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What Can Listening Tell Us About Successful Cross-Sectoral Partnerships?

Across the country, families seeking affordable housing, women seeking shelter from domestic violence and recent immigrants seeking legal support have all encountered the same stark reality: the demand for health and human service programs significantly outweighs the supply.

Public funding for such programs has dropped in communities throughout America.  There simply isn’t enough public support to meet the growing demand for these services.

Yet in the face of such grim realities, we continue to see passionate people and organizations developing innovative solutions to these funding constraints.

Recently, George Mason University (GMU) and Community Wealth Partners engaged in a “Listening Project” with the Fairfax County Virginia Human Services departments, intended to bring together nonprofits, corporations and County staff.  We sought to uncover how Fairfax County might best continue to meet human service needs through increased nonprofit capacity in a time of decreasing government funding support.

The importance of developing a cross-sectoral approach to improving community outcomes across Fairfax County emerged as one of the key themes from our intensive listening sessions.  We found that:

  1. Nonprofits, corporations and the County recognize the respective strengths, limitations, and interests affecting each party’s ability to develop solutions to these issues alone.
  2. By working together, as true partners, they can improve access to and allocation of existing resources that will yield tangible, positive results for the community.

These observations parallel what Fairfax County has learned with its 10 Year Campaign to End Homelessness.  Fairfax County has come to understand that building successful cross-sectoral partnerships require:

  • Time.
  • Long-term commitment.
  • Equal partnership from each sector at the table.
  • Jointly developing and setting goals.
  • Appropriately aligning interests of each sector so that each party’s self-interest merges with community interests.

And, at the end of the day, the community voice cannot be overshadowed by the logistics of bringing together the sectors. Nonprofits, County agencies and corporations may lead the charge of delivering services, but we must include the perspective of the individuals who receive these services.

Fairfax County is working hard to address its citizens’ needs and to bridge service gaps by applying learnings from this Listening Project to future cross-sectoral partnerships.  The County, GMU and Community Wealth Partners look forward to continuing to uncover the ingredients to success in such partnerships.

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Diana Peacock

About Diana Peacock

As a director, Diana Peacock engages in strategic partnerships with leadership teams, provides client engagement oversight and supports the overall growth and development of the firm. Diana has worked with a broad range of nonprofits and foundations, with particular focus on youth-serving, family services, and community development organizations. She has deep experience leading non-profit executives and Boards through strategy design and business planning, helping them pivot their organizations’ focus to meet growing needs and solve bigger social problems. Diana excels at assisting organizations with defining their impact, especially in highly complex environments, and has facilitated a successful merger of two national nonprofits. See Diana's full bio

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