Learning to Share Power Within an Organization

In this episode,we explore the topic of sharing power, which is a key component and strategy when advancing equity in collective impact work. But what can sharing power look like in practice? How are decisions made, and how is power distributed amongst a broad set of colleagues?

To explore this topic, we learn about the work of Civic Canopy, a nonprofit that focuses on supporting collaborative efforts across Colorado. As part of their own commitments to supporting equity within their work, the Civic Canopy team took an intentional look within, and explored how they could share leadership and power across their organization.

Joining us for this conversation to share about Civic Canopy’s journey so far, we hear from Bill Fulton, Kale McMonagle, and Alice Pugh. They discuss how organizational structures and processes have changed within their work, what challenges they’ve encountered, and what they have learned so far about sharing power across roles.

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Please find a transcript of this talk further down this page.

References and Footnotes

More on Collective Impact


The Intro music, entitled “Running,” was composed by Rafael Krux, and can be found here and is licensed under CC: By 4.0.

The outro music, entitled “Deliberate Thought,” was composed by Kevin Macleod. Licensed under CC: By.

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Podcast Transcript

(Intro) Welcome to the Collective Impact Forum podcast, here to share resources to support social change makers working on cross-sector collaboration.

The Collective Impact Forum is a nonprofit field-building initiative that is co-hosted in partnership by the nonprofit consulting firm FSG and the Aspen Institute Forum for Community Solutions.

In this episode, we explore the topic of sharing power, which is a key component and strategy when advancing equity within collective impact work. But what can sharing power look like in practice, and how are roles changed when you’re sharing power across your organization? To explore this topic, we learn about the work of Civic Canopy, a nonprofit that focuses on supporting collaborative efforts across Colorado. As part of their own commitments to supporting equity within their work, the Civic Canopy team took an intentional look within, and explored how they could share leadership and power across their organization. Joining us for this conversation to share about Civic Canopy’s journey so far, we hear from Bill Fulton, Kale McMonagle, and Alice Pugh. They discuss how organizational structures and processes have changed within their work, what challenges they’ve encountered, and what they have learned so far about sharing power across roles. Moderating this discussion is Collective Impact Forum executive director Jennifer Splansky Juster. Let’s listen in.

Jennifer Splansky Juster: Hello, everyone and welcome to today’s podcast. I’m Jennifer Juster, executive director of the Collective Impact Forum.

In today’s podcast conversation we will be exploring the journey of one organization who has proactively and intentionally been working to share leadership and power across members of their team. This topic is ripe for conversation. We know that many organizations and collective efforts are either to work towards more intentional shifting and sharing of power. It’s a very tricky and complex thing to do. In fact, here at the Forum when we think about the five strategies for centering equity that we often talk about, shifting and sharing power is probably the strategy that we have the fewest examples to learn from. I am excited for today’s learning. This learning is applicable within the boundaries of a single organization such as today’s example, but it’s also very transferable into cross-organizational collaborative leadership context. In today’s conversation we will be talking with leaders from the organization, Civic Canopy, about their own work to be centralized and share leadership and power across their eight-person organization.

Joining me today are three members of the Civic Canopy team. Each will introduce themselves in a moment, but it my pleasure to welcome Bill Fulton, Kale McMonagle, and Alice Pugh. Welcome, everybody. I would love to start by asking you to each introduce yourself and tell a little bit about what brought you to the work at Civic Canopy.

Bill Fulton: Thanks, Jen. I’ll kick it off. This is Bill Fulton. I’m the executive director and founder of the Canopy. What brought me to the work originally was this feeling that there was just something missing in the way civil society kind of wrestles with questions of democracy and the world that we live in. I had spent some time in East Germany and West Germany before the wall came down and at that time, saw this huge missing space for organizing the church basements of the world, the labor unions, the student dorms. Those are what was ultimately brought the wall down in East Germany. We used to have a name for that space. We know that the market organizes the economic sphere. The state organizes the political sphere, but what would you name the thing that brings people together in civil society. The Civic Canopy became that concept of a way in which we could in our language, the many working together as one for the good of all. That question of could this work. What does it look like informed some dissertation work that I did and what I think my interest was what many people find and what draws people to collective impact work in general is how do we become more than the sum of our parts?

