The Sisters of Charity Foundation of Cleveland (the Foundation) is established in maintaining a commitment to support Sister-led, collaborative initiatives and ministries through sustainable funding. Yet, despite well-intentioned efforts, many organizations face challenges and often-unforeseen barriers that lie in moving from a collaborative initiative to a structured ministry. In 2015, the Foundation moved to address these challenges through Blocks and Bridges.
Blocks and Bridges is an educational series designed to assist Sister-led collaborative initiatives in the work of capacity-building and transition planning to strengthen ministry, build sustainable organizations, and continue to serve the most vulnerable populations in Northeast Ohio. Emphasis is given to lay partnerships and non-profit business strategies within the context of today’s realities.
In keeping with the Foundation’s shift towards an intergenerational focus, each participating ministry was asked to send one Catholic sister and one lay co-minister to take part in this year-long educational series.
“What’s unique about Blocks and Bridges is that it puts sisters and their lay co-ministers in formation together. Having a time for people who live a vowed vocation and for people trying to lead a lay vocation to think about what it is about this ministry that draws them together is often an overlooked piece in many other trainings,” commented Margaret Vogel of LifeBalance Enterprises.
Blocks and Bridges consists of group-training sessions customized and delivered by Janus Small of Janus Small Associates and Margaret Vogel of LifeBalance Enterprises. Sessions often include a guest speaker and time for sharing among participants. The program is also supplemented with several individual coaching sessions.
“In order to shape our curriculum, we surveyed the participants up front to determine their organizational needs and combined what they told us they needed with what we felt they needed as non-profit experts,” said Janus Small, President of Janus Small Associates.
Ten Sister-led organizations and 22 participants made up of a sister and lay partner team participated in the first cohort of Blocks and Bridges. A majority of participants reflected that since completion of Blocks and Bridges they have increased confidence in their knowledge pertaining to communications and marketing, fundraising and finance, creation of impactful Boards and structuring of staff and volunteers.
“Where I think this particular program is really effective is in the leadership of the Foundation. They do a good job of listening to the needs of their grantees,” added Margaret Vogel. “That kind of deep listening and those conversations take a lot of time and energy, but it shows they’re focused on effectiveness not just efficiency, and that makes all the difference.”
*The blocks and bridges pilot program was completed in June 2016 and the Foundation is planning for a second cohort beginning in January 2018