broader community collaboration, like crowdsourcing, gives Whitestone hope that large-scale social change is possible.

“It makes it really clear that top down is not the only way,” he says. “I genuinely do believe that’s the biggest lever that needs to be pulled. That just needs to happen, everywhere.”

If you have feedback on this article, please contact the newsroom at 800-294-0051 or e-mail camille(at)

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Re-Visioning Case Management

Click on the Title to download this publication.

New Publication from Strategies called: Re-visioning Case Management: Partnering with Families and Communities to Create Meaningful Change

Re-visioning Case Management: Partnering with Families and Communities to Create Meaningful Change is designed to spark discussions and encourage exploration of a comprehensive approach to engage families, organizations, and communities in ways that bring about meaningful and enduring change.

This monograph is made possible by the generous funding of the S. H. Cowell Foundation and the California Department of Social Services, Office of Child Abuse Prevention, and the support and guidance of the Contra Costa County Service Integration Program.

We are happy to have our work cited on page 10 in this publication.

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Learning Through Networks

Click here to download a copy of SLHI's new publication called Learning Through Networks: The story of a remarkable collaborative process and its implications for the future of organizational and community capacity building.

Sarah Griffiths and I were interviewed for this publication and on page 25 you'll see our Pyramid of Capacity Building. Our focus is on the top two levels.

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Webinar Archive New Engagement Strategies for 21st Century Evaluation

Click on the following link for an archive of a webinar Cassandra O'Neill did with Amy Schaller called New Engagement Strategies for 21st Century Evaluation on March 21, 2011.

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

NCRP blog post on Better Evaluation Practices for Philanthropy

posted on: Friday, March 04, 2011

By Meredith Brodbeck

When it comes to philanthropic giving, people want to see results. They want to know that their contributions are making a difference and helping to “move the needle” on larger issues.

Does the current practice of evaluating philanthropy show that our gifts are delivering? Is quality of life improving? And how can the practice of evaluation evolve to better answer such questions?

Steve Mayer, of the Effective Communities Project, takes on these issues in his Responsive Philanthropy article “Wanted: Better Evaluation Practices for Philanthropy”.

He points out that giving is often too individual and therefore can easily overlook the greater systemic issues.

“Funding the rescue of one person at a time evokes evaluation practices that score success one person at a time, however temporary. Evaluation, asked to give an accounting of these rescue efforts, gives adequate information on how many people receive soup, or affordable housing, or their day in court. These data may answer the question well enough, but they say nothing about the bigger question, “Are we stemming the flow of hungry, homeless or wronged people?” Both charitable and structural reform efforts are needed to stem these flows, with evaluation practices that honor the difference.”

Mayer suggests nine different ways to make the practice of evaluation - and philanthropy - better. Among them are:

1. Recognize that a better world is not built in one day. “If we accept this, we can escape the limitations of short-term management thinking.”
2. For any problem, adopt a set of metrics that reflect current progress. “It’s important for anchoring a serious effort, for engaging community support and for keeping eyes on a jointly held prize.”
3. “Identify what moves these needles, and what keeps them from moving, to make clear what kinds of efforts to support.”
4. “Look beyond the capabilities and performance of one organization, and look instead to supporting a more organized and intentional effort.”

To see the rest of Mayer’s suggestions and learn additional ways to improve the evaluation of philanthropy, read the full text of “Wanted: Better Evaluation Practices for Philanthropy”.

Meredith Brodbeck is communications associate at the National Committee for Responsive Philanthropy (NCRP).

Labels: effective philanthropy, evaluation, evaluation resources, Measuring Impact, Responsive Philanthropy

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Photos from Feb 8 training - implications of brain research on resiliency

Implications of brain research on work

Tucson Coach Trainings Spring 2011

Fundamentals of Effective Coaching Workshop

Participants will learn communication tools and skills they can use to work effectively with others in a way that promotes self-direction. Listening, paraphrasing, and asking powerful questions are fundamental coaching skills which can be applied to communication with individuals and groups. These coaching skills are based on what research shows supports thinking, learning and growth.

Option 1 -- Saturdays March 5, 19 from 12:30 p.m. - 3:30 p.m.
Option 2 -- Tuesday April 5, Monday April 11 from 6:00 p.m. – 9:00 p.m.
Option 3 -- Saturday May 7 from 9:00 am – 3:00 p.m.

Two Day Advanced Coaching Workshop -- June 2-3, 2011

The Advanced Coaching workshop is open to anyone who has had the Fundamental Coaching Workshop. Topics covered as part of the Fundamental Coaching workshops include: information on how the brain works as it relates to effective coaching, key elements to developing trust and rapport with others, listening set-asides for coaches, and the following coaching response behaviors: pausing, paraphrasing, and asking invitational questions.