Kale McMonagle: I’m Kale McMonagle. I’m a collaboration director with the Civic Canopy. I joined the team just about four years ago. I came into this work having a unique experience in my undergrad and master’s work being trained as a facilitator within a communications studies department. It was that work that led me to see the power of facilitation to help support the conversations that Bill was talking about. But then I really wanted to be a part of an organization that was also dedicated towards equity as a key result of those conversations. That’s what landed me at Civic Canopy.

Alice Pugh: I’m Alice Pugh. I’m a collaboration manager with the Civic Canopy. I live in Leadville, Colorado, a small rural community up in the mountains. And ran a nonprofit for 28 years so had a deep knowledge of what the challenges and joys are of running a nonprofit. But after 28 years, I was really burnt out and really wanted to move beyond bigger than just the work that we were doing locally. I really understood that anything that could bring us together in this network of people really driving forward for those goals was where I wanted to be. And who could resist the mission of the many working as one for the good of all. So when I heard about the Civic Canopy, I felt like I could bring a rural perspective to this beautiful vision.

Jennifer Splansky Juster: Wonderful. Tell us a little bit more about the work of Civic Canopy as folks are going to be learning so much about your organization internally.

Kale McMonagle: The Civic Canopy works across the state of Colorado to support collaboration whether it’s through collective impact efforts, through coalition building, across the board. We’re a small team of just about 10 folks give or take depending on how many interns we have at a given time. We work, have worked as a backbone for a number of collective impact efforts and now we’ve kind of transitioned to supporting those folks who are playing that role of backbone, but then also working with other foundations and organizations to support other folks to just increase their ability to collaborate with one another.

Jennifer Splansky Juster: We’re eager to learn more about how the Civic Canopy has evolved their own organizational roles, structures, and policies to advance equity and better share power and leadership across the organization. Can you tell us a little bit about how the transformation began, this journey toward equity?

Alice Pugh: I have loved this journey. I’ve been on my own personal journey towards equity for many, many, many years both in my work with the Latino community but also just in general as an individual. At the Canopy we’ve always had collaboration as a very core belief in our heart and soul, and so if we’re collaborating and we’re really looking at trying to support networks and other coalitions come to be better at equity and better at health equity, we needed to think about our own structure internally as well. And then, the whole summer of the pandemic and George Floyd and we wanting to be very vocal about our support of equity, but really wanting to be intentional and so I think that’s what really started, to start to have some deep conversations about our own definitions, our own journeys internally, and what were the structures that either allowed us to thrive or really put us on the outside of things.

I remember some conversations we had around definitions about what different aspects of equity were. How did we see them? What was our perspective? It was surprising and very vulnerable but very authentic and honest and at the point, we really started to look at our own practices, were they equitable? Were the tools we were sharing with our partners really based in equity? And then, what was our structure within? We were like this driving White organization that just worked so hard and yet didn’t really care for each other. What were some of the bumps that needed us to pay attention to?

I think that’s what really started about our equity journey, wanting to be intentional, but not wanting to be superficial and really wanting to be really clear that we were willing to do the work on equity.

Bill Fulton: I’m going to also name that as we succeeded in changing some of our hiring practices, we had an increasingly diverse staff and with two White co-executive directors who, me being there for 20 years and Jodi being there for 10, two senior White leaders at the top of an organizational chart, recently diverse younger team, that structure was not conducive to creating really authentic honest conversations like you need.

So we kind of asked ourselves, what would we need to look like in order to foster the kind of communications? I think working with some great consultants really put in motion this idea of a leadership disruption. How could we create the internal organizational structure that we would be confident could have the type of honest discussions that we needed?

Alice Pugh: Just to jump back into that, Bill, having been an ED for so many years and working with so many people in community that the executive director could take on more and more and more and more responsibilities and soon take on such a mass of work that they burn out the structures underneath them, people don’t feel like there’s much place for advancement.

It was pretty clear even looking beyond the Civic Canopy that as leaders in the nonprofit field, we needed to do the work and figure out a new way or different ways of really building structures that would be both sustainable but also equitable and able to really meet the needs of our people in community who are most vulnerable in trying to change our society. So we felt like the change needed to happen within to start.

Jennifer Splansky Juster: Alice and Bill, thank you for that story and the recognition of the need for the transformation both in order to really be the change internally that you were hoping, and hoping to foster externally and also for the sustainability of people across the organization. The staff who are on the team and the co-executive directors. I appreciate you drawing that broad a range of benefits out.

Tell us where you are now. Tell us a little bit about the current governance and leadership structure and processes.

