The 2019 Solutions Collaboratory

Voices of the nonprofit sector

For our 27th annual fall conference in Phoenix, we wanted to try something new, something collaborative, something that leveraged the energy and ideas of the hundreds of nonprofit professionals gathered in one ballroom.

And so we conceived The UnConference: CommYOUnity Solutions, a space to give voice to the key issues in our nonprofit and philanthropic community and to collectively find real solutions to these shared challenges.

During the morning-long Solutions CollaboratoryJeff Snell, the Sr. Fellow for Social Innovation at the ASU Lodestar Center, guided the UnConference participants through an interactive exercise designed to surface the major, shared issues in the sector – and, critically, to talk through ideas for solutions. Snell posed six big-picture questions, handed out sticky notes and tasked everyone with writing down responses. Student volunteers at each station then grouped the notes into categories that guided the discussion; afterwards, participants used brightly colored stickers to vote for the answers that most resonated.

All of the responses that received votes have been reproduced below, a snapshot of our sector's hopes and fears, triumphs and failures, opportunities and challenges.

To close the Collaboratory, David Bornstein of the Solutions Journalism Network and The New York Times shared his thoughts on the day's key themes. Bornstein's work looks at how people and organizations respond to social problems, providing insights and evidence of results that others can use. He encouraged attendees to continue this process – of confronting problems and seeking solutions – at their organizations. "The last thing we need is more leaders who are not self-reflective," he said.

And now, here are the results of the ASU Lodestar Center's 2019 Solutions Collaboratory.

2019 UnConference logo vertical

2019 Solutions Collaboratory

Question #1

"When I think of my organization's work in the community, it would be great if..."

Collaboration and partnership

Votes

8

Community partnerships were easier to navigate
Votes

7

We could collaborate more to maximize impact
Votes

5

Didn’t see each other as competition but collaborators for greater impact
Votes

5

Collaboration working together to expand and grow
Votes

3

We created more win/win partnerships
Votes

2

We had more partnership and collaboration to move the needle on policy
Votes

2

More collaborative partners
Votes

1

Collaborate, not compete
Votes

1

There were more collaborative efforts across the board
Votes

1

True collaboration

Pages

Lobbying and advocacy

Votes

12

We could lobby together to better address root causes on a policy level rather than create programs that address symptoms
Votes

2

We were involved in more advocacy together

Mergers

Votes

6

Similar organizations would merge together
Votes

4

Nonprofits merge to achieve economies of scale
Votes

4

Organizations would consolidate to concentrate impact

Accountability

Votes

5

The “that’s not my job” mentality was gone
Votes

1

There was more personal accountability

Fundraising

Votes

3

Nonprofits were taught how to spend money
Votes

1

Fundraising worked together
Votes

1

We had the funds to grow and achieve our core values

Other responses

Votes

2

We could focus on our assets
Votes

1

We could eliminate homelessness
Votes

1

Abide by best practices
Votes

1

They invest more in branding, communications and marketing
Votes

1

We worked directly with beneficiaries

2019 Solutions Collaboratory

Question #2

"If I had a million-dollar gift show up, no strings attached, I would             to create a lasting impact."

Invest inside the organization

Votes

15

Invest in my employees
Votes

4

Hire and train more nonprofit professionals
Votes

4

Invest in people
Votes

3

Halt operations for one month to focus on staff, vision and overall heal the organization
Votes

2

Build capacity, additional staff, training/professional development
Votes

1

Invest in organizational infrastructure to be able to expand
Votes

1

Set my programs up to be sustainable for years then be able to focus revenues also on new programs that are needed

Awareness and education

Votes

7

Invest in future leaders, create systematic change that would more equitably fund systems for long-term change
Votes

2

Take different groups of kids to new and different environments
Votes

2

Invest in early education (pay for tutors, teachers and supplies)
Votes

2

Educate our future leaders on the importance of nonprofit work
Votes

1

Scholarships for nonprofit leaders to further education
Votes

1

Increate visibility of the important role of nonprofits play throughout or community using widespread public campaigns
Votes

1

Train and provide education for better volunteerism leadership

Collaborate

Votes

7

To create lasting impact I would use 1 million to develop an interface that allows nonprofits/agencies to share resources and opportunities
Votes

1

Collaborate with other leaders in the nonprofit sector
Votes

1

Fund a merger for nonprofits with the same mission & vision
Votes

1

Create a collaborative effort between all three sectors
Votes

1

Invest & fund problem-solving programs
Votes

1

Fund collaboration effort to close income gap

Create an endowment fund

Votes

5

Start an endowment that started an open grant cycle focusing on solutions for cross-sector collaboration
Votes

