This past month several TEAM staff, including myself, attended the 2nd Annual Shared Risk and Protective Factor Conference in Keystone, Colorado. This conference is a partnership between the Colorado Dept. of Human Services, Dept. of Public Health and Environment and the Dept. of Education. The conference aims to bring youth serving agencies and organizations together to work collaboratively to impact the risk factors and protective factors that impact youth growth and development, both good and bad.

Traditionally, the nonprofit and the public health world has been very siloed in our work. For example, TEAM has historically been a drug abuse prevention organization. There are other organizations in our community that historically have served to prevent other at-risk activities, teen pregnancy, suicide, sexual assault, etc. Experts have known for decades that these risky activities all share many of the same risk and protective factors. To truly impact the behavior, we must impact these factors. This idea is the foundation of prevention work today and embodies the idea of getting “upstream” from the problem.

Since these are shared factors, it only seems logical that prevention organizations would work together to accomplish their respective missions. It also seems logical that collaborating would have the greatest impact on overall community health AND, if we get down to the nuts and bolts of it, CAN and WILL save lives. Therefore, we must all be collaborating, right?

Sadly, that is not often the case and it really is not that unusual. Throughout the country it is generally the norm. Frequently, agencies and organizations are quite content to stay in their own lane or “silo” in order maintain perceived harmony, especially nonprofit organizations. I witnessed that firsthand shortly after I started at TEAM. I merely mentioned suicide prevention at our Simply Red fundraiser and the following week I was visited by a longtime Executive Director from another nonprofit who warned me that I needed to stay in my own lane. Not being one to take a threat well, I began to talk with my peers about “silo busting.”

Fortunately, we have come a long way in a short time in this community. Progressive thinkers in the local nonprofit world are talking about collective impact and shared community health, which is great. We are doing a really great job at cooperating, but that is not enough. We must start collaborating.

Well, what is the difference?

Collaboration is coordinated and synchronized work that is the result of a continued effort to impact a shared outcome to a problem.

Cooperation is accomplished by the dividing tasks among organizations, groups or individuals so that each person is responsible for solving a portion of the problem.

True collaboration is really difficult work. True collaboration means giving up control and becoming vulnerable. It means being transparent about your short and long-term individual and organizational goals and sometimes putting the collective impact before those goals. True collaboration is inherently messy and is the “ewy-guey” of great work with broad reaching collective impact. True collaboration means putting everyone’s ego aside and being open to listening to everyone’s perspective and ideas.  

In order to really change and SAVE lives in our community we need to move from cooperating to collaborating. As the Executive Director of TEAM, I pledge to move from cooperating to collaborating in the name of our collective community health. I ask all the other nonprofits in our community to do the same. Together everyone achieves more. Hmmm??? That has a ring to it.?