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Nonprofit Resiliency Through Collaborative Education

This blog is written in inspiration from Foundant’s January 28th education webinar sponsored by Exponent Philanthropy. You can find the recording of the original event here.


An organization’s resilience doesn’t solely depend on internal resources. It can be built and further elevated through various collaborations as well. Aligning organizations' missions through education can skyrocket both parties' resilience efforts. In fact the Gifford Foundation, Nonprofit Lifecycles Institute, Mindflower Studio, and MXD Arts found this to be especially true during their collaboration.

Earlier this year I had the opportunity to facilitate a webinar centered around resiliency through collaborative education. In this webinar Lindsay McClung, Jennifer Bonnet, Abby Wilkymacky, and Kim Larkin discuss the benefits and lessons learned from their recent partnership.


How the Collaboration Began

In the past, the Gifford Foundation has geared their programs toward capacity building. They would work to assess the existing capacity of an organization then create a realistic understanding of how to move forward. However, once COVID-19 hit there was a much needed shift to reactive grantmaking, which showcased the necessity of a deeper connection between grantmakers and grantseekers. The Gifford Foundation wanted to ensure they were doing more than tossing money at a problem. They wanted to connect to those in their community and support them further than they had before. 

So Lindsay, Jennifer, Abby, and Kim set up a meeting to figure out how they could use each of their organization’s expertise to not only support nonprofit staff in this new world, but the board as well. From there, they hit the ground running.


Program Structure

It was from this meeting that they created the Embracing Disruption - Resilience Amidst a Changing Environment program. The focus was to engage organizations who were willing to take active steps toward resilience. Once there was an honest understanding of an organization’s commitment and needs from the program, a consultant was then paired with each nonprofit, along with implementation funds. There were also multiple virtual workshops, trainings, and meetings that focused on durable concepts such as the Table Top. The idea was that each of the legs was a category; Management, Governance, Business Model, and Systems. Each of the four legs supported the overall Mission of the nonprofit. This metaphor of a well rounded, steady organization is the key to resilience. 

Once aided with these tools, the program pushed for less planning and more action. When building resilience, it is imperative that you find a comfort in reassessing after each major action. 


Nonprofit Impact

Now, of course the many resources above were bound to be beneficial. But the most impactful aspect of this program was really the connections made. A lasting partnership between four different organizations is nothing to ignore, but what’s more important are the connections made between these organizations and the nonprofits.

Truly, a large part of the success was due to the one-on-one time nonprofits spent with the paired consultants as well as Kim and Abby. While the skills and advice of the consultants were a part of the success, a larger part were their personalities, which acted to ensure open communication. As we all know, the funder bubble can really assist in disconnect. Thankfully, having a consistent contact helped further the understanding of what defines meaningful aid for each mission, whether this contact is in a nonprofits own community or virtually.

It was found that the most beneficial aspect of the program was taking extra time during consulting sessions and before and after scheduled workshops to ask intentional questions and build a deeper understanding of just what a grantseekers view point is. Education isn’t just taking the right workshops. It’s also about learning what it’s like to be in someone else’s shoes.

Q & A

How are consultants matched? How is this important?
Lyndsay McClung - Associate Director, The Gifford Foundation
We have a lead consultant that checks for quality assurance. Then we interview consultants to see what their specialty is and to find out their personality. We try to get to know local consultants better through this. We want to be intentional about building these relationships. There has also been a local list collected of consultants in the area. This didn’t exist prior to the program but now there is a resource page on their website for others to use.

Jennifer Bonnet - President & CEO, Nonprofit Lifecycles Institute
We also encouraged consultants to meet with organizations prior to official pairings to make sure that they want to work together. Both sides can choose and we wouldn’t last minute shifts.

How do you conduct the readiness assessment?
Lyndsay McClung - Associate Director, The Gifford Foundation
For us it’s really about knowing the nonprofits, knowing that there is an openness to change. There should be a difference after the program, even if it’s slight. We want not only the teams but the boards to be committed as well. This is one of the first times in our programs that these groups have had these types of conversations. It’s a very meaningful interaction.

Jennifer Bonnet - President & CEO, Nonprofit Lifecycles Institute
It really is more of a conversation surrounding what the program entails and if they are prepared for that. Some people haven't been able to make the commitment due to timing so we want to make sure they are ready.

Will you be doing it again?
Lyndsay McClung - Associate Director, The Gifford Foundation
The Embracing Disruption - Resilience Amidst a Changing Environment program really was a quick brainchild between Abbey and myself. It's important to act. I mean, make sure it’s an educated act, but act and continue to pivot. Just because you started with it one way doesn’t mean you have to end with it being the same. Haven't been completed yet. Depending on the results and feedback we receive at the end of this program, adaptations will be made to improve the program. It won’t be the same as there is no model or template in which to follow.

About the Author

In her time with Foundant (since 2011) Sammie Holzwarth has taken on many roles in her path to becoming the Product Manager of Grants & Scholarships. Starting as an intern with Foundant’s Marketing Team, Sammie then moved into a Client Success Manager role - successfully implementing well over 150 clients. Her Foundant adventure next took her to the Sales Team as Foundant’s GLM/SLM Product Implementation Engineer. Her breadth of knowledge and extensive experience working with a plethora of clients and in varying roles at Foundant fuels her passion and excitement to continually improve GLM/SLM, and herself which she now brings to her role as the Product Manager for Grants and Scholarships! Sammie has a passion for youth philanthropy and has spearheaded the Youth Giving Project in Bozeman, MT as well as serving as an Exponent Philanthropy Next Gen Fellow for 2016. Montana holds a special place in Sammie’s heart as she is a born and raised Montanan; from rolling plains to mountain tops, this is where she feels most at home and takes every opportunity to soak in the outdoors. When traveling beyond the Big Sky State, Sammie loves anywhere with a vibrant culture, and delicious food. Connect with Sammie directly at or on twitter @SammieHolzwarth.

Profile Photo of Sammie Holzwarth