Community Outreach for Illinois Partners for Human Service (Nonprofit Consultant)

For nearly a year now, I’ve had the great honor of conducting community outreach on behalf of Illinois Partners for Human Service as a half-time contracted employee. Similarly to other short-term nonprofit consulting projects I’ve juggled over the course of the same year (e.g., Green Top Grocery’s capital campaign, INCCRRA meeting facilitation), my work for Illinois Partners is contracted through Mosaic Collective, LLC.

I met some of my Public Policy Heroes this year: Jack Kaplan (United Way Illinois [retired]), Jim Runyon (Easterseals), John Bowman (Shriver Center) and Sol Flores (Deputy Governor for Human Services). Other policy wonks will understand. 😉

Illinois Partners is a statewide network of over 800 human service organizations in every legislative district with every possible type of funding source.

“Partner” organizations support community and individual well-being across the lifespan. At some point, pretty much all of us will tap into services they offer, whether for a child experiencing delay, a parent that needs in-home support, or when we experience life’s inevitable challenges (job loss, divorce, trauma, natural disaster, chronic illness, etc.).

Without the professionals working in these organizations around our state, our quality of life would diminish, and our communities and neighbors would suffer. Unfortunately, their work isn’t always well understood, appreciated, or adequately funded.

An example of the research generated by Illinois Partners in conjunction with university economists in the Chicagoland area.

Knowing this, through the rubric of Illinois Partners, we collectively work together to build up the human services sector as a whole through research-based communications, public policy and budget advocacy, and best-practice dissemination.

Frameworks Researchers, commissioned by the National Assembly of Human Services, found that the term “human services” is a “cognitive hole:” people don’t know what the term means, so they fill in the blanks (the “hole”) based on their own worldview, and unconsciously reject conflicting information. Thus, “human services” is often perceived as (for example) a “safety net” that coddles lazy people – always those other people – never me. The communications model that we teach our Illinois Partners network first exposes language that undermines our own efforts, and then replaces that language with a research-based metaphor. Frameworks’s research identified the metaphors of human potential and construction as the most effective and widely understood. When applied, we first lift up how human services agencies bolster “human potential.” Next, we compare their work to constructing a solid home: just as a house requires a solid foundation and needs repairs over time, human service agencies “build well-being” for individuals and communities by giving them the materials they need for well-being and providing supports and maintenance over the lifespan.

As the only support staff for Illinois Partners in Central Illinois, my work over the past year was focused on intensive, one-on-one outreach to as many McLean County-based nonprofit executives as possible. Ultimately, I’ve logged over 50 (!) one-on-one meetings with McLean County leaders, with more in the queue!

Illinois Partners’ Board members, past and present, probably comprise the most outstanding, racially and geographically diverse group of nonprofit and business leaders I’ve ever seen serving on a single board. In April 2019, we recognized Laura Furlong at a McLean County Illinois Partners Council Meeting. Laura served for six years as an Illinois Partners board member and is retiring in June 2019. She helped bring me into the organization (thank you!), and I asked McLean County elected officials to officially commemorate her retirement, to which they graciously agreed and more than rose to the occasion.

In so doing, I’ve logged dozens of pages of notes about the current challenges and trends in the sector, and learned more than I ever imagined was possible in a year! This grassroots style outreach has expanded awareness of Illinois Partners’ research, increased participation in the statewide network, and raised new support dollars.

Giving a room and a voice for these outstanding community leaders generates amazing conversations and results. I love seeing it happen.

Supporting this work is a natural outgrowth of my prior career experiences serving as a budget and policy analyst and nonprofit advocate, and I’ve loved every second of it. I’m pleased to say I’ve been invited to return for another year of service. However, big changes are ahead: our founder and current executive director, Judith Gethner, is retiring and leaving enormous shoes to fill.

Central Illinois Human Service leaders met with new Deputy Governor for Human Services, Sol Flores, in Peoria before the budget was passed this spring.

I’m looking forward to working with our new leadership once the board completes the search, and wishing Judith godspeed in what I am sure will be a productive and adventurous retirement. Judith: thank you, so much, for giving me this opportunity. I’ve learned and grown and am so very grateful.

McLean County leaders Mendy Smith (Children’s Home & Aid), Mike Romagnoli (Community Health Care Clinic), and Anne Taylor (Marcfirst) are long time Illinois Partners, and will appear in a new video touting human services around Illinois that is currently under production. Once available, you’ll be able to see it on!

In my second year supporting Illinois Partners, in addition to continuing the work described above, I’ll be doing some heavy lifting on Census 2020 outreach. (This may seem random, but the Census matters greatly to the human services sector: dozens of programs are funded based on population, and Illinois could lose up to 2 Congressional seats depending on how well we count.)

We’ll work hard with our Illinois Partners and local stakeholders to ensure we count well in McLean County, despite challenges with a new online format and potential citizenship question.

Additionally, this next year, we plan to conduct an economic impact study on the human services sector in McLean County, which hasn’t been done since 2011.

I’m excited about what lies ahead, and humbled to be doing this work! P.S. All photos in this post are shot on an iPhone. As a photographer, I feel the need to offer this disclaimer so you you won’t judge them too harshly. 🙂