Uniting for Impact: The Power of Strategic Communities

Published by on May 1, 2024

This article stems from a thought-provoking conversation I had with Michelle Flores Vryn, a certified fundraising executive and esteemed nonprofit leader. Almost a year ago, Michelle and I had a chat about the power of communities that strategically plan and collaborate to drive meaningful change. Michelle had made a LinkedIn post about “co-strategic planning” and we connected to discuss what this might look like. Our exchange fueled a passion for exploring the nuances, benefits, and challenges of strategic community engagement.

The concept of “planning together,” a la Mission Met’s THRIVE cohort-based strategic planning program, wasn’t new to me. However, I hadn’t thought about how organizations in the same geographic region or sectors across the country could be strengthened by planning in concert with each other.

As ideas often do, this concept simmered in the back of my mind until circumstances aligned to bring it to fruition. More recently, I’ve been connected to my local community foundation, Athens County Foundation, and their launch of Project Co-Create. Their leadership has been reading The Flat Org Chart by Dan Palotta. It’s exciting work in my own backyard, and I’m looking forward what comes from this transformational approach over the next years and decades.

Uniting for Impact: The Power of Strategic Communities

Coupled with the ethos of collaboration and transparency championed by The Nonprofit Hive, I wanted to write an article about this very topic. And now, on to the article…

In today’s rapidly evolving world, the importance of communities coming together to enact meaningful change cannot be overstated. 

In this article, we’ll delve into the transformative potential of strategic communities, emphasizing the necessity of strategic planning, transparent sharing of strategies, and collaborative efforts in what I term “co-strategic planning.” While the concept of co-strategic planning for communities is relatively new, we believe the principles we see work in strategic planning with organizations can translate seamlessly. By applying strategic planning methodologies at a community level, we can harness collective strengths, align resources, and address complex challenges.

Strategic Communities Drive Effective Change

Communities that operate with a strategic mindset are inherently more effective at creating tangible change and influencing the world around them. By aligning their efforts towards well-defined goals and objectives, these communities can maximize their impact and address pressing issues with precision and efficiency. A community who is not aligned, pulling in many different directions, waste resources, fail to utilize their assets effectively, and end up accomplishing fewer goals than others.

A new initiative in my local community, New Leaf Justice Enterprise, exemplifies this approach by deploying a comprehensive strategy that focuses on Social Determinants of Health (SDOH) and Social Determinates of Work (SDOW).

New Leaf’s approach will address generational poverty by recognizing how trauma, incarceration, or substance misuse can disrupt families and impact overall health, creating a cycle of generational trauma. By restoring the family’s support network, New Leaf aims to enable both the family and the community to thrive.

Their strategy involves providing facilities to respond to crises, building resilience, and offering trauma-informed programming alongside essential services like case management, job training, housing, affordable childcare, living-wage employment, and supportive networks of care. These services are essential for rehabilitation and resilience, qualities vital for an effective local workforce and thriving industries. 

When communities unite behind such targeted and comprehensive approaches, they can achieve significant and lasting positive outcomes for their members and we can’t wait to see New Leaf’s progress in the coming years.

The Importance of Transparent Strategy Sharing

While strategic planning is essential at an organizational level, its impact is greatly amplified when accompanied by transparent sharing of strategies, outcomes, results, and failures. Openly sharing strategic insights and lessons learned fosters a culture of collaboration and continuous improvement within and across communities. 

Vida Verde, a long-time customer of ours, has been on an inspiring journey of success, driven in part by their unwavering commitment to a “we’re all in this together” approach to strategy. It’s not just heady stuff – each team member owns a specific focus area within their plan. These dedicated individuals regularly present updates on their focus areas during team meetings, fostering a culture where the plan remains at the forefront of everyone’s minds. This approach not only promotes transparency but also cultivates a sense of unity and shared purpose among the team. As a result, Vida Verde’s organization is propelled forward with clarity and collective determination.

When strategies are shared openly, barriers to progress are dismantled, and collective knowledge becomes a powerful tool for positive change. Moreover, transparent sharing promotes accountability and trust, reinforcing the commitment of community members to work towards common goals. By embracing transparency in strategic planning, communities unlock new avenues for learning, innovation, and solidarity, ultimately strengthening their capacity to effect lasting change.

