From The Desk of The Executive Director - On Collaboration

We hope you enjoy this new monthly feature from our Executive Director, Ginny Waller. Ginny will focus each month on a component of how nonprofit best practices really play out in STSM's strategic work to serve survivors of sexual violence and to educate our community to identify and prevent sexual violence. As always, let us know what you think! This first piece in the series focuses on collaboration.

For the most part, nonprofits originate from a scarce resources perspective--as much as we would like to, we'll never have enough money, staff, or resources to completely solve the many problems our community faces. In addition, asking volunteers and other organizations and businesses to participate in the mission is FAR more effective than staff’s efforts alone. Lastly, partnership can lead to a change in thinking – for both parties involved. However, while partnership is imperative to a successful mission, partnership is complicated and not always easy. It can lead to conflict and courageous conversations.

Thus, a big part of my job as the Executive Director of STSM is to seek out opportunities for partnership and collaboration. STSM’s partnerships are strategic and based on what the agency requires to fulfill the mission, as follows: high quality, comprehensive services for survivors, professional education for law enforcement, prosecutors, and service providers, prevention education with our youth, stronger laws that improve prosecution and increase or bolster survivor rights, and community awareness of this public health epidemic.

Though it would be easy, we can't partner only with other agencies and individuals who think exactly like us or have the same background and experiences we do. First of all, if we are able to find someone like this, there is likely duplication of services and poor use of community resources. Secondly and perhaps more importantly, progress isn't made in an echo chamber. Even the most innovative thinkers can be stymied at a certain level of success where they're surrounded by group think or yes-men and women. Being challenged or told that someone doesn't agree with your perspective forces you to constantly reevaluate whether you truly believe in and can stand behind your positions and programs, if they should evolve or change, or if you simply need to do a better job at translating your core values and message to different and diverse audiences. Seeking out these alternative perspectives and partnering with those you know may challenge you is a sign of willingness to change and evolve; it's a signal that the agency is more committed to their mission than to their methods.

Finally, partnership also means working with people or agencies who have, in the past, taken actions you don't agree with or think are misguided. In those situations, as an individual and as an agency you're forced to evaluate whether those past actions prevent future collaboration. Sometimes that means giving others the benefit of the doubt despite questionable conduct in the past--not excusing or disregarding it, but being open to the idea that the person may have evolved since then or may just need education in that area. The reality is that people change, learn, and grow every day--and to be truly inclusive in outreach efforts sometimes means being willing to engage in conversation and collaboration with the full range of the Midlands’ community. These are certainly the most challenging partnerships, and they require a lot of energy and commitment from both sides to continued dialogue.

I am proud that STSM has more than 100 community partners. Our community partners include schools, government agencies, community and philanthropic organizations, law enforcement, churches, other nonprofit and for-profit businesses, and community leaders. We don’t always agree with each other’s decisions, but we are in the trenches together. In a united effort, we want to make our community a place that is supportive of survivors of sexual assault and working to end sexual violence.

During Sexual Assault Awareness and Prevention Month we spend a good deal of time recognizing our partners to praise them for their focus on STSM’s mission throughout the year and to engage them in the coming year’s efforts. I hope you will join me in congratulating them on their awards!

2015 Community Partner Awards:

Clinical Program - Transitions

Education Program - Columbia College

Crisis Program – University of South Carolina Division of Law Enforcement and Safety

Volunteer Program - Central Carolina Technical College

Board Member of the Year - John Wilkinson

Public Servant of the Year – Attorney General Alan Wilson

Volunteer of the Year - Patrick Anderson