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Delaware Nonprofits: Endless Discoveries
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DANA's new President and CEO Sheila Bravo reflects on her discovery of DANA and the nonprofit sector in Delaware.


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Connections create possibilities

Posted By Sheila Bravo, Friday, April 29, 2016

These past few weeks several conversations have emerged around partnerships, collaboration, collective impact, and even consolidation. They covered the range from how much is happening, how to get started, what it’s going to take, and the economic and social benefit. In our state, many feel that there is an immense amount of partnership activity, many collaborative initiatives, and some comprehensive ventures towards collective impact. Each of those are a continuum of relationship depth between two or more organizations. 

And that is both our challenge and our opportunity.

Starting a partnership, or immersing in a strategic alliance, requires relationship building, trust, and a lot of time. Sharing resources and common goals can be challenging, as it requires each organization to be vulnerable with each other. In Delaware, our geography and government structure provides access in ways that larger states cannot benefit.

AstraZeneca seeks to stimulate connections with nonprofits in this creative space.

Building a relationship with another leader across the state can be easy, and our networks help facilitate communication among our colleagues rather quickly. We need to leverage that advantage to strengthen Delaware community benefit organizations. We have the potential to pool our resources to collectively advance our missions.

So how do we get started? It begins with conversation; a simple willingness to meet regularly, understand who is doing what, and being willing to share ideas and resources. Those simple connections can accelerate the potential and possibilities we all have in advancing the quality of life here in Delaware.


Tags:  collaboration  Delaware  nonprofits  partnerships 

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Networking and Partnering can strengthen Nonprofits and their Leadership

Posted By Sheila Bravo, Wednesday, March 2, 2016

There is a lot of talk these days about collaboration, and in Delaware many nonprofits are collaborating at some level with others. DANA has held several workshops on the various types of collaboration, including working together for collective impact. Partnering is not only smart from an efficiency and effectiveness standpoint, but it can also help to strengthen your leadership, as well as your organization. There are many ways to start the pathway to collaboration. One of them is by joining a network.

A recent article by Jennifer Chandler and Kristen Scott Kennedy from the National Council of Nonprofits highlights the benefits of being part of a network. Networks help advance the first step in any partnership or collaboration: building trust. By getting together regularly, group leaders break down resistance to sharing as they get to know others in the network. Mutual sharing of experiences and insights helps accelerate innovation, expand perspectives, and gain insights on what is happening in Delaware. Once trust is there, exploration of mutual initiatives begin to break down organizational resistance to working together. New programs, or cost sharing initiatives, become a reality. And leaders who are part of networks and coalitions find they also have a more powerful voice for advocacy activities.

DANA is a network. As the Delaware Alliance for Nonprofit Advancement, we convene nonprofit leaders in training, through member events, and our annual conference. We advocate for the interests of the nonprofit sector, and those who support it. We work in partnership with other state-wide organizations such as the Delaware Grantmakers Association, the Delaware Community Foundation, the United Way, Chambers of Commerce, and the Association of Fundraising Professionals. Our mission to strengthen enhance and advance nonprofits would not be possible without the connections among members, alliance partners, and government agencies. And our networking initiatives have expanded to support Executive Directors through the E2E Peer Networking sessions we're hosting each month.

The Center for Creative Leadership (CCL) and the Grantmakers for Effective Organizations (GEO) have recently released studies on the skills required for effective nonprofit leadership. Both studies reveal that success in delivering mission can no longer be managed within organizational silos. Today, leaders must exhibit the ability to collaborate, work across organizational boundaries, network, and place solutions above their personal and organizational interests. Unfortunately, the GEO study also revealed that less than a quarter of nonprofit leaders ranked themselves as strong in these areas. That is concerning. 

As nonprofit leaders we are challenged to “squeeze blood out of a turnip.” One way to actually accomplish this is to work with others to share resources to make mission happen. Sometimes being part of a network costs money, but fees are usually well worth the benefits. However, most of what is required to network or collaborate is a commitment of time: time to meet and get to know others, and time to explore ways to make things better. I know time is in short supply for just about everyone. However, the rewards of being energized in working together and moving closer towards common goals can be great.    

In Delaware, there are plenty of ways to connect with others. I’ve counted over 22 network organizations in addition to DANA that provide opportunities for nonprofit leaders to connect, partner, and learn from each other. Most likely there are others, as I’m still learning the sectorAs Hildy Gottlieb says from Creating the Future, "Individually we don’t have enough resources, but collectively we do." Join DANA, join other networks, and strengthen your leadership and organization so that it can be successful in delivering its mission more effectively and efficiently.


Tags:  Association of Fundraising Professionals  collaboration  Delaware  Delaware Community Foundation  Grantmakers  National Council of Nonprofits  network  nonprofits  State chamber of commerce  United Way 

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Collective Impact

Posted By Sheila Bravo, Friday, October 2, 2015

It is widely recognized that nonprofits are serving a greater number of people, but have access to fewer resources. Partnering with another organization can be one strategy in doing more with less. The number of nonprofits has increased to service a growing population that relies on them. However, contributed dollars are not growing at the same pace. More nonprofits are requesting grants from the same pool of funds as the majority of other organizations. So what can nonprofits do?

The first thing is to take a step back and evaluate your nonprofit’s mission and vision, as well as your organization’s plan for the future. Has your organization confirmed the mission that it set years ago is still a differentiating purpose? In other words, if your organization didn’t exist, would the population you serve receive services by someone else? If the answer is yes, then perhaps an opportunity exists to partner to reduce overlap of services. If the answer is no, then it’s time to start thinking about how your organization can deliver those services in ways that are more efficient and effective to stretch dollars further. As I learn more about the nonprofit sector, I’ve been hearing about many organizations who are working together to have a collective impact, or share resources in order to avoid hiring additional staff, in turn avoiding additional cost. 