Kale McMonagle: You’re catching us sort of midway through this story, or I don’t even know if it’s the midway point. We have been on this journey for almost two years now and really working through a number of conversations that helped us take steps along the way towards a new structure. Where we have landed is really thinking about our organization as an organism in some ways. And what are the essential functions that help an organism live, continue to do its job, and work?

So we have organized ourselves around different pods that are part of those different functions. There’s a communications and networking pod. A resource management pod that helps to make sure we have the resources needed to do our work. People pod. Projects pod. Within each of those pods, each pod has a pod point person whose job is not necessarily to make decisions but to facilitate decision making.

We’ve developed a decision-making matrix that helps us figure out at what levels do different decisions need to get made, when is something a consensus decision? If we’re going and decide to change our whole vision and mission, that’s a consensus. It affects everybody. It’s of high importance, those types of things. If we’re deciding something like whether or not to change our copier and printer lease in the office, that’s not a consensus decision. That’s lower down where we call something an advice-based process. One person is delegated to make that decision but they need to ask all people who might be affected by that decision for their input before making it. Their decision might not make everybody happy but there going to keep those considerations in mind knowing that soon enough they’ll be on the other side of an advice-based decision where somebody is asking them for their input and is ultimately going to make a decision about it.

That’s kind of the basic structures we’ve used. We still have an interim leadership team so we haven’t totally distributed where we don’t have an executive director or we don’t have directors but we’re still taking steps towards what would it look like to kind of break apart some of those pieces.

Alice Pugh: As we go through all this, we had talked about having no titles, everyone equal, everyone involved in the types of decisions, they had the expertise, knowledge, or excitement about, and yet, we have external factors that influence us as well. Funders and boards of directors really would like to talk to the one in charge and so that continues to be an interesting evolution of knowing how we’re feeling internally is feeling really a shared leadership model, and yet externally still people seeking the leader. That’s an interesting process.

Jennifer Splansky Juster: That is interesting, Alice. I appreciate you drawing out the difference between how you’re operating internally but still needing to meet some of the expectations of the outside world, if you will. Folks who see an organization perhaps with the more traditional mindset about who they need to get to for decisions and for power and credibility. That isn’t something that I had thought about previously but it makes sense given that our society hasn’t made the same type of transformation that the Civic Canopy and many other organizations are working to make internally.

What is working well about the new approach? I’d love to hear about some of those benefits or maybe even some unanticipated benefits to the organization.

Bill Fulton: Actually it’s a good segue from that last point because there is kind of co-conspiracy that goes with internal and external— as an executive director it’s great to be the one that people want to talk to and the person that feels like, hey, we’ll get—but I think the unspoken downside of that is the assumptions around what leadership means, that there would be one person that would have the right answer or one person to go to, and I think for so many people in the nonprofit sector, the longer you stay in the role of executive director, the closer you are to burning out. It’s just too much to carry on the shoulders. There’s no way that any one of us can shoulder that so I would just say even though sometimes this conversation is framed as the giving up of power, my experience as an executive director is it’s been truly liberating to see the implications of what Kale was just describing, this pod structure, you can think of it as a network, a much more resilient and fluid giving and taking of roles, and it has, first of all, just removed the illusion that it’s a pyramid and that somehow being higher on that structure means that I have more, you know, better ideas or shoulder more so I’ve felt things being unburdened, that the weight of leadership is distributed more equitably and evenly, and one of the payoffs happened.

A really important teammate that was a part of this evolution was recruited away by a great foundation, had an opportunity she simply couldn’t pass up, and in a previous day that would have been a devastating loss. It would have stopped the show but because we had done this work together where each person on the team began to see themselves increasingly as a leader within the organization. It was almost like having one person drop out of carrying the load of leadership just meant that we repositioned ourselves, and the team meeting that happened I think it was a week after we got the news that she’d be leaving, people just stepped in in like kind of a jazz quartet of just new roles were played. It wasn’t like we didn’t miss her at all, of course, we did but the chance for others to have a structure they could easily step into, clarity of roles that were being redistributed, it was an absolutely elegant example of creating an enabling structure that allows that responsibility and roles to be more quickly and equitably distributed to everyone’s advantage. It just felt like such an enormous relief, and I think there’s been a number of things like that that have just kind of rippled through the Canopy over the last couple years.

