I love the Internet because people can find me so easily and that means I can learn about interesting partnerships like the one I’m about to share with you: Pathways to Home The Community Collaboration, a partnership of 16 different case management agencies in Seminole County, Florida. The recession is awful, but it is spurring some communities to do some radical re-structuring of their services and Seminole County is a good example of this. As Debbra Groseclose, one of the leaders in creating Pathways to Home Collaborative told me, this collaboration came about because her community had 1,200 homeless children in their school system and rather than take it slow and hope for the best, “we chose to move at warp speed.”

It all began when the state of Florida required each county to create a children’s cabinet composed of the local leadership on children’s issues. Debbra, along with her colleagues, conducted research into children’s needs and they learned a lot: 10% of the population lived in poverty, for instance. From this research they realized they had an enormous affordable housing problem which could be addressed through a strategy of consolidated, quality case management. Ultimately, they selected the Family Team Conference case management model, an evidence-based system which some were already familiar with in the County. But the goal was to get as many agencies using the same case management system as possible. But how?

As a result of creating the cabinet, “we had all the heavy hitters with case management services already signed on,” said Debbra. “We began to develop the collaborative and we kept having people say, ‘Yes, I want to hook on, too.’ When it all ended, 19 programs in 16 core agencies agreed to participate in the collaborative,” explained Debbra. Each agency agreed to use the Family Team Conference model, and to combine their staffs into one systematic assessment and referral process “skillfully knitted together,” into one case management system. A web-based data collection tool will ensure that no duplication of services occurs and staff can share information on client families.

The organizing process for this collaboration was interesting. Here are some of the highlights:

• They did not hire a facilitator to help the group develop a memorandum of understanding (MOU).  They felt they had the skills within the membership to hammer out an agreement themselves which they did in six short weeks for 16 organizations (a record in my book). They set a requirement that anyone participating in the collaboration had to be able to vote on behalf of their agency; this helped the process move along quickly.

• They made the decision to sunset their MOU after 12 months in order to re-visit the terms of the agreement and update it based on some of the changes that might have occurred during the interim.

• They did not incorporate the collaboration, deciding instead to use a fiscal agent because the collaborative partners did not want to report to another nonprofit agency.

• Each agency must agree not to compete for funding individually against the collaboration.

The Collaboration does have its difficulties; they would dearly love to have more operating funding for their budget. But despite this, Seminole County decided that 16 nonprofits could find a better way to deliver services to the homeless and at-risk families in their community. And without extra money, without extra staff, certainly without extra time, they saw what needed to be done and they did it. This is a wonderful example of how the nonprofit sector can collaborate to re-envision a better local service system for the people.

imageJean Butzen, Mission Plus Strategy consulting, specializes in mergers and alliances in the Chicago area.