2

Create an endowment fund
Votes

2

Build the endowment fund, fund the greatest need
Votes

1

Create an endowment

Housing

Votes

2

Housing
Votes

2

Create integrated housing and job training program
Votes

2

Build senior housing continuum of care community in phoenix
Votes

1

Fund a program that provides housing to the homeless families
Votes

1

D.V. shelter for LGBTQ individuals

Advocacy

Votes

3

Use it to lobby the state government to change the way K-12 education is funded – to equal distribution of property taxes in a county to each school, to level the playing field of “poor performing” schools, because education for all is the key
Votes

3

Fund progressive advocacy

Invest outside the organization

Votes

5

Invest in and support local nonprofits by means of trust funds to keep money over time
Votes

5

Invest in youth programs
Votes

4

Create a social/sustainable entrepreneurship program in ___’s business school
Votes

1

Invest, fund & support local nonprofits by means of trust funds to keep money over time
Votes

1

Invest it, grow it, contribute to innovative strategies for social change

Create a foundation

Votes

1

I would establish a foundation for the purpose of ending the education gap for low income students, spend the first year planning, ensure sustainability of the funding

Other responses

Votes

2

Prevention
Votes

1

Long term evaluation
Votes

1

Hire Jeff Snell
Votes

1

Give money to low-income people
Votes

1

Give to parents or students in need who find selves in a cycle of poverty/financial stress towards goals to get out of cycles

2019 Solutions Collaboratory

Question #3

"The biggest threat/opportunity to the nonprofit sector today is..."

Lack of diversity

Votes

15

Lack of diversity in leadership
Votes

2

Lack of diversity
Votes

1

No diversity, forgetting the mission

Lack of collaboration

Votes

6

Competition outweighs collaboration
Votes

4

Competition versus collaboration
Votes

1

Competitiveness between nonprofits
Votes

1

Oversaturation of market. Too many cooks in the kitchen not enough collaboration
Votes

1

Competition, no intergenerational collaboration

Lack of funding or resources

Votes

2

Overwhelming needs, not enough resources both monetary and human capital
Votes

2

Funders not allowing “true cost” program budget
Votes

1

Fear of losing/not getting funding
Votes

1

Dwindling support
Votes

1

The amount of nonprofits attempting to solve the same issue because of limited resources
Votes

1

Diluted resources
Votes

1

Lack of funds and interest to help others through selflessness
Votes

1

Fragmented giving
Votes

1

Loss/lack of financial vision
Votes

1

Ongoing funding

Risk aversion

Votes

4

Risk aversion
Votes

1

Concentrating on negative vibes
Votes

1

Doing things the same way

Current state of affairs

Votes

3

G.O.P.
Votes

2

New tax law and hostile federal government

Lack of understanding about the sector

Votes

4

Lack of education of how NPOs work/function

Other responses

Votes

5

Negativity (pessimists)
Votes

5

The illusion of business
Votes

4

Losing touch with communities they serve
Votes

3

Threat – thinking just your organization along can’t make an impact
Votes

2

Ignoring systemic problems for the sake of positivity
Votes

2

Inconsistency in fundraisers/staff and volunteers
Votes

2

Selfishness
Votes

2

Lack of communication efforts: utilizing modern tech efficiently
Votes

2

Nonprofits not operating like a business and therefore not attracting bright, motivated, driven minds
Votes

2

Win, winism

Pages

2019 Solutions Collaboratory

Question #4

"Legit leaders in the nonprofit sector focus on..."

People

Votes

11

People
Votes

7

Their team and recipients of service
Votes

3

Relationships
Votes

2

Inspiring people
Votes

1

Serving the people

Culture

Votes

16

Culture

Collaboration

Votes

7

Collaborating instead of competing
Votes

2

Collaborative solutions
Votes

1

Communication & collaboration between sectors
Votes

1

Collective collaboration to complement the work of other organizations in the community
Votes

1

Collaboration, facilitation, empathy, listening, kindness
Votes

1

Partnerships

Mission

Votes

6

Mission/impact
Votes

2

Driving the mission
Votes

1

Vision, empowering team
Votes

1

Impact, long-term, big picture
Votes

1

Their mission and vision grassroots driven
Votes

1

Equity. Advocacy. Access, achieving purpose/vision and planning for sustainability of the agency

Professional growth

Votes

5

Educating staff and empowering volunteers to best express and utilize their talents and gifts
Votes

