Organic Trust

“Deborah and I actually started in our leadership positions on the same week, believe it or not,” explained Deborah Schaus, CEO of Aster Aging. Referring to Deborah Arteaga, CEO of the Tempe Community Action Agency, Schaus went on to say, “I worked with TCAA, then with the Alzheimer’s Association, before moving to Aster. My passion has always been in senior services.”

It is that balance of shared passion and good timing that brought Aster Aging, the TCAA, and AZCEND together to collaborate on applying for a grant to share the work of assisting senior citizens at risk for homelessness. Collectively, these organizations are the main providers of Older American’s Act services, including senior nutrition services of congregate and home delivered meals and senior center activities, for Chandler, Gilbert, Mesa, Scottsdale, and Tempe. They jointly serve over 10,000 older adults annually.

“We came together because we are like-minded and because we can benefit those we serve by learning from each other. We succeeded because we came together on senior homelessness before it became an issue,” said Trinity Donovan, CEO of AZCEND. The three leaders have been in each other’s network for years, sharing notes with each other and other nonprofits on how to be better organizations, leaders, and meet the needs of those they support. The three women, Schaus, Arteaga, and Donovan, first began talking about the regional changes they were seeing in the senior housing communities back in 2018. In 2019, Valley of the Sun United Way went to all three CEOs to see if the three organizations were interested in taking a collaborative approach. When the Arizona Community Foundation Housing Security Challenge was announced, the three organizations came together to apply. We were truly honored and humbled when we won, as we only thought our application would help educate funders about the needs of older adults” said Schaus.

The application process was the easy part. “We’re all professional grant writers,” said Schaus. “We took the elementary school approach of ‘I take a turn, you take a turn,’ until it’s ready to go.” The ACF Housing Security Challenge Award gave them the ability to turn a collaborative application into a joint venture, which is where the real work began. “We thought it would be easier,” said Arteaga. “We thought it’d be thirty days of market research, we’d kick off the model, then we’d be set. Joint ventures are so different in the nonprofit space. It lets our organizations keep their identities, but its more time-consuming. There is no set revenue, there are higher and broader influences on the organizations due to societal change, and there is a greater push to ensure the boards and the communities are backing the venture.”

When asked how working with a consultant has helped the process, Schaus explained, “We have the same passion, but different paths. Working with a consultant has given us space to disagree and learn about the differences of our organizations, but also helped us dig deeper and develop where we go next.” For this joint venture, the next steps are finalizing an operating agreement and finding sustainability in the program. “This works with us, but what happens if one of us leaves? Or the program changes?” asked Schaus.

For Donovan, that alignment and common interest is the key to their success. “Some nonprofits may have the idea first, but it was the organic nature of relationships and learning from each other that took us on this journey. The relationships came first, then the ideas, then you can leap at opportunities like this one.” All three leaders agreed, there’s not always a checklist. Build trust between each other, and the opportunities will come forward.

More Than Just Talk

How Valley Leadership’s Collaboration is Creating Consistency Across Arizona

It was when an alumni survey said it was time to stop “dinking around with little projects and do something bigger” that Dave Brown knew he wanted to take action at Valley Leadership. For Dave, thoughtful leadership requires action and collaboration with those around you, not just being in a position of leadership. Having already seen the power of collaboration through SPACES of Opportunity – a collaboration of nonprofits focused on increasing access to healthy food and access to South Phoenix – Dave and Valley Leadership recognized the value in bringing like-minded organizations together for a common cause. However, Valley Leadership wanted to focus on a different kind of sustainability: sustaining inclusion training in its program.

As a member of the Arizona Center for Civic Leadership Collaborative (“The Collaborative”), Valley Leadership is one of several organizations throughout the State focused on developing Arizona’s Leaders. “We had been discussing how we can incorporate more substantive and collaborative work, something with teeth,” Dave said. “Then COVID hit. Then the George Floyd incident happened. It made us realize we needed to be more focused in how we were talking about Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion.” Members of the Collaborative typically would have a racial justice “program day”, a day focused on talking about diversity in leadership and in the community, but there was no specific curriculum around DEI.  The opportunity before the Collaborative was to create a curriculum that would be used across many leadership programs and provide consistency of leader-experience when it came to understanding racial justice. None of the groups were truly sharing a racial justice curriculum. A DEI initiative was a clear opportunity to create a singular curriculum, shared among The Collaborative to ensure all rising leaders were on the same page about the value of DEI.

Enter Teniqua Broughton. “It was Teniqua’s idea to start with an environmental scan about what’s out there, then make sure we are filling the gaps in the DEI conversation,” Dave explained. Teniqua and Dave brought together the Leadership Groups who wanted to make sure that this program truly got off the ground, rather than let it be an idea in a brainstorm. Teniqua built the program herself based on the “Race Forward” model, and her experience as a curriculum-builder and as a leader with the State of Black Arizona (also a member of The Collaborative) meant there was structure from the beginning, the leadership groups could then focus on making the program tailored to all leadership groups, and make sure the program was sustainable.