Kale McMonagle: I think another example for us of a real success has been a decision we made last year as inflation rates were going up. We needed to make a decision on a cost-of-living increase for our staff. This is usually a decision that’s just made by an executive director. In this case we moved towards a consent-based decision so do I consent to a given course of action, and in this conversation, this could be ripe for disagreement. This is sensitive topics, salaries are involved. It requires salary transparency. It requires knowledge of the budget. It requires understanding of inflation and things like that, and we had gone through steps to increase knowledge and expertise of all of those, and it was in that conversation that initially the group decided or our team decided to go for a full nine percent cost-of-living increase as a team.

Well, a couple months down the line we were going through a hiring process, and we ended up coming to a point where we had three great candidates instead of the two positions we had just posted for. Well, as a team we agreed to reduce our cost-of-living increase to seven percent to be able to bring on that next team member, and so this is an example of where we were able to come together around a collective interest versus our individual interests of our own individual salaries to make a decision that benefited us as a full organization, and didn’t cause any sort of strife of, uh, but, because we made that decision together, and we’re able to see the larger picture that usually only the ED sees.

Jennifer Splansky Juster: That’s a great—those are both—the COLA discussion and your colleagues’ transition are really concrete examples of some of those benefits that you are experiencing as a team.

I’m curious, these sound great but I also anticipate there have been some challenges so would you be willing to share a little bit about some of the challenges that have been presenting themselves as well?

Alice Pugh: Some of the biggest challenges I think we’ve faced is where a decision is, there are some decisions that are very clear like cost of living would be in the resource pod but then there’s some other decisions that are a little less clear.

I remember one of our staff meetings, we were all together and the point people on each of the pods came together with a little practice about, OK, if this came up, where would the decision lie, and so there was—everyone chatted this, that, and the other thing, and with the conversation it was sort of, oh, I think it should be in the resource pod. Oh, no, I think it should be in the people pod. Well, actually it really should be in the governance pod, and with a lot of laughter and a great deal of support for each other, we were actually able to figure out when there’s an unclear decision, what are the mechanisms in order to figure out really who should make that decision, whether it’s a group of people, an individual, or just it should go on to another pod.

I remember we were also looking at benefits with the human resource pod, and our office manager is an amazingly talented person but very respectful of this new process, and so as we looked at those decisions, he was very, very, very careful about making sure everyone was included along the way on something that was going to impact all of us, and really once he had the OK from the rest of us, probably could have moved that decision along quicker but that learning of how to make the decision, how to gather input, bring it back, and then make the decision and move it into practice was so valuable that it was really an excellent process for all of us to understand, that as we make decisions, some people make decisions quickly, others really are going to need some more input, and we can all learn by supporting each other through that absolute process so we will have a new benefit package coming up this next year.

Jennifer Splansky Juster: One thing that some folks might be thinking who are listening is this sounds great and it sounds like it takes a lot of time to bring folks who are newer to the organization into this comfort with decision making, to decide who was even going to make decisions, to discuss at length some of these decisions. It might not be true but I’m curious about that, and I think the listeners might be curious about that so can you talk a little bit about does it take more time, where is that time coming from? We know everyone is holding so many different responsibilities, or just tell me I’m wrong.

Kale McMonagle: It’s definitely not a painless process but I would say it has the possibility of being a restorative process, and that requires some pain to go through. Overall, in terms of what we can do in terms of project work versus the time we’ve had to spend on internal retreats, working on developing processes, that type of thing, that has shifted since we started this process. We’ve had to take more time on some of the internal things versus some of the things that bring in revenue for an organization. That being said, having a strong financial position when starting this out is an important factor so you don’t have folks feeling like, oh, are we going to be OK as an organization? I think in addition to that, there’s like that money piece of it, right? But there’s also a piece of this that what is the kind of experiential level of going through this process? What is the policy and structures, creating pods, those types of things but then what also is just the hard conversations, interpersonal dynamics that come about as part of this.

So early on in this process we hadn’t fully decided where we were going in this. We knew something about White-led organization with an increasingly diverse staff was getting stuck somewhere. We got a recommendation from a consultant for that leadership disruption, would this mean that we needed to have leadership leave? Do they just need to start succession planning and figure out that next level of leadership? Is this a different leadership structure the way we went where we looked at distributing power? And to have these conversations, you’re still having these conversations within an existing power structure.

