Archives for 30 Jun,2020

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April 2020—Impact In Action

Collaboration in the Time of COVID

Improving access to the arts and art education has never been just a hope or dream of Leah Fregulia. It’s been her passion, her career, and her constant goal. As a founding faculty member of the Arizona School of the Arts, as well as the CEO and Head of School for over a decade, Leah has seen a lot of growth in the artistic community of Phoenix. Yet she continued to ask how she and ASA could do more, and in 2015 she was awarded a Piper Fellowship to spend a year answering that question.

Leah learned that ASA could have a much greater impact by becoming a leader in the community. She didn’t want to simply replicate the school, she wanted to bring in other organizations and nonprofits to create a collective to share resources, space, and staff. Leah found six other groups that believed in the same mission she did: “a commitment to quality art, diversity in artistic offerings, and putting the youth voice in the center of the work.”

The group chose the name The Phoenix Youth Arts Collective, and while they had the idea, they did not know how to take the next step. Leah and PYAC applied for a grant from Arizona Together for Impact to match the capacity-building grant from the Virginia G. Piper Charitable Trust, and with these grants they were able to retain Tiffanie and her team. That’s when they met Dr. Tiffanie Dillard, Founder and CEO of Avenir Consulting Partners, who helped them navigate next steps.

“The earliest struggle is always ‘where is it you’re trying to go?’,” Tiffanie outlined, “not simply, ‘we think we’re going North’ but ‘we’re going to Flagstaff on Thursday, here’s where we need to get gas, and so on.”

Tiffanie first met with PYAC for a “deep discovery workshop” to help the group decipher key goals and metrics of success. From that workshop, PYAC created their guiding visual – the group’s compass to remind themselves that regardless of every other overthought detail or discussion, these were the core ideals to come back to.

Today, a little over three months into their year-long exploratory process, PYAC is no longer stuck on the question of “what do we want to accomplish?” Instead, they are actively working towards organizing how they can share their resources, utilize their spaces, and continue serving the youth.

When asked about how PYAC is handling the COVID-19 crisis this early in its foundation, Leah responded that “this hasn’t changed our goals. We have always been focused on the needs of our students. This has simply shifted our thinking, but it’s not an obstacle.” Just a few weeks ago the group started working on an Asset Map, a spreadsheet of every class offering, workspace, and resource each group had. “It felt heavy and awkward,” explained Tiffanie, “but after COVID, it instantly became an active discussion of what one group could share and what the others needed.”

Both Leah and Tiffanie also said that their best piece of advice is getting a professional guide and not being afraid to test a sustained collaboration before committing to it. “This is not a marriage and then you get counseling,” Leah described it as, “this is where we are exploring and deciding if we’ll get engaged.”

In closing, Leah explained, “The sense of excitement about what it means collaborate, and the synergy and innovation that emerges from that, is the most exciting work we’ve been doing.” Having the adequate time to understand what every member of the collective can bring to the table and having the support to truly test whether the sustained collaboration works has been a massive opportunity for PYAC. And while ASA’s campus might be quiet right now, the bustle of activity for Leah, Tiffanie, and PYAC is only growing and will lead to a more sustainable future for every organization involved.

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March 2020—Impact In Action

Kate became the executive director of Waste Not in April 2018. At the time, the organization was a bit fragile and in need of not only a financial restructuring, but an entire infrastructure overhaul. As she was making her rounds as the new ED, she found a kindred spirit in Dave Richins, the CEO of United Food Bank. Like Kate, Dave was somewhat new in his role as CEO and he was incredibly excited about the mission.

“There was a great staff that wanted to do great work… but we were struggling with our cash flow,” Dave said.

So, when Kate mentioned that Waste Not was also looking to lower their operating costs and looking for a partner, the two started seeing a way to fix their financial burdens through collaboration. When Kate and Dave started exploring the partnership with their respective boards, Waste Not’s board echoed Kate’s biggest concern: protecting Waste Not’s brand. “Waste Not has been at this mission for over 30 years,” Kate said, explaining Waste Not’s success. “We’re the only one that serves that niche, no one is doing what we’re doing.”

Dave and the board of United Food Bank similarly wanted to ensure that Waste Not was able not only to keep its brand, but for the two organizations to start going after new opportunities that neither could win before, such as Feeding America’s MealConnectTM platform. Described aptly as “Tinder + Uber for food recovery,” the platform was a dream tool for United Food Bank and Waste Not. “We couldn’t compete for the grant without Waste Not, and Waste Not didn’t have the backing at the time,” Dave said.

So when the organizations officially came together, they “applied for it before the ink was dry on our partnership.” However, as both Kate and Dave noted, it wasn’t all rainbows and flowers. Any time two groups of such radically different sizes come together, growing pains are inevitable.

“Exploring the merger is great,” Dave said, “but there is considerable time and expense before, during, and after the transition period.”

The integration of UFB and Waste Not took place prior to the launch of Arizona Together for Impact and did not have access to the resources Together for Impact now offers. “Looking back,” said Kate, “I would have taken it slower and involved a consultant… I would have paid a lot more attention to culture as well as strategy.”

Dave echoed that idea, but added that “part of the charm was making the mistakes along the way… We had to own the outcomes that come from hard work. If you develop the muscles while you garden, you’re going to make sure it’s watered.”

While it’s only been a few months since they entered the formal affiliate partnership, both Kate and Dave are already seeing the results. Both organizations have righted their financial picture, are operating stronger, improving their standards and finding new ways to collaborate.

When asked about what advice they would give other nonprofit leaders considering a permanent collaboration, Kate said, “approach this as a strategy for growth for your organization… don’t wait until there is an emergency.”

Both Kate and Dave spoke to the need to “grow the pot together.” “To me, my competition is McDonalds, it’s Gucci, it’s Volkswagen,” Dave said. “We’re competing against companies who have millions in marketing budgets to fight for the consumer’s dollars. We’re just asking for a small donation.”

To Kate and Dave, the best way to succeed in the missions of their nonprofits is through collaboration. “Until nonprofits understand that we are all in this together, finding ways to lower cost and do better, we won’t succeed.” Kate, of the same mind, said that she “feels like these partnerships are the future of nonprofits. Through this, we can utilize the donated dollar a lot more effectively” than constantly fighting for it.

While the two organizations are still working through their growing pains, both are incredibly excited about the future. And, the next time Waste Not gets an alert from MealConnectTM or takes on a challenge as big as the Waste Management Open, they won’t have to scramble for extra support. Instead, they can lean on their partner, United Food Bank.

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