Here are some examples:

  • Habitat for Humanity and several other nonprofits that support housing related needs are part of the Delaware Housing Coalition. They discuss what they each do and outline collective strategies. 
  • Modern Maturity Center is part of the Delaware Aging Network. Rather than each organization hiring their own advocacy manager, they all put their collective resources together and were able to pass legislation to help seniors in the state. 
  • The Delaware Nature Center works across all three counties with other environmental agencies to support legislation that improves Delaware’s environment, and in turn, each of their missions.

In my interviews with Delaware foundations, I am hearing that they are beginning to ask if nonprofits are reaching out to partner with other agencies to reduce costs and/or to improve service and mission outcomes. It’s a trend that is growing.

As I referenced in my previous blog, if your nonprofit is interested in partnerships and collaboration, but don’t know where to start, give DANA a call. We can refer you to other organizations and make introductions to get the conversations started!

Did you know: Along the vein of “collective impact” the Delaware Revenue Solutions Working Group has announced a public forum taking place on October 20th. They’re seeking input from the Delaware nonprofit sector ahead of the upcoming 2016 budget challenge. If you’re interested in attending, click here for more details and registration information.


Tags:  budget  collaboration  Delaware  grants  nonprofits  partnerships  Revenue 

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Posted By Sheila Bravo, Thursday, September 24, 2015

One of the wonderful things about Delaware is how everyone seems to know someone that you know. Delawareans, from my experience, are welcoming and very helpful. I have received many welcome notes from fellow nonprofit leaders, and have been invited to networking breakfast and lunch meetings. These get-togethers provide a nonprofit leader with sage advice from more seasoned Executives. This can lead to other phone calls for counsel, and in turn, even build friendships. I experienced this in my last role at the Rehoboth Art League, and am glad to find it here at DANA, as well. 

In my visits with nonprofit leaders up and down the state, I have met some who are relatively new to the sector, and even to Delaware. They do not yet have that network to rely upon. They may not know who to call or where to go. Our strong informal network is not open to them yet. One fairly new ED mentioned to me that he is being asked to collaborate, but he doesn't know who to collaborate with.  It all goes back to these connections. Collaboration doesn't just happen. It is a process in which conversations take place and trust is built. Only then can a successful collaborative initiative take place.

Did you know: One of the perks of DANA membership is an invitation to our free, exclusive Member-Only Winter Reception. Every year, we draw in about 100 passionate nonprofit people to connect with each other and celebrate all that the nonprofit sector accomplished throughout the year. If you’re not a DANA member yet, click here to learn more, or call us at 302-777-5500. We’d love to meet you!

DANA can help nonprofits make connections. We receive calls nearly every day with questions on 'who does what.' For folks who wish to start up a new nonprofit - or already have - we offer suggestions on who they can reach out to in their respective mission area. Our member reception, which is held annually in December, is a fun way to connect with fellow nonprofit leaders. DANA’s annual conference and training sessions can also be an additional means to make new connections.

Working together first starts with getting to know each other. I encourage established nonprofit leaders to reach out and say hello to a new leader, and for new leaders to reach out and say hello to their fellow nonprofits down the street, whether you have like-missions or not. Who knows what exciting things may happen!


Tags:  CEO  collaboration  Delaware  leaders  nonprofits 

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Collaboration is Key

Posted By Sheila Bravo, Wednesday, September 16, 2015

This past week I have had the opportunity to meet with a variety of nonprofit, philanthropic, and community leaders. The passion of these leaders in finding solutions to eliminate poverty, find affordable housing, and address issues of disparity and discrimination is inspiring. Many of them are working with other nonprofits and foundations to address these issues in a bigger way.

For example, the CenDel Foundation has partnered with the Delaware Community Foundation, business leaders, and nonprofit leaders to identify opportunities to improve the quality of life in Central Dover. Out of that collaboration emerged a Central Dover Revitalization plan to improve safety, engage the city’s youth, expand family services, boost home ownership, and support new development downtown.  A national grant has been secured to kick off the funding needed for project implementation over the next five years. But these organizations haven’t stopped there. They are continuing to meet and find new ways to collaborate to improve their operational efficiencies and expand mission impact.

At this summer’s annual DANA Conference, another collaborative initiative took place. DANA, the Delaware Community Foundation (DCF), the Delaware Grantmakers Association (DGA), United Way of Delaware (UW), and the Association of Fundraising Professionals (AFP) sampled  over 100 key community leaders in the nonprofit, government, education, philanthropic, and business arenas in order to listen to their ideas on how to make Delaware, and in particular, how to make the nonprofit sector great. We were thrilled to have gotten a full list of ideas, which were then synthesized into several themes. Our collaborative organizations then sent out the themes to conference attendees to be ranked. Their feedback told us there is:

  • A desire for more collaboration to improve efficiencies as well as enhance collective impact;
  • A push to evaluate community needs and understand which organizations are serving those needs throughout the State and how they are doing it;
  • A curiosity to explore whether organization consolidation or expansion should take place and how; and
  • A need to identify common outcome measurements that permit the community, nonprofits, and funders to make better decisions on resource allocation and decision making.
Did you know: DANA has a collaboration training coming up! “Building a Sustainable Organization with Collaboration” will be held October 14, 15, and 16 in all 3 counties. Click here to learn more and register.

As I continue to meet the leaders of DANA’s partner organizations, members, elected officials, and community and philanthropic leaders, I will explore these themes to learn more about how DANA can help facilitate their achievement. Some work on this has already begun through conversations this summer among representatives from DANA, DGA, DCF, UW, and AFP. If you have ideas or wish to talk about this further, please let me know. Your voice matters.


Tags:  collaboration  DANA  Delaware  nonprofits 

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