So there was a moment in time where I named for our team, hey, I don’t know that, Bill, you as a founder, is serving our organization anymore. This is not an easy thing to say to your boss, right? It’s not an easy thing as a boss to receive, especially somebody who has poured 20 years into an organization. We were able to have that conversation and it took time that Bill and I needed to step away from each other in our relationship to be able to hear what were we saying, what’s at the core of why I maybe felt like this isn’t the right fit for us as an organization, time to just feel that ouch and everything like that, right?

But months down the line I’ve actually switched my position. That shift, and I’ll let Bill speak to that in some ways, I wasn’t confident that in Bill’s leadership he was willing to hold a hard line on equity, and it was getting in the way of us realizing our boldest dreams of that but over this process Bill was able to take that feedback and receive it, and then shift the ways that he was operating, and also make room for different decision-making structures that would mean that that wasn’t getting in the way of things all the time. So Bill and I—now I would say Bill shouldn’t leave the organization. I would say we’d be worse off if he did but that wasn’t a simple sort of, oh, we had a team retreat and that all got settled and now we’re in a better place. There were real times where we had to sit down and think through long emails to each other, talk with our friends and family to process through this, all of those types of things.

Bill Fulton: Just to think about that moment, I mean it’s so powerful to reflect back on it because what was powerful for I think each of us individually and as our team, I think it’s a very common dynamic in this work that organizations in the classic framing of it is it’s typically a person of color or a person who brings a historically marginalized identity that is experiencing a lack of support in an organization, they raise that and they are often pushed out of the organization or at least silenced, no, no, no, you’re overstating it, and actually I understand why that happens. My inner experience of that was it was so threatening and put me in a defensive position to have this challenge raised, that I’d spent so long manufacturing this persona that I had worked so hard like I’m the good guy, I’m doing everything on behalf of equity, and experiencing that emotional challenge but it was spot-on, and not only was it—was Kale’s critique accurate that I was in the fortunate position of being able to be nuanced about questions of equity and therefore younger, more diverse staff were the ones who were having to shoulder the hard work of it. That was an accurate assessment. Not only was it accurate, it was incredibly courageous and exactly the kind of values we were trying to get out of this process.

So on the one hand it was the most threatening thing I’d ever experienced professionally and also the window of growth that I had never experienced. I suddenly realized that I was kind of pissed off at that, and I don’t excel at anger. I tend to excel at calming things so it just opened up a whole new side of my own way of showing up in the work, and there’s nothing that’s less appealing as a leader than being only partially formed emotionally. So unless you have the courage of someone that’s willing to challenge that, I think it’s easy to fall prey to a type of leadership that stays a little too safe and that registers.

The upshot of it, well, it was one of the most difficult periods I’d say in my professional life. I think it’s the most significant learning, and now that we’re able to kind of see that moment as this invitation for collective growth, to take seriously that challenge but over time recognize, well, now that we kind of broke through that, there’s different ways for each of us to show up, and we’ve renegotiated our terms, and that fluidity and dynamism I think was what we were after when we said let’s disrupt our leadership structure but nowhere did I see on that journey, oh, and this will be the day that I am completely confronted by my own emotional insecurity, and I will welcome that. It was a surprise and a challenge along the way but I’d never go back. It was one of the most professionally rewarding, and still the closeness and sense of solidarity with not only Kale but the whole team is just kind of an unimaginable benefit of the journey we’ve been on.

Alice Pugh: And it just really brings to mind thinking about collective impact as moving at the rate of trust, and that’s in fact what this has been so if we want to have big, bold ideas that will change our society, this is time well invested, absolutely and always because the trust that we were able to generate with that, of each other, of the ability to move forward as a team has been absolutely fabulous.

Jennifer Splansky Juster: Thank you, Alice, for that addition and Bill and Kale for sharing that story that I know took some vulnerability certainly for you to go through but for publicly sharing that with folks listening to this podcast, I really am grateful for that so thank you, all three of you.

Alice, you were just beginning to talk a little bit about how some of the learning that’s happening within the Canopy is also really relevant to folks doing work in community. I’d love to hear a little bit more about how you think about translating this to the work you’re supporting collaboratives and coalitions to do.

Alice Pugh: Thanks for asking that, Jennifer. I am so excited that nonprofits can be better, that we can do better and we will be the leaders that will really help our society experiment and understand the structural limits that we’ve placed upon the work that needs to be done to make a community a place where all can thrive.

