- Oct 07
Collaborating: Doing More with Less
Newsletter Article - October 2007
For several years now, finding ways to do more with less has been a chief strategic concern of Cape-based nonprofits, local governmental agencies, businesses, and area families. Demographic data indicate that the Cape's costs of living and operating an enterprise, be it for profit or not for profit, have steadily increased. The number of year-round residents has risen too, as has the accompanying need and demand for housing, health care, employment opportunity, education and training, recreation, and basic governmental services like police and fire protection.
Traditionally, local service organizations have relied on the generosity of public and private grant givers, donors, and volunteers to supplement the resources they've needed to support their many diverse missions. Oftentimes, large and established businesses were the base of this community support. And it is ironic that as the Cape's population has increased, and as the presence of large national enterprises has risen, the number of locally based, locally committed businesses has declined. And as it has, the ones that are active, regional, and successful receive more requests for assistance. They, too, wonder how to increase the efficiency of the donations they provide.
For the past decade, we've been observing these trends as well as the many truly Herculean efforts local nonprofits have been making to fulfill their missions while also dealing with increasing financial strain. To do so, they have realized operational efficiencies by upgrading their technology as well as their ability to use it. And they've done so while remaining committed to their core missions of service and attention to individual cases. By expanding their capacities using technology, the Cape's nonprofit sector has enhanced its ability to communicate real-time information about its diverse range of social concerns as well as ways that we might respond to these problems as a community.
Ironically, however, as the nonprofit sector has generally applied technology in ways that continue to improve our quality of life, there is a growing awareness of a widening divide that separates organizations which are able to leverage the benefits of technology advances from those who are not as yet proficient or financially able to acquire the equipment and training they desire.
As an organization interested to supplement the many specific areas of expertise that the Cape's nonprofit sector generally offer, we've been looking for ways that we might do so both broadly and effectively. For the past four years, we've explored how Cape-based nonprofit organizations, businesses, local government, and individuals might connect their knowledge and experience to improve their administrative and operational efficiency. We've encouraged collaborations, and we've examined closely how local organizations are already collaborating.
We have recast our own operations and have held our overhead in check by becoming a “virtual” organization, one that relies on the Internet and society’s increasing familiarity with its use as the means by which we can connect the interests and skills of local residents with organizations that are not only looking to broaden their base of support and expertise but are also interested to share the information and knowledge they gain in fulfilling their core mission.
We’ve been working to make technology more readily available to a broad mix of Cape organizations whose fields of interest are as diverse as their operational and administrative tasks are similar. And as we worked to develop a networking capacity that relies on technology, we kept in mind that we needed to develop a networking approach that would be easy to understand.
In addition, we also kept in mind that we needed to develop something that would be easy for organizations to accept, especially those whose financial resources already constrained their efforts to fulfill their core mission. We needed to develop an approach that would keep the costs of utilizing technology low.
We also proceeded with the understanding that a network which relied on technology would be implemented by an organization only to the extent that it was easy to use and did not require people to undertake significant training or to assume additional tasks in order for it to provide them a direct benefit.
These three criteria—easy to understand, easy to accept, and easy to implement—have rattled around in our minds over the past few years as we have considered how we might best support nonprofit organizations that serve our region. And to help us define our objectives specifically, we retained outside experts in technology and its economic development potential to help us design a way to share information utilizing the Web that would enhance the communication capacity of any organization or individual.
As we proceeded, we were energized by the efforts others have undertaken with similar goals in mind. As one private sector example, the Cape Cod Times recently revised its online resources in ways that yield very positive benefits to those who seek the services it makes available on its electronic Cape Cod Village Green.
We've worked directly with three other Cape-based publications interested to provide similar community services. The Community Spotlight page found on the Web site of the Cape Cod Voice newspaper is one. Similarly, we've worked on the upper Cape with the Enterprise Newspapers to link their news gathering and editorial writing expertise to the programs and activities of the nonprofit organizations operating in the region. And we've worked with Cape Cod Life magazine to help them put together a wealth of information about Cape Cod philanthropy that can be found easily by visiting their Web site.
What's encouraging about these efforts as well as the Internet-based enterprise that Walter Brooks has put together called Cape Cod Today is the ease with which they dovetail the news information they provide with a focus on the activities and events of local nonprofits.
In a regional government context, Barnstable County's effort to link the Cape's human service organizations has been a remarkable and noteworthy success. The identification of shared concerns, common problems, and possible solutions is now real-time in its ability to influence the decisions that county executives make every day. As a consequence, the county can stretch its ability to respond to community priorities to the extent that it has the finances to do so.
Similarly, the Cape 's many town and regional entities responsible for emergency preparedness have combined via technology to share information and to improve their responsiveness during potential emergencies. The Cape and Islands Red Cross has also developed its ability to connect with its volunteers and to make them available as needed in the event of an unforeseen calamity.
And there are many more examples at local levels. Just about every town on the Cape has improved its Web site as have virtually all of the many school districts that operate here. These sites provide a wealth of timely information that addresses routine but pressing matters on a timely basis.
Now that these initiatives have seeded throughout the Cape, it would be useful to assemble a representative group to consider how to effectively connect the information and focus that each provides. By so doing, we'd not only create a more tightly woven network of information but we’d also connect organizations and groups whose expertise and experience could be shared to help others dealing with similar sets of problem circumstances.
We perceive this effort simply as one that builds a "directory," something akin to the traditional phone book with which we are all familiar. But with the advances and innovation that the World Wide Web reflect, a "directory" can provide a wealth of information in addition to location and phone number. Utilizing a computer and the Internet, we can now not only look up the names and numbers of people we might be interested to contact but we can also locate and visit their Web sites to find the information they wish to present about themselves.
In the world of the Cape 's nonprofit and service agencies, our premise is that shared information and linked organizations lead to their realizing direct benefits. Organizations can inform the public about their events and specific interests without the added costs of postage or printing. They can do so in more real-time instances as well.
And on matters related to management and administration, an organization can connect with professional firms interested to provide expertise in accounting, marketing, payroll management, and the full range of other operations-related matters. An organization can then use these connections to benefit its own operations and management. And for individuals interested to volunteer their time or to donate their money, a "directory" presents information they can use to explore organizations operating in areas that interest them.
As we proceed to establish a "directory," we're interested to reach out to individuals and organizations interested to help shape it. Our motivation to do so stems from often expressed concern within both nonprofit and business organizations that we need to find ways that utilize our resources to respond to our expanding demands. It’s a concern that has been a topic of strategic considerations for a long time here.
We're aware of the growing divide between those who have wealth and those who aspire to have wealth. We're aware that the problems posed by increased costs of health services and educational opportunities negatively affect those who have limited financial strength. And we're also aware that if we could find efficiencies and extend the range of the human services that organizations located here already offer, we'd directly benefit these same individuals.
Doing so is what citizenship is about. And improving the quality of life of the region is what sustainability is about. As a community, we may not have all the resources available to us that we might wish, but we can keep looking to find ways to do more with the resources we have.
Allen Larson, David Willard and Jeffrey Luce
Cape Cod Center for Sustainability