At Community Action Partnership we are always thinking about how to increase our impact, broaden our support, and grow community commitment to ending poverty. About six years ago our agency leadership team went through a transformational leadership process that helped us think differently about what it meant to grow community commitment to our work. Prior to that transformative leadership process, we often fretted about how to get our message to the mayor, the big business CEO, the school superintendent, the county commissioner, and many others who are part of the formalized power structure of our community. We were often frustrated with their lack of response and lack of commitment to our cause.
During the transformational leadership process, we started to talk about looking for the “8s, 9s, and 10s” in our community, regardless of their standing in the formalized power structure. We recognized that it was really the people who were at an 8, 9, or 10 in their level of commitment to us and our work who could help us get things done. Those 8s, 9s, and 10s come from all ages, backgrounds, economic situations, and areas of expertise. The key is engaging them in a way that is meaningful to them in order to further our work. Sometimes that means they can give us their time, sometimes they can give us their money. Sometimes they can lend us their name, sometimes they can share their experience and expertise. All are valuable in our work to inspire and equip people in our community to end poverty and build community sustainability.
I’ve been thinking a lot about this lately with the passing of the man who was the long-time landlord of our agency office space. John Skelton lived a long, productive life in our community. He was a 10 in terms of commitment and community engagement. He gave his time, talents, and treasures to work that he believed in and that he felt made our community a better place for all of us. As our landlord he supported our work in very concrete ways. When we needed our office space to function better, he helped us make that happen. When we needed it to expand to support new or increased work, he helped us with that. His ongoing support has allowed us to grow, work efficiently and effectively, present a professional face to our community, and provide services to the under-resourced members of our community in a setting that gives them hope.
There are times when someone who is recognized as part of the formalized power structure, a recognized mover and shaker, is also someone we can call on as an 8, 9, or 10 in commitment to our cause. But if our focus is on attracting the “powers that be,” we might miss someone who furthers our work in the way that only they can and gives us exactly the support we need at exactly the right time. Keep your eyes open for those 8s, 9s, and 10s!
Lisa Stoddard has worked in Community Action for the past 18 years, serving as the executive director of a community-based, non-profit community action agency for the last eight of those years. She has a degree in English with a secondary education emphasis from the University of Montana, is a Certified Community Action Professional (CCAP) and a Bridges Out of Poverty certified trainer.