1

Building other leaders and empowering collective action to maximize impact
Votes

1

Building up other/next generation leaders
Votes

1

Developing emerging leaders in the sector
Votes

1

Educating youth on the impact of nonprofit work
Votes

1

Enabling their team to be a community asset

Measurement and evaluation

Votes

3

Impact
Votes

1

Long-term impact and measurement
Votes

1

Determining impact and measurement
Votes

1

The outcomes for those they serve

Systematic change

Votes

6

Systematic change

Community presence

Votes

5

Working for their community

Problem solving

Votes

2

Finding practical and inclusive solutions
Votes

1

The roots of the problem to find solutions
Votes

1

Innovative ways to address problems and be pro-active

Empathetic leadership

Votes

3

Work-life balance

Inclusivity

Votes

3

Being inclusive

Other responses

Votes

5

Listening
Votes

3

Financial Sustainability
Votes

3

Reality and hope
Votes

3

The assets a community already has and have to unite those assets first by outside help
Votes

2

Action
Votes

2

Welcoming new ideas and solutions that can advance the mission and goals of the org
Votes

1

Getting the work accomplished
Votes

1

Productivity
Votes

1

Their real passion
Votes

1

Manage risk taking

Pages

2019 Solutions Collaboratory

Question #5

"Why do some social problems persist?"

Complexity and short-term solutions

Votes

15

We focus on symptoms, not causes/roots
Votes

6

Failure to address the root cause
Votes

3

We create boundaries rather than long-term solutions
Votes

1

Complexity: what are causes, what else impacts, how to ensure long-term support to solve, how to decide the solution
Votes

1

They persist because we all think in sound bites and short term
Votes

1

Not enough emphasis on prevention

Inequality, fear of change, and ignorance

Votes

5

Systemic inequality
Votes

3

Racism and implicit bias
Votes

3

Inequity
Votes

3

Social injustice and social inequality
Votes

3

Infrastructure/systematic inequality
Votes

3

Fear and ignorance
Votes

1

Stigma
Votes

1

Discrimination against minority groups, especially people who have disabilities
Votes

1

Generational social injustice
Votes

1

Isolation, “what can I do?” mentality

Politics and resources

Votes

9

Money, power, want to keep money and power
Votes

5

Broken systems
Votes

3

Capitalism
Votes

3

Lack of action from our president and congress
Votes

1

Fake news

Human factors and individualism

Votes

10

They benefit people with the most power/resources
Votes

2

Humans
Votes

2

Denial & selfishness/self-preservation
Votes

2

Lack of empathy
Votes

1

Lack of care, it doesn’t affect them personally
Votes

1

Social problems persist because too much focus is placed on profit and power over people and basic human needs

Poverty

Votes

2

Cycle of poverty/generational poverty, unequal opportunities in early life, Addressing the symptoms but not the root cause/issue
Votes

2

Poverty
Votes

2

Equal access to education
Votes

1

Poverty without hope or optimism

Finances

Votes

2

Lack of funding
Votes

1

Problems persist because funding is not long term

Collaboration

Votes

2

Lack of perspective and POA
Votes

1

Lack of consensus on how to solve them

2019 Solutions Collaboratory

Question #6

"What is the purpose of leadership education for nonprofit executives?"

Innovative ideas

Votes

5

Innovation, thinking outside the box
Votes

4

Bigger thinking
Votes

2

Allowing for other thoughts and new ways of solving problems
Votes

2

To motivate/inspire leaders to be innovative in how work is delivered
Votes

1

To help them remain effective and create innovative solutions to keep up with growing needs. Get out of the “this is the way we’ve always done it” mindset

Teach others

Votes

5

To share and pick up new ideas/approaches to old problems
Votes

2

Provide knowledge and establish expectations
Votes

1

To develop more good leaders in nonprofits

Growth

Votes

4

Growth, continued change and improvement to reach more
Votes

3

To grow and evolve

Learning

Votes

4

Leaders are learners too
Votes

1

New ways of thinking, innovate new models of fundraising

Other responses

Votes

4

To keep the table legs of the organization stable
Votes

1

Society is always shifting, so it is important to know the who, what, when, where and why when it comes to serving as a leader. It’s important to stay updated
Votes

1

Really – you have to justify this
Votes

1

Sustainability
Votes

1

Networking with those who fully commit to organization mission, vision and values

What comes next?

We were delighted by the response to our UnConference and by the data that emerged. In 2020, look for our programming to incorporate many of these themes, from more collaboration to investing in your people. Subscribe to our newsletter for updates from us twice a month.

Photo: On stage, Jeff Snell (left) and David Bornstein shared their observations about the Solutions Collaboratory.

Jeff Snell and David Bornstein

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