I have a suggestion for anyone working at a non-profit organization in a town that has multiple non-profits. I think you should get together and schedule a non-profit summit. And you, yes you- the person reading this article- should be the one to make the phone calls to put it together.  Why you?  Well, if you don’t do it, probably no one else will.  So, take the initiative and git ‘er done.

It doesn’t have to be fancy. Call a local hotel and ask them to donate a meeting room for a day. Or if there isn’t a hotel in town, ask the VFW for a place to meet. Or whatever. Get some bottled water and ask someone to bake a couple dozen cookies.

Then all you have to do is put an agenda together that leaves lots of room for open discussion.

So, what should you accomplish at the first ever Non-profit Summit? That’s a great question. Here are eight goals that I can think of, right off the bat. I’m sure you can come up with many more, given your knowledge of your own local area.

1. First of all, the group of you (and by “group” I mean all the non-profits you can rustle up: schools, churches, scouts, sports teams, hospitals, human service agencies, animal shelters, you-name-it- anyone with a 501(c)(3) designation) should really get to know one another. Perhaps a few of you from different groups are already acquainted or maybe even friends, but I’m talking about a genuine and full introduction of all non-profit professionals in your community.

You need to get to know who the other groups are and what they do- exactly. Until you get a good picture in your mind of who the various players in your community are, you won’t be able to take full advantage of all the potential resources. So, that’s the first order of business, and it should not be rushed through.

I’ve attended meetings like this, in which representatives from different groups introduce themselves, and it’s always been very surface-y. I give my name, the company I work for, how long I’ve been there, and maybe a fun fact about myself, like who my favorite Muppet is. That’s no good.

I would suggest coming up with a specific list of items that people must mention during their introductions that really mean something. I would want to hear what each group is currently working on that they think is dynamite and what challenges have them truly stumped at the moment. This honesty could really open up some quality discussion.

2. Next, I’d want to move on to discussing issues that are currently troubling your community. With a room full of non-profit execs, I’m sure coming up with a few societal ills wouldn’t be too tough. Having this discussion will reveal what the various priorities are in the room. You will see that some groups agree on certain items, while other groups will point out problems that nobody else has experienced. One group’s concerns could spark a solution from another group. Just coming up with a master list of problems that your community is dealing with could take all day!

3. Take a minute and think of all the good things that could spring up from this conversation! There could be two groups that had never really interacted with each other before the summit. But, because they found out that they had similar concerns in the community at large, they realize that they might be able to work on some solutions together. And that’s the third goal that you should have when scheduling this get-together: developing collaborations.

There are so many upsides to non-profits working together to solve common problems, that the opportunities must be explored. (For more on this topic of collaboration, please read my articles 5 Reasons You Should Collaborate with Another Non-profit in 2011- Part I and II.) Without holding this summit, these two groups might never have had the chance to work together.

4. The fourth goal of a non-profit summit would be to have a frank and open conversation about the numerous administrative challenges each organization is facing. For instance, perhaps several of the groups present struggle with having a strong web presence, due to the high cost involved and the technical skills required to keep an active website up and going. Maybe no one group could afford to hire a web developer on its own, but if they all went in together on one talented freelancer, suddenly they have leverage to negotiate a much more affordable rate. This kind of cooperative solution can be applied to many different scenarios. I’m not talking about all the groups merging into one mega-non-profit, but there are places where costs and services can be shared for mutual benefit.

To be continued….

To read more goals for a non-profit summit in your community, check back here soon.

Photo By: MarriottSandestin

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Posted on 19 January 2011

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EFI