Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Nonprofits Discuss Collaboration

More than 140 people representing over 70 nonprofit organizations converged on Bethel Woods Center for the Arts for a watershed summit that organizers hope will translate into more efficient and less costly organizations.

The day-long schedule of panel discussions and group brainstorming sessions drew executive directors, board members and representatives from organizations providing services ranging from arts education to support for people with developmental disabilities.

If nothing else, they heard one clear message: that collaboration could help nonprofits not only survive but thrive amid a retreat in giving by private donors and governments that is likely to endure.

"If we're all going to survive, we have to find new ways to collaborate and work together," said Sullivan County Legislature Chairman Jonathan Rouis, who has been pushing for a summit since 2009.

Summit organizers hope the face time and brainstorming will eventually spur collaborations or resource-sharing that could prevent the duplication of services and save money.

"The goal really was to take nonprofits off their islands," said Amanda Speer, Cornell Cooperative Extension's family and youth development team coordinator and chair of the summit's organizing committee.

"Before any of the ships start sinking, how do we work together to keep each other afloat," she said.

Jonathan Drapkin, Pattern for Progress president and chief executive officer and former Gerry Foundation executive director, laid out the challenges facing nonprofits as private and public funding shrinks.

He cited Greene and Columbia counties, which share a community college, and the merger of three school districts into the Sullivan West School District as examples of successful collaborations.

"Either you try to be the masters of your own fate or you wake up and find that fate has taken its own course," said Drapkin.

Darrin Raynor, assistant executive director for New Hope Community Inc., said he attended in hopes of sharing ideas and finding out about different organizations. "The opportunity to see the other organizations and hear what they have to say is priceless," he said.

Elena Goyanes, a board member for Catskill Arts Society, said, as she ate lunch, that she was already thinking of ways she could work with some of the groups represented at the summit.

"It's stirring thoughts of how we can further reach out into the community," she said.

From the Times Herald-Record online.

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