The core members of this initiative met often to build the program, and continue to meet today. “There will always be minor differences in style, or minor tweaks to match the program, but we want this to be standardized. We want all of our leaders coming out of this program knowing the same topics, the same issues.”

When asked about next steps, Dave had a simple answer: “Get more programs to say yes.” To date, eight leadership programs are using the DEI program. Dave’s goal in the next year is to raise money to get the curriculum even more streamlined, and get 20 programs using the curriculum as a standard practice.” As Dave explained “This kind of collaboration has never been done before, but it’s the kind of collaboration that creates not just a return on investment financially, it’s going to create a return on leadership.”

Different Needs, Same Needs

“A former Artistic Director once told me that the Phoenix Girls Chorus was to create space for girls for whom ‘choir was their thing.’ A place where people encouraged each other to work hard because they loved it,” said Walter Lindsay, Acting President of the Phoenix Girls Chorus. A father of four daughters, all of whom participated in the Phoenix Girls Chorus program, Walter has seen the impact of creating space for comradery and sisterhood around the art and craft of singing.

The importance of maintaining the legacy of these groups has been the driving focus for both the Phoenix Boys Choir and Phoenix Girls Chorus in their respective 75 and 40 years of being nonprofits. Both the Phoenix Boys Choir (PBC) and the Phoenix Girls Chorus (PGC) are elite organizations who have competed on the national and international stages and have given their members a space to grow, learn, and mature. “It’s not just learning how to sing and read music,” said Cheryl McNeill, Chair of the PBC Executive Committee. “The Boys Choir also teaches music theory, leadership skills, and how to connect with others.  I’ve seen the changes in my own son, in his growth and ability to learn. He’s better at math, and his ability to understand and learn languages is impressive.”

For a long time, there were good reasons to keep the organizations separate. One reason is physical, “The arc of a boy’s participation in a choir is different because their voice changes so dramatically,” explained Walter. “If a boy wants to achieve success in an international competition, you need to work with them earlier. Girls, by comparison, can perform all the way through high school without any real interruption.” The other reason is more practical. “Creating grants or funds are applicable to men’s or women’s groups, but not both,” shared Wendy Cohen, Board Member and former Interim Executive Director of the PGC. “Before the pandemic, there wasn’t a strong business reason to actually join together.”

“COVID decimated the PBC, and the PGC was even worse,” shared Cheryl. “We were able to keep some of the kids who were already in, but we couldn’t recruit, we had no pipeline.” It was out of both need and clear mission alignment that the two organizations came together. As Cheryl explained, “Protecting both organization’s legacies was the most important mission for us.” Both Walter and Cheryl stressed the importance of instilling brotherhood and sisterhood in the respective choirs. “It provides an outlet for young men,” said Cheryl, “It’s a place where boys can be boys, where they meet other boys of diverse backgrounds and build something together.”

Once two organizations began the exploratory process, they were able to come together in just over ten months. Rather than fully merging the organizations the PBC and PGC agreed on a parent/subsidiary relationship, where the PBC manages the operations for both organizations, but they remain separate 501c3 organizations. This allows both organizations to maintain their names, their missions, their ability to apply for separate grants, and, perhaps most importantly, the legacies the two organizations have built over the last 40 and 75 years.

Today, at the end of the ten-month exploration and implementation phases, the organizations are turning their sights towards rebuilding. “We are testing the waters through a joint neighborhood chorus, which is a new venture for both organizations, because it is both organizations,” said Cheryl. “We are working to set up multiple neighborhood choirs across the Valley, and we can start having Saturday sessions in the PBC building to have kids rehearse with the entire choir.” “We’re creating a place where people could finds birds of a feather and share in what they love, build comradery around the art and craft of singing,” reinforced Walter. This new way of combining organizational resources while maintaining separation is how they can achieve that continued mission and legacy.

Switching Hats

Tragedy can be a powerful motivator. The tragic shooting on the morning of January 8, 2011, in Tucson, Arizona at Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords’ “Congress on Your Corner,” and the loss of congressional aide Gabe Zimmerman, motivated the Southern Arizona community to come together and honor a young man gone too soon. Founded in the wake of this tragedy, BEYOND Tucson is going strong ten years later through community programs and events to promote physical and mental health.

BEYOND is now looking to change hats to do more and be more for its community and Daniela Diamente is a perfect fit to lead that pivot. A frequent hat-switcher herself, Daniela has started and or helped start multiple nonprofits, runs a community-focused business, and is an instructor at the University of Arizona.

Of course, an organization based on bringing the community together faced hardship under a requirement to stay socially distant so Daniela and BEYOND took it as an opportunity to evaluate how it started, where it is, and where it can go. Daniela was willing to ask the hard question: “It is the tenth anniversary of this tragedy. Do we want to keep going? Or do we call it?” The resounding answer by both the board and the community was “No. There is more to do here, and we want to do more.”

