Building partnerships that benefit food banks and the communities they serve

Food banks work at the heart of our communities making sure that everyone has access to nutritious food. As they look after access to food, any set of partners is looking after their access to the kind of training that will sustain their work. In Fall 2016, Washington Nonprofits teamed up with Northwest Harvest, our region’s leading hunger relief agency to deliver board and grantwriting courses in Skagit, Clark, and Yakima Counties. Katie Howard, veteran grantwriter and trainer, joined the team to deliver her highly acclaimed “Accidental Grantwriter” workshop.

 

“Many of our partner organizations have limited budgets for travel and training so being able to provide a nationally recognized training right in their backyard is incredibly important not just for our partners but for the communities they serve,” explained Northwest Harvest Partner Programs Manager Jenn Tennent. “We could not have done this on our own.”

 

The partners took a community approach to the initiative because food banks succeed when they are connected with other nonprofits around them. In Yakima, for example, the Mattawa and Yakima SDA Food Banks learned alongside colleagues from The Adult Activity Center, the Union Gospel Mission, Sunrise Outreach Center, and the Chamber of Commerce. “Our goal over time is that connections become collaborations. We believe in the power of networked leadership and know that the first step comes in building trust,” noted Washington Nonprofits Director of Learning Nancy Bacon.

 

This pilot has proven successful so far. Participants mentioned they are no longer afraid of grantwriting and that they now actually think it is fun. They said they found the training invaluable, and the fact that our partnership could bring together a number of non-profit leaders in a community together in one room was a fantastic learning and networking opportunity and a big success. Trainer Katie Howard confirmed the positive energy developed through these meetings: “Each of the three trainings we’ve held so far has been packed with people hungry to learn. One recent participant shared, ‘I’ve really been doing this wrong. Now I have tools and ideas to improve.’”

 


Strengthening the Sector Through Strong Teaching

Have you ever sat through a training that was awesome? Have you arrived eager to learn something you really needed to know and left with concrete action items ready to implement tomorrow? How you experienced the buzz in your body when you were just handed the key to unlock something that has been hard for too long?

Good teaching has been a mainstay of Washington Nonprofits’ learning program since its beginning. Last year we went a step farther—we launched a “How to train” initiative designed to strengthen the training skills of those who teach nonprofit people. Washington is rich in content experts; our state has so many talented people who know their stuff. Knowing fundraising or board practice, however, doesn’t mean that you know how to teach it. We want to make sure that the time nonprofit people spend in classrooms leaves them with the knowledge, skills, and tools they need to take action.

Guila Muir, our partner in this effort, is a master trainer who has helped people around the world to improve their training, facilitation and presentation skills since 1981. She has worked across sectors—from Starbucks to City Light—strengthening the training skills of those who lead. Her book, Instructional Design that Soars, guides trainers through the steps involved in delivering powerful, change-inspiring classes. Guila’s blog shares tips and tools for trainers.

Washington Nonprofits began a partnership with Guila last fall. Over the course of two workshops—one in Seattle and one in Spokane—Guila trained 50 people in her “Kite Method.” Participants included city agency staff who train nonprofits on how to get federal funding, consultants who train nonprofit staff on a range of topics, and nonprofit staff who train clients about services. They shared two characteristics: they need other people to do things differently, and they had limited resources to do so. The partnership was supported by a contract that Washington Nonprofits manages from the Office of the Secretary of State.

We know that nonprofit people are busy and have only a little time to spend in classrooms learning what they need to know. We will continue to lead conversations about adult education and how we can bring the best educational practice into nonprofit classrooms so that learning time is well spent.


Conferences


Architecture of Action: Connecting Conferences with Change

Conferences fill ballrooms with people eager for inspiration, who then spill out into workshop rooms where they learn and connect with colleagues. That energy can be like a sugar rush – we reach a high state of excitement imagining how amazing things are going to be when we get home and reinvent. Or maybe that sugar rush-inducing excitement is really anxiety because we realize how far behind we seem to be.

Conference season is upon us. The Central Washington Conference for the Greater Good (Yakima) is on April 19, Washington State Nonprofit Conference (Bellevue) on May 17, and the Nonprofit Practices Institute Summit (Chelan) on May 22. Your attendance at conferences is vital to your success—time away from your desk connecting with colleagues gives you the knowledge, tools, and connections you need to imagine new solutions to the challenges in front of you.