I work with rural communities, lots of coalitions, and lots of nonprofits, and across the board there are so many founders that are absolutely ready to give this up, and they don’t even know all the things that they do so with lots of conversations you might say, well, what are your job duties, what are your function areas, and they almost can’t name it because they do everything. They do payroll, they do HR, they make every decision, they’re responsible for all the fundraising. They may have other staff working on that but ultimately the buck really does stop with these nonprofit leaders. There’s been a couple of examples that for me, because I’ve been excited about what we have learned in the Civic Canopy, I can’t help but want to share.

There was an instance, for example, San Luis Valley of a nonprofit or a coalition leader that had been the founder for 10 years, and was ready to move on, and yet not quite sure how to do that so the board of directors had this leadership transition crisis almost. What are we going to do? How could we possibly find someone that could do everything that you do? You hold the organization but the board stepped into this and wanted to learn so I was able to introduce—and it’s not so much exactly what we have done, it’s more this concept of there can be another way. It doesn’t have to be the way it’s been so that has been really exciting to really both introduce the type of conversation and dialogue about what is this organization, what are the key functions, who else is out there, and to encourage the board and the existing executive director to seek the knowledge within, to really do some staff conversations and surveys about what were the skillsets that were there and not being utilized, and what was the interest in really stepping into better decision making, more shared power?

As a result of that, they were actually able to come up with a similar pod system. This pod system seems to be resonating with many of the organizations I’ve worked with, that we should really take a look at strengths within our organization and interests, and desire and passion, and bring those together to share some of the load but also some of the responsibility and the mission and the drive forward, and that’s really helped organizations retain existing staff as well as really be able to teach and train upcoming leaders on what are all the components of an organization, what is the budget all about, and how does that impact day-to-day life.

So key staff then start to be able to be more engaged and starting to have that responsibility of decision making, and there’s bumps along the way. So you can have a structure of a pod but if they don’t have decision-making authority, it’s not really a change. It’s just displacing or adding time to people’s day, and so really having a process of practicing decision making, learning about it, identifying the types of decisions, and having an executive team be able to let go of having ultimate yea or nay decisions is sort of that process that all organizations need to go forward in if they’re really going to adapt to the environment that they’re in.

We have great fortune in rural America that people close to the earth also look at their organizations as ecological systems in some way, and that really resonates, that ecological systems don’t necessarily have just one dominant creature or type of plant that makes all the decisions. It is a collaborative network interrelated type of system that is all around us, and so being able to bring that into the world of humans because we are part of nature has really been absolutely the best approach to really introduce people to this idea. Look below our feet and that’s what our ecosystems are doing anyway, and how can we mimic that.

Kale McMonagle: I think in addition to that, for collective impact efforts, there’s oftentimes a trap that people get stuck in of utilizing a backbone within our traditional structures of how we think about how decisions get made and where leadership lies. It’s really easy for suddenly a couple years down the line, a backbone entity to feel like they’re holding more than they were supposed to. This was supposed to be distributed across all of these different partners. It was supposed to be held by the collective but suddenly I’m the de facto doer of everything as the backbone.

So I think that there’s been times that we’ve introduced this decision-making matrix with folks to understand how to use advice-based decision making as a way that not everything has to get decided by the full group. Individual members can make decisions but how do you create a natural system of sort of accountability across those partners by saying each of you will have decision-making powers but you’re accountable to the collective in that process, and I think that’s where we get mixed up, where we want to create new structures but we sometimes just take what our go-to decision-making structures or processes from traditional systems and then they don’t work within this new way of being.

And so I think that would be the other thing that I would apply to kind of the collective impact framework too, is thinking through how to clarify where decisions get made, how they get made, and then how to better distribute them across the group as well.

Jennifer Splansky Juster: Those are all really helpful considerations and lots of nodding happening across folks on the line. Yeah, Bill, go ahead.

Bill Fulton: Jen, if I could just add one more quick one that had surprising impact, is just salary transparency and a greater ownership of the finances and the budget. I think that has been an unlocking of some of the unspoken patterns that go with concentrating power and decision making is around the finances. I can’t share this budget, it’s got salaries. It was a necessary kind of wall to break down early and it’s been really important both on the finance side but therefore on the greater ownership of the work in the organization.

Jennifer Splansky Juster: Thank you, Bill. Thank you for adding that.

So as you are looking toward the future, I’m really interested to hear what the Civic Canopy is thinking about next as you continue to evolve. Why don’t we start with you, Alice?