Contact Sarah Griffiths at (520) 271-7970 or for registration information

Learning Opportunities -- High Impact Facilitation and Presenting Training

Workshops offered through Professional Development Alliance
Tucson, Arizona
Spring 2011

Facilitating Meeting Using Whole Systems Methods -- June 9, 2011

Topics include the common principles of Whole System Methods, how Whole System Methods align with recent research on how the brain works and strengths-based approaches to change, the benefits of using Whole System Methods, crafting invitational and appreciative questions, and instruction in how to use the following Whole System Methods: Appreciative Inquiry, The World Café and Open Space Technology.

Making Meetings Matter—A workshop on Designing and Facilitating Effective Meetings, Coalitions, and Change Processes -- May 5, 2011
Recent research on how the brain works, how people learn and grow, and the power of internal motivation call for new ways of structuring meetings and change processes. This workshop will teach participants the following: New scientific research that affects the design of meetings and change processes, Highlights of material in Switch: How to Make Change When Change is Hard by Chip and Dan Heath, and Time to Think by Nancy Kline, and the 10 essential ingredients for creating a thinking environment for any meeting.

6 Secrets to Effective and High Impact Presentations -- April 14, 2011
Topics include: Recent neuroscience and brain research that contain the secrets to effective presenting and learning and exploring 6 “Secrets” that you can immediately put to use in your presentation and facilitation. We also provide ample opportunities to reflect on the implications and applications of this knowledge for our work in the social sector, individually and collectively. These secrets will increase the learning, retention, and engagement of any presentation exponentially. They are simple and easy to adopt. Are you ready to increase your impact?

Contact Sarah Griffiths at (520) 271-7970 or for registration information

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Chronicle of Philanthropy Artticle on CFSA System Change Work

January 9, 2011
A Grant Maker Requires Grantees to Collaborate

“No one agency can meet any one person’s needs,” says Sarah Jones, head of a social-service charity.
Nicole Wallace
The Community Foundation for Southern Arizona has made a big change in its grant making in response to the recession. The fund now awards grants only to coalitions of groups that work together to solve important community problems, not individual organizations.

The foundation last year brought 200 local nonprofit groups together to discuss what significant community change would look like and how they could work together to achieve it. Out of that process, the fund received 29 collaborative grant proposals. In September four partnerships received three-year grants of $225,000 each. They focus on women’s and girls’ issues, neighborhood revitalization in South Tucson, services for the elderly, and the dearth of healthy food in Ajo, Ariz.

The bad economy means that grant makers need to do more than just try to make up some of the money that government has had to cut, says Evan Mendelson, a vice president at the Tucson community fund.

“We actually need to change some of the paradigms of service provision,” she says. “And sometimes a crisis is the best time to do that.”

Closing Gaps

One of the problems organizations that provide services to the elderly identified was a lack of nursing homes and assisted-living facilities to accommodate baby boomers as more and more of them reach old age, says Ms. Mendelson.

Alone, no single group could take on the challenge, she says, but now that the groups are talking to each other and working together, they are devising a plan to create neighborhood-based services to help older people stay in their homes longer.

Evan Mendelson says “sometimes a crisis is the best time” to re-evaluate how services are provided.

Two more immediate benefits are that the collaborating groups can make sure they aren’t duplicating programs and can work to close gaps in the services they offer, says Ms. Mendelson.

“You can’t even see the gaps when you’re working in your own silos,” she says.

Better Quality Services

Emerge Center Against Domestic Violence, the Sahuaro Girl Scout Council, and the YWCA Tucson started working together as the Partnership for Women and Girls two years ago, even before the community foundation turned its attention to partnerships.

Traditionally when nonprofit groups think about collaboration, they think about organizations that share very similar missions working together, but that can be limiting, says Sarah Jones, Emerge’s chief executive. The Partnership for Women and Girls takes organizations that are related but not exactly the same to create a continuum of services.

The collaboration allows each group to focus on its area of expertise.
Emerge could follow the lead of a lot of domestic-violence shelters and hire an employment specialist to support its clients who need help to enter the job market.
But the organization could never provide the level of services that the YWCA does in its employment training, since that is a big focus of its operations, says Ms. Jones.

“No one agency can meet any one person’s needs¬—and probably shouldn’t,” she says. “When you try to start being everything to everybody, oftentimes you water down the quality of what you’re providing.”

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

Wholonomy Consulting Featured in Axiom News Part 1 and 2

Check out a Two Part article written about Wholonomy Consulting and published in Axiom News.

Consultant Discovers Strengths-Based Approach Creates Sustainable Change
Wholonomy Consulting says positivity linked to higher level thinking skills
Tuesday January 4, 2011 -- Camille Jensen

Even before Cassandra O'Neill was introduced to strengths-based consulting she knew there had to be a better approach to increasing organizational effectiveness.

The veteran consultant recalls being frustrated by traditional consulting practices that had people focus on problems so big they were beyond their control, and stifled new thinking and ideas.