Co-Strategic Planning: Fostering Collaborative Success

At the heart of effective community engagement lies the concept of co-strategic planning – a collaborative approach where stakeholders come together to co-create and implement strategic initiatives. Unlike traditional models driven by competition and siloed agendas, co-strategic planning emphasizes partnership, synergy, and collective impact. By defining clear outcomes desired by the community and then pooling resources, expertise, and networks, communities can tackle systemic challenges with a unified front, transcending individual interests in favor of shared progress. ‘

The seeds of a remarkable partnership were planted during a cohort program we hosted a few years back. It was a serendipitous encounter between two members, representing historical societies that stood miles apart geographically – Southeast Ohio History Center and Folsom History Museum. Despite the distance, they discovered a common ground in their challenges and embarked on separate networking meetings to exchange insights and experiences. 

These spontaneous connections can blossom into a powerful collaboration, highlighting the profound truth that collaboration breeds strength. Their shared experiences reaffirmed the notion that sharing strategic initiatives can pave the way for remarkable success.

Through co-strategic planning, competitive behaviors are diminished, and partnerships between organizations are strengthened, paving the way for inclusivity and sustainability. By focusing on addressing underlying issues rather than running programs, communities unlock the transformative potential to effect systemic change and foster societal resilience.

This Is Just the Beginning

An Early Model

A recent initiative exemplifies the concept of community strategic effort. Collaboratory, a Community Foundation dedicated to addressing Southwest Florida’s major social issues by 2040, works collaboratively with donors and community partners to leverage regional resources. With a focus on upskilling the workforce, increasing access to affordable housing, and enhancing health and wellness, Collaboratory emphasizes the need for coordinated efforts to maximize impact. Through initiatives like the FutureMakers Coalition, aimed at increasing education levels, Collaboratory has demonstrated effective collaboration and progress tracking methods. 

Building on this success, Collaboratory has launched two additional networks focused on affordable housing (Home Coalition) and community health (Health & Wellness Coalition). Each network sets specific goals to measure progress toward solving complex social problems, with plans to expand into environmental initiatives in the future. 

Through grants and leadership training, Collaboratory is committed to supporting these efforts and driving positive change in the community.

The illustrious Dan Pallotta begins to paint a picture of how to do this in The Flat Org Chart, a quick read that will have you excited to be part of championing such a journey in your community.

This Is Just the Beginning

The journey towards a better world is one that requires collective action, strategic foresight, and unwavering commitment. By embracing strategic thinking, transparent sharing of strategies, and collaborative co-strategic planning, communities can harness their collective potential to drive meaningful change and shape a future that is equitable, sustainable, and thriving for all. Together, let us unite in our pursuit of a better tomorrow, guided by the belief that our shared efforts hold the power to transform lives and communities for generations to come.

I challenge you to consider how you can begin to move toward co-strategic planning in your community. Here are a few ideas to get you started:

  • Build a mastermind of recent Hivers from across the world or country to brainstorm and take action on deepening impact.
  • Ask your funders if they’re thinking about collective impact and how you can work together to make that happen.
  • Read Dan Palotta’s book, The Flat Org Chart.
  • Find organizations across sectors locally that would be willing to have some “co-strategic planning sessions.”
  • Brainstorm partnerships your organization might be able to build to help solve a need in your community.

As your plans take shape, remember the power of transparency and sharing. Open the doors wide and invite others in to collaborate and contribute – share your learnings on LinkedIn, write blog posts, and engage deeply in conversation. Together, we can create a ripple effect of positive change that resonates throughout our communities. Can’t wait to see you there!

Ricky is a co-founder of Mission Met, where passion meets purpose! He infuses his love for software development, business strategy, and project management to uplift mission-driven leaders not only in the U.S. but also in Kenya and Australia.

Ricky leads the development of Causey, strategic planning software that helps organizations confidently execute their strategic plan.

A true jack of all trades and a master of some, Ricky loves wearing many hats within Mission Met. Whether it’s delving into the intricate world of technology and business strategy, optimizing operational efficiency, or drafting plans for the future – Ricky is a driving force behind Mission Met’s mission to make strategic planning simpler and more effective.

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