Join the “We”: Join the Conversation

What happens when we invite conversation?  What does the conversation itself produce?

Conversations generate ideas which generate other ideas and lead to new ways of thinking and doing.  Ultimately, of course, the goal of dialogue is to build community initiatives that lead to real results.   And WE can do that better if WE partner with real people who work for nonprofit, for-profit and government sectors.

During my first week as PANO’s Executive Director in December 2013, I shared my vision for our Commonwealth’s nonprofit sector.  I said that we must come together to have frank conversations, to break down barriers to communication.   I said that together WE can create something different than we can create on our own.  The over 100 responses including 40+ requests for face-to-face meetings indicated that WE as people hunger for civil discourse and conversation.  

But who is the WE?  Put very simply, the WE is anyone interested in joining the work designed to build thriving communities—work that is already happening.  The WE includes people from for-profit, government sectors and nonprofit organizations.   As nonprofits, we do not own the passion for strong communities.  The WE includes nonprofits and anyone caring deeply about the greater good.


In the 10 weeks since I started, the message of WE has grown organically because the dialogue itself allows us to test new concepts.   I have learned that WE do not have the language needed to build true relations between sectors.  For example, when I say the word sponsorship, the word immediately connotes a very specific transaction—involving money exchanged for certain marketing benefits.  Our conversations around sponsorship now use the language of partners and affiliates, rather than the language of sponsorships or exhibitors.

The concept of “WE” has caught fire.  For example, the “PANO” conference (mark your calendars for April 28-29) begins to model the WE.  It is no longer PANO’s conference but OUR conference involving another nonprofit, two banks and one health insurance company (so far)—planning together to engage in conversation and to break down walls between sectors.

If you want to listen, participate or even join as a full conference partner, check out the date and time for our next conversation which will be streamed live and also recorded on Creating the Future Blog


As a newbie Executive Director, I immediately started meeting with people one-on-one in South Central PA, while revving up the already energetic PANO staff and board to organize meetings across the state. I want to learn as much as I can about the communities served by the 50,000+ nonprofit organizations.

Last week, WE at PANO launched our official Listening Tour by visiting Pittsburgh. 


I fell in love with this city that I had previously blown by in my rush to get elsewhere.  Only the hospitality of our hosts overshadowed the beauty of this riverside, urban environment, the wonderful food and the much-needed shelter from the crisp, winter air.

More important, I was humbled by the gracious reception that we received from Kate Dewey, President of The Forbes Funds; Samantha Balbier, Executive Director of the Greater Pittsburgh Nonprofit Partnership (GPNP); Diana Bucco, Vice President of the Buhl Foundation and Brian Magee, CEO of the Pittsburgh Urban Magnet Project (PUMP).  Along with the concept of “WE” that seemed to resonate in conversation, we also heard the following concepts (not prioritized) as possibilities for future engagement:

  • Creating Connections within and Across Sectors
    Deep relationship-building with local neighborhoods, larger communities to the state legislature and beyond
  • Providing a Voice
    For the nonprofit sector and with the sector, with the for-profit community and in the state legislature—working with existing advocates and initiatives across the state.
  • Using Research and Data
    With relevant narrative to support the numbers
  • Communicating the Value of the Nonprofit Sector
    For the sector and with the sector
  • Building Capacity
    Particularly around issues of change management
  • Interactive Asset Mapping
    Showcasing successful initiatives and communities across the state

We heard that PANO needs to follow-through and act fairly quickly.  WE can do this—and only because the WE involves many people and partners.

Finally, a special shout-out to PANO board members, residents of Southwest Pennsylvania who warmly hosted us, carted us around and provided introductions to those we were able to meet and some who we will catch up with later: Marilyn Jenkins, Executive Director, Allegheny County Library Association;  Drew Goldstein, Principal, RoundSquare Group, LLC; Jordan Pallitto, Consultant, The Hill Group, Inc.

Special thanks to Maher Duessel, CPAs for partnering with PANO to make this Listening Tour Possible!

We are so looking forward to our next visit to Pittsburgh!


If you want to join the conversation and participate in some way, don’t want to wait until we come to your community.

At PANO, WE are not interested in PANO—we are interested in what WE can do with all of you.  Join us.  Join the WE!

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