Nonprofits Collaborating for Sustainability Darcy Hitchcock
Sustainability addresses social, economic and environmental issues, seeking creative solutions that make all three better, or at least not trade them off. Typical trade-offs include jobs or the environment, growth or quality of life. Most nonprofits focus on only one area: economic development, the environment, or social issues like hunger and homelessness. Nonprofits do great work in their silos. But often a structure to manage their interdependencies is missing.There is, after all, a relationship between waste and water, food and land use, energy and economics. In the Sedona, Arizona area, several local nonprofits formed the Sustainability Alliance, a coalition for us to explore our interdependencies, share resources, and cross-promote one another’s events. Some members were reluctant initially, worrying about time commitments and being pulled away from their core mission. And each group had promised not to share its email list with others.
But we had shared goals and interests. Two groups were working with schools; two had a speaker’s series. We were all concerned about how development and tourist-driven traffic was affecting our communities and straining our water resources. There are benefits to working together. We can speak with a unified voice. We have found creative, multi-disciplinary solutions to local issues. And because we are seen as trying to make everything better - our economy, livability and environment - we are becoming a respected go-to group for advice. Here’s my advice for getting started. Develop a shared understanding We started by comparing where our passion for sustainability came from. This helped us understand one another and uncovered shared assumptions and visions. I gave a briefing on The Natural Step’s science- based framework for sustainability so we would share a mental model for sustainability. We analyzed the region’s issues and opportunities within that framework to gain a sense of priorities. Identify manageable joint projects Start small and work incrementally. We identi- fied three program areas to work on.