As the assessment conversations were happening, Daniela met with Laura Alexander, a Tucson based nonprofit consultant, and with support from Arizona Together for Impact, BEYOND began explorations of how collaboration could help them grow. With Laura’s help, and through the strong community of Southern Arizona, BEYOND was able to consider a wide range of future partners and structures for growth to support the community. Meet Me at Maynard’s and Meet Me Wednesdays are two incredibly successful programs. Both started as an LLC, then were acquired by Tucson Medical Center, but they became lost in the shuffle of running a hospital. It just so happened that as TMC thought about spinning them into a nonprofit, BEYOND was looking to transform. These programs, which bring an average of 500 attendees together weekly to walk around the community, enjoy their neighbor’s company and get outdoors, is now able to live on through collaboration with BEYOND.

The new BEYOND is expanding its programming under its four pillars: Explore, Move, Nourish, and Connect. Under those pillars, BEYOND now runs BEYOND Commemoration Week (not just a walk), the Meet Me programs, a hiking program, and BEYOND Bikes in schools, with more to come. With the help of Together for Impact, BEYOND has been able to not only explore these new programs but implement them. “Working with Laura, who has seen so many different models of nonprofits and mergers, was able to bring the idea of different angles to our conversations,” said Daniela. “The grants helped us, me, think out of the box to make all of these groups work to the best of their abilities without duplication of efforts.”

BEYOND succeeded not only because the timing was right, but because they followed their name. BEYOND came from the concept of “looking beyond the tragedy.” Under Daniela’s leadership, the organization is also looking beyond the pandemic, its limits as a single nonprofit, and beyond the status quo of what a nonprofit should be. When asked for advice she would give other non-profit leaders, Daniela’s response was instant: “Let your guard down. As a founder, we all think our work is special and different. Sometimes it is, and sometimes it can be even better with help.”


Dare to Change, Then Dare Again

‘The only constant in life is change’. Not a new phrase, but it remains poignant, particularly when your life’s work requires you to adapt and embrace change. For Jerry Ketelhut and Daring Adventures, embracing change has been what kept the organization afloat and what is carrying it into the future.

Started in 1991 as a Parks and Recreation Program with the City of Phoenix, Daring Adventures was the only local organization providing outdoor recreational opportunities for individuals with disabilities and life challenges. Thirty years later, with an increase in social awareness and programs for people with disabilities, the city cut the program and Daring Adventures had to create a sustainable structure as a stand-alone nonprofit. By adding a respite recreation program, Daring Adventures continued its mission of turning what used to be passive activities such as going to the mall or sitting in a park, to active, exciting activities like kayaking, camping, hiking for those who may not always get to participate.

Today, thirty years in and numerous program additions later, Daring Adventures recognized it needed to embrace change yet again. Between COVID-19, the increasing competitive challenge with grants, surviving as a small business with increasing costs and the influx of new programs, Daring Adventures recognized it needed a partner organization to keep the mission alive.

Like many other participants with Together for Impact, Jerry got involved through one of their open houses. It was there that the possibility of a collaboration or merger came to light.

Daring Adventures began conversations with the Civitan Foundation, a nonprofit that also serves people with cognitive disabilities and focuses on offering activities and active lifestyle opportunities for its members. Civitan had the mechanisms in place to bring on people, staff, resources, and new activities. With the Arizona Together for Impact exploratory grant in place, and a pair of consultants from Avenir Consulting to help them through the process, Jerry was excited to see if the two organizations could come together.

Jerry knows, better than most, just how constant change is. The exploratory process with Avenir and Civitan brought to light many prospects for growth, yet the exploratory process also allowed both Daring Adventures and Civitan to see that not every change is the right one. While the conversations were positive, the consultants unbiased, and the excitement present, both Daring Adventures and Civitan ultimately concluded that the timing and culture fit were not aligned.

“We needed to go through the discovery process to learn what we didn’t want as much as what we did want,” said Jerry. “Our organizations have the same goal, but different avenues. We want what is best for the customers and members served, but how we are set up dictates how we align. That was the importance of working with Avenir.”

Jerry still sees the time spent as a win for both organizations. More importantly, going through the process once gave him the freedom and knowledge to try it again. He knew Avenir, he knew Together for Impact, and he knew the right partner was out there. It was time to try again

As it turns out, the right partner was right in front of Jerry. Through discussions with the Board and its collaboration with the Disability Resource Connection, Jerry began discussions with Ability360. The organizations had collaborated before. Daring Adventures even had an office in Ability360’s facility in the early days of both organizations. It was a natural fit.

After that “aha” moment, Jerry recognized the need to go through the discovery process again, albeit an expedited one. Work began again led by Avenir, and in October of 2021, both boards approved the merger to have Daring Adventures be brought under Ability360’s umbrella.

When asked what advice he would give to other nonprofit leaders in his situation, Jerry said, “It’s not a quick process, nor should it be. It takes time to go through the checking of alignments, board interests, mission alignments, all of it. Through the process you see how you are stronger together than you are alone, and there is so much more to be had as a group than by yourself.” As for Jerry, he is excited to take a step back. “I would love to retire, but I also love the important work our organizations do. I’m ready to shift to the backseat and not worry about budgets and paperwork every day but am looking forward to being an active participant in the successful transition of two amazing organizations.”