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Creating a Culture of Collaboration

Tags: Regional Partnerships

Jeff Hopfenbeck

In 2009, a group of nonprofit leaders in southwest Colorado turned a chance meeting into a golden opportunity. Through hard work, dedication to community, and with the help of El Pomar Foundation’s Southwest Regional Council, the group has been able to create something that today is already beginning to have a major impact on the long-term trajectory of the region.

The seeds for the Montolores Non-Profit Council (MNPC) were laid in 2009 when nonprofit leaders in Montezuma and Dolores counties came together to prepare for Southwest Colorado Rural Philanthropy Days. Through monthly planning sessions, these local nonprofit leaders started to build new relationships and establish fresh lines of communication. The forums also helped identify a community need and an opportunity for these community members to gather with intention on a regular basis and start learning how to better collaborate for maximum community impact.

With the help of a $50,000 grant from El Pomar’s Southwest Regional Council the MNPC was born and started to tackle its deceptively simple goal: to create a culture of collaboration among nonprofits in southwest Colorado. Through trainings, meetings, and projects that encourage leaders to work together, the MNPC has started over the past 15 months to lay the basic groundwork for future collaborative efforts.

Yet the MNPC has proved to be more than a venue for professional development and feel-good team building. It has created new relationships that are already starting to have a major impact on the communities of Montezuma and Dolores counties.

As a result of these new connections, the City of Cortez recently won an exciting grant that has the potential to shape future development in the city for years to come. In December, the Orton Family Foundation announced that Cortez was one of five communities selected for the second phase of its $10 million, five-year Heart & Soul Community Planning initiative. The Heart and Soul initiative provides winners with $100,000 over two years, along with foundation staff support, tools, trainings, and other resources, to help change the way small cities and towns engage their citizens and plan for the future.

“The Orton grant started out as kind of an accident,” said Southwest Regional Council and MNPC member Chuck McAfee. After one of the group’s facilitators learned about the grant, McAfee forwarded on the opportunity to then Cortez City Manager Jay Harrington. From there the idea began to pick up steam.

“I’m absolutely sure [this] would not have happened without the MNPC,” said McAfee. “There was not an active effort to create a proposal for the Orton Family Foundation before we got involved.”

While Cortez had thought of applying for the grant in the past, the support, dedication to community, and expertise brought by the MNPC was essential in both creating a compelling proposal and building momentum behind the project.

By emphasizing and nurturing a culture of collaboration, the MNPC has started to chip away at some of the isolation and inefficiency that often plagues the nonprofit community. Though the group is still only getting started, the MNPC’s role in the Orton application process demonstrates the big things that can happen when dedicated leaders, supported by the community, come together and collaborate for maximum community impact.