It’s a striking irony: For all the work that organizations in the social sector do to build community, those who found and run these organizations often find themselves incredibly isolated.
Leadership is often lonely.
The inspirational men and women dedicating their lives to leading transformative programs in the social sector do it well. They have unsurpassed drive, knowledge, experience, and expertise. But when it comes to talking through challenges in their growth, brainstorming expansion ideas, or strategizing new initiatives, it can be — perhaps surprisingly — difficult to identify a trusted group of supportive peers who understand their pain points.
Just as strong social support is crucial to helping individuals break free of the cycle of poverty, so too are relationships key to leading and growing the most effective nonprofits across the nation. This is the power of Stand Together Foundation’s Catalyst Community.
When the Catalyst Program launched in 2016, it’s purpose was to identify social entrepreneurs that are helping individuals transform their lives, and equip them with the tools to do what they do best, better. We soon realized that perhaps as critical (or maybe even more so) as the management principles and business thinking the Catalyst Program offered was the community, support, and camaraderie that grew organically within each intimate cohort.
Time and time again, leaders have expressed excitement, gratitude, and even relief in the opportunity to tap into a network of like-minded leaders, reminding us that community really is critical for us all. As these peer relationships formed, spontaneous and exciting partnerships followed.
“We get stuck in our own little world,” said a Catalyst program participant, “and I failed to realize just how big the world was and how many other organizations were doing fantastic work and just how important it was to connect with them and to network with them, and if nothing else support one another in our efforts to continue to save more lives.”
“We went in as an organization looking to connect with nonprofits that do what we do, and the best ideas, the most inspiration came from organizations that have nothing to do with our specific industry,” said another leader. “That’s the beauty of…putting like-minded people together and inspiring each other.”
Since the first cohort of nine organizations, the Catalyst Community has grown to more than 160 social entrepreneur-led nonprofits that are helping people transform their lives and inspiring a new way of thinking in the social sector.
Some are changing the lives of people living with chronic homelessness through job-training and housing acquisition services, while others are treating mental illness, trauma, and addiction through groundbreaking recovery care. Through the Catalyst Program curriculum, organizations learn how to grow and scale their impact. Through the Catalyst Community, they are able to draw from one another’s strengths, lend support, and even fill in service gaps for one another.
Take Wellspring Living, for instance. Founded in Atlanta in 2001, the organization serves individuals who are at risk for or victimized by sexual exploitation, helping them reclaim their dignity and independence. Wellspring Living runs a number of successful programs, ranging from residential and career services programs that provide survivors with the space and skills they need to reclaim their lives, to consulting services for other anti-trafficking organizations. After the Stand Together Foundation Catalyst Program, Wellspring Living was able to connect with another Atlanta-based nonprofit and develop an art therapy program for the many child victims of human trafficking they encounter.
Peppers Ranch is another inspiring example of the power of the Catalyst Community in transforming lives. This organization brings together foster families in Oklahoma to live and serve alongside one another, sharing resources and support as they raise multiple foster children. But as Tonya Ratcliff, Executive Director of Peppers Ranch, knows personally, many of the children she and her fellow foster families care for have been impacted by trauma and require special mental health care to heal their wounds. Rather than reshaping their own programming in order to meet these critical needs of their families and children, Peppers Ranch now can rely on other organizations in the Catalyst Community for expertise on issues like trauma, mental health, and recovery. In other words, Peppers Ranch doesn’t just create community support among foster families; it gets to experience such community support itself.
Breaking the cycle of poverty is already an overwhelming, complex challenge, but the loneliness that plagues so many effective leaders can make it feel impossible. But we hope, through this community of like-minded peers and organizations, leaders are finding support and encouragement, in addition to creative solutions to organizational obstacles.
If the work alongside innovators like Wellspring Living, Peppers Ranch, and so many others has taught us anything, it’s that bringing innovative social entrepreneurs together has the power to transform many more lives than we could ever dream of on our own.