• Collaboration Type: Shared Services/Joint Programs
  • Region: ATIF
  • Social Issue: Education, DEI
  • Size of Organizations: $5 - $10 mil
  • BIPOC Leaders: Yes
  • Successful: Yes

Early Childhood and Out of School Time Staffing demonstrates how a shared service model can positively impact an entire community of providers. By identifying and adapting to their partners’ needs, they provide solutions for one of the most challenging problems for early childhood and out-of-school providers: staff retention. Last year, they increased staff retention in providers from 50 to 76%.

Best Practices for Social Impact Organizations:

  1. Board Buy In
  2. Hire Expertise
  3. Create Different Levels of Participation

Outcomes:

  1. Stronger Relationships
  2. Curriculum
  3. More than 200 leaders have completed the curriculum throughout Arizona

Best Practices for Funders:

  1. Focus on the long game.
  2. Use a clear set of criteria for evaluating grants.

When many social impact leaders think of networks or alliances, they envision the quarterly meetings they attend with like-minded organizational leaders. These meetings allow groups to share their current initiatives and events but rarely result in the type of impact described by the Sustained Collaboration Network. How can leaders grow the impact of these light-touch meetings?

A group of leadership programs in Arizona did just that. The Flinn Foundation hosted quarterly lunches among these programs. These meetings primarily consisted of sharing updates, but little longer-term collaboration among the organizations. The murder of George Floyd and the subsequent racial reckoning in the United States was a catalyst for doing something more.

The conversation began at the quarterly meeting. Each organization had DEI embedded in some programs, but none had a separate leadership training program focused exclusively on DEI. The group saw an opportunity to create something better together and received a grant from Arizona Together for Impact, a member of the Sustained Collaboration Network.  The collective started with about 12 organizations discussing how they could work together. They didn’t want to be a “flash in the pan,” according to Dave Brown, CEO of Valley Leadership. Instead, the collective decided to commit to offering the curriculum over time and continue working on its refinement. To ensure that the commitment extended beyond the organization’s senior leader, each leader went to their board for approval to participate.

Meeting each organization where it was

Nine organizations moved forward: American Express Leadership Academy at the ASU Lodestar Center, Arizona State University Lodestar Center for Philanthropy and Nonprofit Innovation, ASU Leadership Institute, Greater Tucson Leadership, Public Allies Arizona, Scottsdale Leadership, Tempe Leadership, Valley Leadership, Arizona Center for Rural Leadership. The collective applied for an implementation grant from Arizona Together for Impact. These organizations all offered training to leaders but were very different in size and served very different communities. Nora Hannah, Director of Arizona Together for Impact, recalled that she thought there was an opportunity for these leadership organizations to work together, and she was delighted to see the grant application. The group demonstrated a real commitment to working together in the long term and had identified a facilitator to help them through the process.

The group hired Teniqua Broughton, Executive Director of the State of Black Arizona, as their facilitator. Brown explains why Teniqua’s work was essential:

“Not only as a Black woman and someone trained in DEI but as the leader of the State of Black Arizona leadership program, she could really move this along. There were lots of other consultants who wanted to help and guide us. And I think what stuck out about us with Teniqua was that durability philosophy of this as a marathon and that she knew us. She’s in a leadership group and has been part of this group. She knew the leadership programs were at different points in their racial justice journey. And she’ll need to be flexible with how we meet people where they are.”

The group immediately experienced a tension that all networks experience: the desire to build momentum in achieving their vision and respect for differences among each organization. The collective’s vision was the State’s transformation. According to Broughton, the vision was to “foster a paradigm shift for advancing racial justice and racial equity in Arizona.” The group put out a press release announcing this commitment and initiative. But there were only eight organizations that were included. Scott Koenig, Executive Director of Arizona Center for Rural Leadership, explained: “My board did not want to go in on a press release about it before we had created the curriculum. Their point was that they hadn’t seen the curriculum yet, so they didn’t want to put their name on it … but the [collaborative] never made me feel like an outsider.”

This respect for differences continued through curriculum design. They created a modular curriculum where different elements could be implemented. This design allowed each group to customize the curriculum to both the type of programs they offered and to the moment they were on their racial justice journey. They first tested out the curriculum in their collective, acting as participants. These conversations allowed leaders to get to know each other and helped refine the curriculum.

Next, the curriculum was ready for pilot testing. Arizona Center for the Rural Leadership was the first organization to pilot the curriculum with their leaders. Their evaluation surveys revealed that the curriculum was too lecture-based, and there wasn’t enough time for discussion. The curriculum was revised and tested again, and it worked much better this time. The revised curriculum was deployed among all nine organizations.

Outcomes

Today, more than 200 leaders have gone through the new DEI program. The collective is in the process of a more robust evaluation, but their survey results suggest that participants both like the curriculum and find that it has value for them in their work. Beyond the survey results, the leadership organizations have antidotal stories of the program’s impact. For example, Koenig recalled,

“We had a farmer from Yuma, which is our rural part of the State’s agricultural base. He’s a third-generation farmer, probably in his late twenties, and super smart and college-educated. During the training, we kept saying, ’Maybe you’ve had this in your work before. Maybe you had this type of training before,’ and he’s like, ‘no, this is my introduction into this subject matter, and it just opened my eyes.’”

Beyond the outcomes of the DEI program, Arizona Together for Impact sought evidence that the groups would continue to work together. Hannah noted, “We are not here to build curriculum. We are here to build collaborations.”  And evidence of new collaborations among organizations was evident, especially among the smaller rural organizations. Shereen Lerner, President of Tempe Leadership, explained that one of the best outcomes of the project was “getting to know these people. I feel much more comfortable. Because when you meet once quarterly and have an agenda, you pretty much go through the agenda, and you’re done. I think that this has created a much tighter community than we might have otherwise had.”  Indeed, all the participants were looking for new ways that the group might expand their collaboration. No one wanted to return to those quarterly meetings where they talked but didn’t collaborate.