We are Still Listening

The WE in Lehigh Valley

Photo 2Though, PANO completed its official 2014 Listening Tour in July 2014, we are still listening.

One week after the completion of the tour in July, the board got together and drafted the four pillars of PANO’s strategic plan—which we are now starting to implement. Before we got too far into the weeds, however, we wanted to ensure that we accurately captured and interpreted what we heard so that we can most effectively walk alongside of community benefit organizations.

PANO’s immediate past board chair, Susan Gilmore, graciously set up a Lehigh Valley focus group on behalf of  PANO—hosted and sponsored by her employer, Familywize, in their beautiful Bethlehem office on Thursday, December 4, 2014. Many thanks to group attendees: Bill Vogler from Pinebrook Family Services, Sybil Stershic from Quality Service Marketing, Diane Zanetti from Turning Point, Arlene Lund from Project of Easton, Nancy Knoebel from Easter Seals, Mark Aurand from Davison & McCarthy, P.C. and Kayte Connelly from Best Principled Solutions.

Capturing the Pride of Community

I started the conversation with the question that got groups talking all over the Commonwealth: What do you love about your community?

Following are the themes that came out of that conversation:

  • Living, working and belonging to the local community with people we know
  • Community of people who are connected to each other
  • Vibrant, culturally rich and full of opportunities offered in the region
  • Right size
  • Location: Excitement of an urban environment but close to country
  • Lehigh Valley is home!
  • Resilience of the area—from significant layoffs in steel industry to growing and thriving again
  • Diversity of population
  • Returning youth—who desire to live in the Lehigh Valley
  • Strong work ethic

The similarities of this group’s answers to the top themes we heard around the state were compelling. Those themes included:

  • The talented, generous people who care deeply about the community
  • Our aliveness and forward movement
  • Our community’s size and location
  • Tenacious people with a strong work ethic
  • Our culture and local attractions

After noting that Lehigh Valley is one of only a few places in the state that reported that young people were moving back to live, I reviewed other listening tour results and how those results provide the foundation of our new strategic plan. For example, Collaboration rose as the top identified barriers to success, with Advocacy at the local, state and federal levels as a close second. I also reported the overwhelming desire of the sector to rebrand itself in new and different ways. And I asked: How does this resonate with you? Are these issues also being faced in the Lehigh Valley? The group’s response centered primarily on the theme of collaboration, but also remarked on the need for communication, advocacy and leadership development.


The group noted the need for more leadership in leveraging resources together—rather than idiosyncratically. Collaborations work—sometimes. But collaboration needs to be more formally defined. Collaborative seldom, if ever, work if it is volunteer-driven. Good collaborations often require an outside, paid facilitator to set minimum standards and ensure success.

Funding issues often get in the way. Sometimes, in fact, it works best if organizations partner with complementary rather than similar organizations so the competition over funding is eliminated. For example, Easter Seals has partnered with another organization to first share space. Over time, this partnership has grown to include joint programming. Other things that get in the way of collaboration include time. The amount of time needed for successful collaboration is enormous.

Probably the most critical component of collaboration is trust. Though many organizations want to work together for the common good, people often enter “collaborative” conversation feeling that they are “giving secrets to the enemy.” How can communities reach beyond that fear? How is trust built?

United Way has started many conversations around collective impact, making United Way of Pennsylvania a potentially strong partner for PANO in this area, along with a national organization called MANY.

Ideas for PANO’s Collaborative Outreach include:

  • Locally, the Chamber of Commerce hosts a Nonprofit Council and Business Partnership which is an example of a nonprofit and for-profit  collaborative effort; it is in its infancy and thus, a little “messy.” This Council is attempting to look at new ways of nonprofit funding (e.g. entrepreneurial, social impact fund, creating a social impact hub, changing nonprofit image).
  • Sponsor a day about collaboration where 2-3 out of the 10 mergers in the area share about what works and what does not work. Perhaps that would be place to delve deeper into the question of what conditions need to be place for collaboration to work.
  • Chart out what a continuum of collaboration would look like—to inspire thinking beyond mergers. Similarly a continuum with phases of collaboration may be useful.
  • Create a COLLABORATION HUB, a repository of WISH LIST’s and AVAILABLE RESOURCES for organizations so that PANO could be a matchmaker between what is needed and what is available—making connections between people and organizations. Examples could include: sharing staff, interns, partnerships available outside direct service area, noncompetitive/complementary partnerships.
  • Provide knowledge about how collaborations bring into play a whole other set of ethics and how they play out in partnership environments.
  • Consider adding Collaboration as a second arrow running across all four pillars in PANO’s new strategic plan.

Advocacy, Communications and Leadership

The group also:

  • Noted their support of PANO’s renewed focus on advocacy—giving nonprofits a voice at, local, state and federal levels—and how critical that connection is for leaders who are often caught in day-to-day crises.
  • Asked if the nonprofit sector can be rebranded as a whole sector OR if, perhaps, rebranding would be best done within sub-sectors.
  • Discussed the importance of creating and sustaining generations of leaders. In particular, we must promote and cultivate leadership from among the people that we serve in the nonprofit sector. This leadership development, in fact, could be done together—in a collaborative environment. For example, PCADV provides trainings to promote women of color from within their ranks. Perhaps PANO could develop a partnership with PCADV to provide this training to a broader community.

Thanks again to  Susan Gilmore and Familwize for hosting and sponsoring the Lehigh Valley focus group, and thanks to the wonderful attendees who took their valuable time to share thoughts and expertise. And as always, a special thanks to Maher Duessel, CPAs for partnering with PANO to make this Listening Tour possible!

We together WILL create thriving communities!

ListeningJoin The “WE”

If you want to join the conversation and 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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