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Breaking Down Silos: Community-Based Literacy Organizations Join Forces to Collaborate & Provide Support

Community-Based Literacy Organizations Join Forces to Collaborate & Provide Support

by Andy Gail & Casey Guditus

“From fundraisers to best practices, we have been able to work together and enhance ideas and concepts to new heights.”

All too often, nonprofits work in silos and not in conjunction with others in their area, region, or state. They see other nonprofits as competition for donors, volunteers, grants, and other resources; but so often when given the chance (or when they are forced) to collaborate, success can follow. In one such case here in Virginia, what started as a project focused on volunteer recruitment strategies has ascended into new heights of collaboration. Six community-based literacy organizations (CBLOs) came together to work on a project for the 2021 Adult Education and Literacy Conference ReMix to figure out best paths to increase volunteer diversity and recruitment. Our team consisted of Ahoo Salem from Blue Ridge Literacy, Nausha Brown-Chavez from The READ Center, Linda Jilk from Literacy Volunteers of the  New River Valley, Steven Reid from Literacy Volunteers of Charlottesville/ Albemarle, Andy Gail from Literacy Volunteers  Winchester Area, and Casey Guditus from Peninsula READS. While our presentation found several techniques and resources that could be applied to any CBLO, it was the collaboration and support we found in our monthly planning sessions that provided even more value. This collaboration between our nonprofits with similar missions has led to increased support, ideation, and teamwork.

The six of our organizations individually recognize the unique positions CBLOs occupy within the broader context of adult education and the larger community. Traditionally, we partnered with other organizations in our area offering different services to supplement our own. This was the first time for all of us collaborating with similar organizations. This collaboration has been especially impactful during the COVID-19 pandemic. In addition to our monthly meetings, we often email each other with programmatic, fundraising, and structural questions unique to CBLOs. The responses have been swift, understanding, and extremely helpful; with topics ranging from tutor-student troubles, developing new fundraising ideas, the return to in-person learning, and finding good deals on learning materials.

As CBLOs, we have low staff numbers, aren’t eligible for many large grants, and rely largely on donations and the generosity of community volunteers. By leveraging our size as a collective, we hope to move toward eligibility for larger grants and memberships. Creating a state-wide network supports the community as well, creating smoother channels for referrals of both volunteers and students. We also can leverage our collective knowledge and experiences to develop and implement new and creative ideas. From fundraisers to best practices, we have been able to work together and enhance ideas and concepts to new heights.

Even though the six of our CBLOs occupy similar niches within our respective communities, the size, staff, and resources available to each organization vary greatly. By adding each other to our organizations’ mailing lists and events calendars, we are able to support each other in fundraising, volunteer training, and other development efforts. For example, Peninsula READS encourages their volunteer tutors to attend workshops and professional development opportunities offered through Literacy Volunteers of Charlottesville/Albermarle (LCVA). LCVA’s larger staff size makes these opportunities more numerous, and a virtual format makes them accessible to volunteers across the state.

Steven Reid from Literacy Volunteers of Charlottesville Albemarle said it best: “While the outcome related to the identified problem was great, the larger impact was the connections and collaboration we made between our organizations. We all do very similar work and serve similar clients in our own areas of the state. We have shared resources, struggles, concerns, and over the past six months—we have used each other as sounding boards for new ideas and best practices. We plan on continuing to meet monthly to touch base and see how each organization is growing and progressing. We feel staying connected will allow us to continue working to improve our organizations by maintaining the team we’ve built. We’re also looking to invite other CBLOs from across Virginia to join us.”

If you are interested in joining our monthly CBLO Team meeting feel free to email Casey (programs@peninsulareads.com) or Andy (agail@lvwa.org). We host monthly Zoom meetings to discuss the most pressing concerns we have as CBLOs, create a mutually supportive environment to tackle those concerns together, and elevate our individual programs.

Andy Gail Andy Gail is the Executive Director for Literacy Volunteers Winchester Area. After working in corporate America and doing philanthropy in his free time, he quickly realized that he could leverage his business acumen and make a difference in his community every day. With the help of an amazing team, he was able to revive the 35-year- old origination and double the budget despite the pandemic.
Casey Guditus Casey Guditus has worked as the Program Specialist at Peninsula READS since 2018. As a former volunteer for various nonprofit organizations and Peninsula READS itself, Casey recognizes the importance of community collaboration for increased capacity and impact.