At a recent Donors Collaborative meeting of nonprofit executive directors, Betty Burton, who runs the Family to Family Holiday Meal Program, told the group that if they wanted to see a great example of collaboration, they should come to the program’s Thanksgiving distribution. It was, she said, an incredible effort by a long list of donors and volunteers that included Island farmers, Island Grown Gleaners, the FARM Institute, Vineyard Committee on Hunger, Reliable Market, Cronigs, Stop and Shop, the First Baptist Church, preschoolers from the First Light Day Care Center, 10 members of the high school football team, Martha’s Vineyard Regional High School faculty and students, members of Daybreak Clubhouse, and the financial donations of hundreds of Islanders.
Collaboration is a buzzword in the nonprofit world that elicits varied reactions. Donors and foundations encourage it because they believe it gives their gifts more impact, and they see it as a solution to a glut of nonprofits, many with overlapping missions, which would benefit from merging. Nonprofits can feel threatened by large-scale collaborations or mergers because change can be scary and people’s jobs are at risk. Nevertheless, Vineyard nonprofits have been finding ways to work together, mostly through joint programming and marketing efforts, but donors and foundations are insisting more be done.
So how can we overcome the natural forces that impede the community benefits of larger-scale collaboration? One way is to learn from those who are doing it.
Ann Smith, executive director of Featherstone and chairman of the recently formed Arts Martha’s Vineyard, the Island’s arts & cultural collaborative, said she was skeptical about the benefits of collaborating with competing arts and cultural organizations until she attended a meeting several years ago where they were all brought together to discuss how they could address common issues. She has been astonished at the camaraderie and business they’ve developed. Also, they aren’t going to the towns for money but instead are getting state and national grants because they are collaborating. She’s passionate when encouraging others to not be afraid to collaborate. “We have to get the elephant out of the room, focus on what’s good for M.V. and the entire Island,” she said.
Julie Fay, executive director of Martha’s Vineyard Community Services, said her organization started two new large-scale collaborations after identifying critical gaps in services for Islanders.
Working with Martha’s Vineyard Hospital, they filled a gap in addiction and mental health treatment by establishing an on-Island community crisis stabilization program (CCSP) on the hospital grounds. This will help reduce the number of Vineyarders who have to be sent off-Island for hospitalization for acute distress due to addiction or mental health issues. It will also reduce treatment costs.
Community Services also helped form the Island Wide Youth Collaborative (IWYC) to address the sharp increase in the demand for youth-oriented mental health services on the Island and the lack of resources to handle it. They plan to better coordinate the efforts of Island clinicians and provide specialized training, along with increased outreach and prevention programs for kids and parents. The IWYC is comprised of members from the public schools, the hospital, the YMCA, the M.V. Youth Task Force, and private practitioners. This collaborative effort was impressive enough that it received a larger-than-requested grant from the Tower Foundation: up to $300,000 a year for two years.
Foundation money will continue to drive collaboration on the Vineyard. The recently formed MVYouth plans to invest a remarkable $1 million a year in youth programs and have made it clear collaboration is a key criterion.
The Vineyard also has issues at the other end of the age spectrum, as the bubble of baby boomers reach their golden years, and more and more seasonal residents retire here. The Island will feel this impact much more than the rest of Massachusetts and the country: the 65-plus population of the Vineyard is predicted to grow 134 percent by 2030, while the U.S. elderly population grows only 81 percent and the state 61 percent.
These numbers raise big questions about town budgets for the Councils on Aging and the Center for Living, and about future needs for housing, transportation, assisted living, homecare, and basic health and human services. To address these issues, the Donors Collaborative helped put together the Healthy Aging Task Force (HATF), a group of more than 36 health, human services and municipal organizations that provide services to Island elders, working to address the needs of our growing elder population.
It is clear that to succeed, the HATF will need to develop new models of service delivery and patient-centered care, which will require large-scale collaboration and major changes in the way things are done. Our doctors, the hospital, the VNA, Elder Services, home health care organizations and others will need to work together as a team, sharing information and responsibility for managing individual patient-care plans.
The needs of our growing elder population do not stop at town lines, and the big elder issues of affordable housing, transportation, infrastructure, and workforce development clearly require Island-wide solutions. The Martha’s Vineyard Commission needs to add social services to its planning agenda, and the six towns through the four Councils on Aging and the Center for Living need to have a unified mission and plan for meeting the growing needs of Island elders if they are to improve the efficiency, quality, and quantity of services offered.
So how can we overcome the bureaucratic challenges to changing the status quo that impede large-scale collaboration and regionalization?
Betty Burton also described her Thanksgiving Food program as an “all-Island community affair,” and it is indeed a great example of how the entire Vineyard community comes together to help those in need. Both of our Food Pantries, the Red Stocking Fund, and You’ve Got a Friend are shining examples of this. We do community really well, but need to improve collaboration.
What Julie Fay did, however, is really just the same as what Betty Burton did, but on a larger scale. They both mobilized people, organizations, and resources to help Vineyarders in need, and their focus was on the Vineyarders, not their organizations. Betty used volunteers and small donations while Julie used paid staff and large grants.
Could the solution to improved collaboration be to just think of it as community, but on a larger scale?
Peter Temple is a resident of Aquinnah and the executive director of the Martha’s Vineyard Donors Collaborative, an advocacy organization devoted to sustaining the Vineyard by strengthening its nonprofit community.