Alice Pugh: OK. We have many dreams shall we say, one of which is really to share this with others which is why we’re here today but one of the things that we are moving towards is now that we’ve had two years of going through this whole process, to do an equity check-in and really be able to evaluate our efforts both internally—is this is a more equitable system? Is it really producing the equitable results we were hoping for? So doing a bit of a check-in, and then also how do we support employees or others, new partners, that are not used to this self-governance, this mutual accountability and self-governance? What are the mechanisms that we will need to create or look for guidance to really be able to make sure that everyone comes equipped to be able to fully function within a different type of structure.

Kale McMonagle: I’d add on to that that it’s a different type of skillset to having a distributed leadership structure privileges in some ways so that’s another opportunity for inequity to come into the mix. If everybody has to give feedback to all members of the team rather than relying on supervisors to give feedback to individual employees or something like that, it requires people to be comfortable giving feedback, be comfortable stepping into conflict, and that raises up all sorts of—a minefield emerges with all of our healing, collective trauma work, what’s my relationship to conflict, what’s my history, pattern, generational patterns around this, right?

So I think that’s really the next step for us, is thinking through—there’s the ideal of doing this work and then there’s the practice of doing this work, and how are we going at the right pace to be able to make sure each person is able to step fully into self-governance and thrive within this environment knowing that some people come more ready to that table than others when starting this work.

Bill Fulton: I think both of those—I mean we could add other pieces on the internal kind of agenda of how—what we keep learning and what we want to take on next, and thinking externally, one of the things that this has enabled—and again, we’re still early in our own journey but from the standpoint of some of the visions of what collective impact makes possible, I think many of us for years have used analogies like the murmurations of starlings or we use slime mold as an example, kind of a self-organizing system without some body at the top of it directing it, that in response to complexity, leadership emerges.

This is the first experience that we’ve had with what that actually practically means, you know, instead of having a top-down org chart about at least the possibility of leadership emerging within our organization, and as we look to the networks of networks that we work with across the state, being able to apply some of those. What if it didn’t take just one body at the top of something directing a course of action but applying some of these principles. We’ve long had on our agenda the belief that the universe is on our side. The structure of change is through a series of successive layers of networks, and whether that’s an individual as part of a team, a team as part of an organization, an organization as part of a coalition, and a coalition as a part of this larger web of collective action, I think the application of what our—how we’ll show up and bring new types of leadership to the distribution of work across our state and across the country, I think it just opens up a lot of potential for transferring those lessons, and I think that’s a really exciting stage for us to look into.

Jennifer Splansky Juster: Wonderful. Bill, I’ve heard some folks talk also inspired by nature, talk about fractals, right? The fractal nature of working in complexity, and what you’re describing really reminds me of that so thank you for sharing all of those perspective, Bill, and Kale, and Alice. It has been a pleasure to chat with you all.

I know that folks who have been listening will really take away a lot of gratitude for the lessons that you’ve shared, and the vulnerability with which you showed up today so thank you all, and I hope that you all continue to keep us abreast of your journey as it moves forward so thank you.

Bill Fulton: Thank you for including us.

Kale McMonagle: Thank you. It’s been a pleasure.


And this closes out this episode of the Collective Impact Forum podcast. If you are interested in learning more about what was discussed, you can find links to resources in the footnotes for this episode.

We would like to acknowledge that this episode was produced and edited on the unceded, traditional lands of the Coast Salish people, including the Duwamish, Suquamish, Stillaguamish, and Muckleshoot tribes. We honor with gratitude the land itself and the past, present, and futures of these tribes.

The Intro music for this episode was composed by Rafael Krux and our outro music is composed by Kevin Macleod.

And for those interested in more learning events, registration is now open for our upcoming online workshops happening in June and July.

On June 21 and 22, we are hosting the workshop, Introduction to Collective Impact and the Backbone Role, which will go over the foundations of collective impact, and is a great workshop if you are new to thinking about collective impact work. Registration closes on June 16.

And on July 11 and 13, we are hosting the workshop Data and Learning in Collective Impact, which will be taking a deep dive into the various practices you can do to support data and learning within your collaborative work. Registration closes on July 7.

Please visit our events section of collectiveimpactforum.org to learn more and register.

This is Tracy Timmons-Gray, Associate Director here at the Collective Impact Forum, and your podcast host. I want to say thank you so much for listening, and we look forward to connecting with you more in our next episode. Until next time, we hope you are safe and well.


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