“It got to the point where I realized there had to be a better way than the common practice,” says O'Neill. “It was the way people said you should do it, or expect it to be done”

In the course of one year, O’Neill was introduced to Appreciative Inquiry (AI), Open Space technology, World Café, and cognitive coaching, which dramatically changed her work.

Founding Wholonomy Consulting around the very same time, the network of consultants blend the above strengths-based approaches to increase their impact on change, evaluation and sustainability in organizations.

Wholonomy Consulting Senior Partner Sarah Griffiths says the approach is based on research that demonstrates focusing on problems stimulates a fight-or-flight response in one’s brain and narrows a person’s creativity.

“Generally people spend a lot of time exploring problems and then they are asked to think outside the box, and this is actually opposite of how our brain works,” says Griffiths.

She says the Tucson, Arizona-based firm made a “purposeful choice” to use only strengths-based approaches that would help connect people to positive emotions which, when activated, generate higher level thinking skills.

“Strengths-based approaches are brain friendly, and they also focus on what people are doing that is making a difference,” she says, adding they ask questions like what is your impact, what impact do you want to make, what is your vision and how are you going to get there.

“They start by looking at success so they are connecting to that positivity and that is scientifically proven as one of the keys to building and broadening your thinking.”

Both Griffiths and O’Neill have seen this first-hand. O’Neill recalls the first time she facilitated a strategic planning process using a strengths-based approach. Instead of people coming up with a unrealistic wish list, or initiatives that required money that was often unattainable, the group focused on the resources they already had that could be mobilized.

“All of the ideas that they came up with they could actually do right then with no extra money, and they got so excited,” says O’Neill.

“I will never forget that because I knew there had to be a better way and I didn’t even know this was it, but this is one way.”

— More to Come

If you have feedback on this article, please contact the newsroom at 800-294-0051, ext. 24, or e-mail camille(at)

Wholonomy Consulting Builds Momentum for Strengths-Based Community Collaboration
Community Foundation for Southern Arizona funds four large-scale change initiatives
Thursday January 6, 2011 -- Camille Jensen

A consulting firm and a foundation have been able to inspire strengths-based collaboration between 40 community organizations to achieve shared goals.

Wholonomy Consulting senior partner Cassandra O'Neill offered to facilitate workshops for the Community Foundation for Southern Arizona after participating in its grants selection committee and feeling a new approach could generate better results.

The foundation took her up on the offer and invited the 20 organizations who had received grants to attend the first workshop.

During the event, organizational leaders were asked to talk about successful collaborations they’ve had in the past and what success would look like if they were to collaborate in the future, including questions about what the community could achieve if a number of organizations were working together.

Wholonomy Consulting senior partner Sarah Griffiths says they used Open Space and World Cafe as change models for the meeting that allowed people to create “big goals” and then develop steps to achieve the vision.

The result is the Southern Arizona foundation funding four collaborative teams, involving 40 community organizations, to implement their systems change designs in the community.

Evan Mendelson, vice-president of donor relations and program services at the Community Foundation for Southern Arizona, says she is very excited about the outcome, which she attributes to using a strengths-based process to convene community organizations around possibility as opposed to problems.

“There is something that sparks a certain level of passion in using this methodology, to identify who do you want to work with and what do you want to work on and what do you think could happen here. And that comes from identifying those assets and those strengths,” says Mendelson.

One collaborative initiated is the Elder Project. Mendelson says Tucson, Arizona has a large retirement community, which is the fastest growing segment of its population.

Involving most of the community organizations serving seniors, some who prior to the event had never met each other, the group realized that while the services they were delivering currently were effective they would not meet the demands or expectations of the baby boomers.

Because baby boomers will be living at home longer, The Elder Project will shift services from the city to people’s neighbourhoods and consolidate the services delivered by many organizations into one easy access point for seniors.

According to Mendelson, the process was able to move people from a very narrow agenda to thinking about important issues at the community level.

“That was the most exciting point because that’s when I saw how a process, this kind of strengths-based process, could just take people in their normal way of working and move them to a whole other level of working,” she says.

“If we can change the paradigm of how senior services are working, that’s major.”

Wholonomy Consulting has volunteered its services for one full year and, with the foundation, is offering workshops to teach capacity building and how to create sustainable collaboration.

Mendelson says the foundation has no expectations of returning back to its former grant process.

“We are not going to back to doing things the old way. Instead, we think this will generate a whole new way for funders to be able to fund these types of community-wide initiatives.”

Related Story:
Consultant Discovers Strengths-Based Approach Creates Sustainable Change

If you have feedback on this article, please contact the newsroom at 800-294-0051, ext. 24, or e-mail camille(at)

Axiom News: Change is our product. News is our process. Click here to learn how.

Follow Axiom News On Twitter Subscribe to Our RSS Feeds Sign Up for Our E-Newsletters