As spring begins and flowers start to bloom again, it seems easier to find inspiration. Family, friends or even a stranger on the street can open our eyes to fresh ideas from a different perspective. When the Neilsen Foundation began its grantmaking in 2003, the focus on improving the world for people with spinal cord injuries was clear, but how this goal would be accomplished was both ambitious and uncertain. Our grantmaking was transactional. With the expansion of our programming, our focus on our mission, vision, and values, as well as our desire to foster a culture of creativity and collaboration, we have evolved by placing relationships at the core of our grantmaking philosophy.
Our grantees are our partners. We understand the Foundation cannot achieve its mission without them. Collaborating with others has also helped us expand how we put both our mission and our values into action. We continue to grow by sharing ideas, learning from like-minded organizations, and ensuring the voices of people with lived experience are a part of the conversation. Understanding we are just one voice, not the voice, has allowed us to remain flexible and evolve to better serve our various constituencies.
Over the last 20 years, our thousands of grantees have informed our processes, pointing out unintended barriers and sharing thoughtful solutions. Our connections to the American Spinal Cord Injury Association, United Spinal, as well as Unite2Fight Paralysis remind us of the specific needs of those living with spinal cord injury. At the end of May, with the support of the Center for Effective Philanthropy, we’ll launch our second Grantee Perception Survey to gather candid feedback from our recent grantees.
Relationships with organizations whose missions don’t specifically focus on disability, like the Nonprofit Finance Fund or Team Rubicon, have allowed us to discover alternative ways to approach our day-to-day business. Working together serves to strengthen their disability awareness, as well. We appreciate how all of these partnerships have made us stronger.
Where do you look to find new ideas? Can you expand the circle of people you typically reach out to? Are there new partners or collaborators that might help you approach things differently? Working with others allows us to share risk, expand our workload, and be a part of something bigger. It can be unnerving to initiate these conversations, because your assumptions may be challenged—and you might be pushed to do things differently. But if you can genuinely listen, putting ego and the fear of the unknown aside, you might find inspiration.
As Helen Keller said, “Alone we can do so little; together we can do so much.”
Imagine what’s possible,