Too often we make conference participation an isolated activity. We reluctantly fit it into our schedule and then march through the day with a conference bag hanging from our wrist until we get home exhausted and overwhelmed. We take pages of notes, which never get looked at again. Last year, I attended a thought-provoking conference with colleagues I admire. I misplaced my notebook on the way home, and when I tried to recall a single to-do item on my inspired list of tasks, I drew a complete blank. Sugar rush of excitement with no stickiness to turn what I learned into action.

The science of learning helps us create a scaffold ready to hold what we learn. It provides an architecture that allows us to turn learning into action. The three cornerstones of this structure are reflection, team, and time.

 

REFLECTION

“We find two dimensions, reflection and action, in such radical interaction that if one is sacrificed—even in part—the other immediately suffers.”

– Paulo Freire, Pedagogy of the Oppressed

We retain 58% of what we are told in 20 minutes, 33% after a day. We will forget most of what we learn at a conference by the time we get home for dinner.

Luckily there is an antidote: reflection. Reflection and action are inseparable. Each is needed to keep the other on track, and yet too often we rush to action because so much needs to get done. Without reflection, those ideas that you jot down in your notebook don’t have anything to which to stick. They are isolated stars not yet drawn into a constellation. Taking time for reflection before, during, and after a learning event forces your brain to create a hook to hang ideas on. It sets up a practice for you to retrieve what you know and imagine your practice in new ways.

Pre-conference question:

  • What is most on your mind right now?
  • Whether a challenge or an opportunity, what observable change in yourself, organization or community would you like to see within 3 months?

Write the answers to these questions down on the notebook that you plan to take to the conference.

Mid-way AND at the end of the conference day:

  • What do you find yourself continuing to think about?
  • What ideas have stuck with you?

Find a quiet place during the conference for at least 10 minutes.

Write down what you are thinking about.

 

TEAM

“The small group is the unit of transformation.”
– Peter Block in Community: Creating a Culture of Belonging

We can’t create change alone. Change happens when we connect with others to put something new in place. A cornerstone of action is accountability, both in terms of our accountability to ourselves and to our community. Bringing a team to a conference allows you to get more out of the marketplace of ideas that organizers offer you. It holds you accountable for what you learned and what you say you are going to do next.

Create a roster of who should attend the conference. These people can be both within your organization and colleagues in your community. Driving a distance? Great conversations happen during carpools.

 

TIME

“It’s that linkage back to the workplace that I worry about the most.”
– Will Thalheimer, Ph.D

Focus, reflection, and team get us to the end of the conference day. What happens next? What further reflection will we do? What action steps will we organize with others?

Time is a precious commodity in our work. Taking more time after a conference to reflect and act might just be too much to ask. But what if the ROI of the day jumped considerable because you take more time to reflect and act? What if your choice is between a day away that doesn’t change anything and a day away that moved you closer to achieving your mission? None of us have time to waste, so let’s schedule post-conference time to make sure that we reflect and act in ways that move our mission forward.

PRIOR TO THE CONFERENCE, block out time for these events:

ONE HOUR within the week after the conference: Work on your own, read through your notes and make a to-do list of ideas or tasks that you would like to move forward. Look at websites mentioned by speakers.

ONE HOUR within the month after the conference: Share what you learned with your colleagues, board, or community. Talk about what you think about it and next steps. Need ideas on how to schedule this in?

  • Learning lunch
  • Designated time within a board meeting
  • Board potluck before a board meeting
  • Nonprofit network meeting

 

Join a local nonprofit network to continue the conversation. Don’t have one near you, contact us for ideas.

Your mission matters, and time and money to attend conferences are hard to come by. Taking time to connect the change you want to see with learning and resources will make the investments you make go so much farther. We look forward to seeing you at an upcoming conference!

 

DOWNLOAD the Architecture of Action: Conferences toolkit now.

MORE READING

 


Hot off the press: Let’s Go Legal

You care about your mission and want to make sure your organization does what it needs to do to succeed. That is why we created “Let’s Go Legal,” a free set of learning tools on nonprofit law to help you stay compliant and protect your assets.
continue reading →


5 Minute Rule

According to Inc.com, Benjamin Franklin spent one hour a day—or five hours a week—learning. That is incredible, and certainly something that we can all try to emulate. But let’s propose something a bit easier. Why not make sure that there is at least five minutes of learning each time your board comes together.
continue reading →


Welcome to the Washington Nonprofit Institute!

We are excited to introduce you to the Washington Nonprofit Institute—thank you for stopping by! Our goal is to give you one place to look for nonprofit learning.
continue reading →