The Impact Initiative: Catalyzing Impact through Collaboration

In May 2017, The Dow Chemical Company Texas Operations and United Way of Brazoria County co-produced an event called The Impact Initiative, a capacity building symposium designed for local nonprofits, school district foundations, county and municipal departments to immerse key staff members in a day of organizational development activities. The immediate goals of The Impact Initiative were to provide local nonprofits with the opportunity to invest in their own effectiveness, while at the same time, facilitating more vibrant collaborative partnerships between agencies across the region.

The content of the event’s breakout sessions was structured to reflect the results of a survey circulated by United Way of Brazoria County across its interagency network just a few months prior. Over 30 local organizations participated in the survey, rating their interest across 33 areas of capacity building activities. Equipped with this direct feedback, United Way of Brazoria County teamed up with Dow Texas Operations to craft a collaborative vision of The Impact Initiative. Together, they shaped the project through the open exchange of ideas, ultimately creating a collaborative process at its foundation.

The Impact Initiative was attended by 165 individuals, representing 65 local organizations. Speakers included representatives from Shift Philanthropy, Inc., United Way Worldwide, PYXERA Global, The Dow Chemical Company’s US Gulf Coast and Texas Operations, United Ways of Texas, and United Way of Brazoria County. The twenty breakout sessions offered to participants included four expert Q&A panels and covered topics such as establishing and maintaining corporate partnerships, collaborative planning, storytelling marketing, board development and governance, evaluating and measuring program success, leadership and staff development, online fundraising, and volunteer management.

Substantive partnerships and collaboration were the key themes of the event, with many breakout sessions specifically targeting the skills that nonprofits need to cultivate relationships with corporate partners, board members, volunteers, staff, donors, and stakeholders. “Partnerships among the private, public, and the nonprofit sector are vital to move the needle in community impact work. Collaboration was definitely the word of the day,” said Jenna Masters, executive director of United Way of Brazoria County.

The Impact Initiative received an overwhelmingly positive response from participants. In a post-event survey, 96% of participants said they are likely to attend another event sponsored by The Impact Initiative in the future. “The speakers did a great job of sharing their expertise to assist us in making our organizations more successful,” said Carmen Read, attendee. “The event was well done, well organized and an opportunity for us to meet others who share our goals in doing good things for our community.”

In the same post-event survey, 94% of participants said they were likely to use the information they received at The Impact Initiative to enhance their organization’s operations, and 53 attendees have agreed to participate in follow-up interviews.

Participating organizations are already commenting on direct outcomes from the event. The Brazoria County Library System applied for, and was awarded, a funding opportunity they learned about while attending The Impact Initiative. These funds provided for the renovation of a local library branch to build a “Family Place Library”, a designated space for children from birth to age 3 to engage in educational play. This program also provides parent | child workshops to connect caregivers to one-on-one access with child development specialists. While impact figures are not yet available, it is estimated that this outcome will touch the lives of hundreds of local families. Another reported outcome of The Impact Initiative came from Brazosport Cares, a food pantry located in Freeport, Texas. On the day of the event, the Executive Director of that organization met Carolina Aguilar, a local college student. She came onboard as an intern with Brazosport Cares shortly after the symposium and continues to work at the pantry today as their Volunteer Engagement and Education/Outreach Program Associate. Carolina also participated in the 2018 Women’s Health Conference at the Dow Academic Center at Brazosport College as a featured speaker on the topic of Do Good, Feel Good: The measurable health benefits of volunteerism.

The Impact Initiative created an opportunity for interagency connection that had never been attempted before in Brazoria County. The success of this event is made possible through the ongoing partnership between The Dow Chemical Company Texas Operations and United Way of Brazoria County. Through forging a shared vision, both organizations came to approach the collaborative process with the humility necessary for true social innovation.

And the innovation continues.

In November 2017, following the devastation Hurricane Harvey brought to the Texas Gulf Coast, The Dow Chemical Company and United Way of Brazoria County collaborated to produce Aftermath Aftercare: The Stress of Crisis Response. This professional development seminar was provided free of charge to first responders and professionals working in crisis management positions. The goal of the seminar was to address the mental health needs of crisis response and disaster relief providers following the unprecedented impacts of Harvey. Representatives from 28 local organizations, 65 participants in total, attended the event. The experience provided those in attendance with new tools to help themselves and their colleagues better understand the nature of the stress inherent in crisis response work, including information on compassion fatigue, identifying the symptoms of PTSD, and addressing professional burnout.

The supporting community nonprofit partners of Aftermath Aftercare included Brazos Place | Adapt Programs, Brazoria County Counseling Center, Inc., Counseling Connections for Change, Inc., Stephen F. Austin Community Health Network, and Youth & Family Counseling Services. Following the success of the seminar, The Dow Chemical Company Texas Operations powered a grant of $75,000 to support these partners in the post-Harvey mental health recovery of Brazoria County.

Future iterations of The Impact Initiative may not follow a convenient formula. The partnership between The Dow Chemical Company Texas Operations and United Way of Brazoria County is built over an infrastructure of collaboration and innovation, making the nature of its evolution flexible. The focus of Aftermath Aftercare was developed in direct response to the immediate local need, and the nature of The Impact Initiative itself will mean adapting the focus of the partnership and its future initiatives to target the real-time and prospective needs of the local community.