Closing the crack through collaboration: Support Within Reach partners to strengthen approach to sexual violence support

Posted in Grants, Tools You Can Use

During the next two minutes, one more person in the U.S. will have been sexually assaulted. 

In northern Minnesota, sexual violence is as pervasive as it is nationwide. In Itasca County alone, Support Within Reach (SWR) – an organization that serves those impacted by sexual violence in Aitkin, Itasca and, most recently, Beltrami, Cass, Hubbard and Clearwater Counties – works with more than 1,000 clients per year.

Although one in six women is a victim of attempted or completed rape, 60% of assaults go unreported.

“Sexual violence goes unseen. Literally, you can’t see it,” says SWR Director Amanda Ysen. “When someone comes forward they know that everyone around them is going to make a choice – to believe them or not to believe them. They’re going to take sides. These are legitimate reasons why victims don’t report violence.”

Research shows that programs focused on the specific issue of sexual violence can be most effective.

However, most programs in Minnesota are combined with domestic violence, sometimes leaving victims and community members unsure where best to seek support.

“In the public’s eye, what we do is very similar to the work other agencies are doing, such as domestic violence programs,” said SWR Director Amanda Ysen. “It’s important to us that they know about our model.”

Enter Karen Ray, who specializes in nonprofit problem-solving and collaboration. With support through a Blandin Foundation grant, Karen worked with SWR to help them uncover ways to maintain their identity and approach while also exploring opportunities to partner with local and regional organizations to better support clients.

“When there are multiple providers to the same clients, then collaboration makes great sense,” said Ray. “Each organization can figure out exactly what service is provided, when, and with what outcomes.  A clear map linking one provider to another helps clients know which service to access and at what time.”

Ray lays out three steps to effective collaboration among organizations:

1. Focus on what to achieve as a result of working together.

If it’s more communication, then organizations should cooperate. To accomplish a task together, coordinate and to change the way the system serves clients, organizations should collaborate.  These “c” words are often used interchangeably, but Ray asserts that actually they are very different kinds of partnerships with very different kinds of outcomes.

2. Focus on shared hope.

Everybody loves “vision.” But hope is more personal and more instructive. Do partners have shared hope?

3. Whole organizations must create and sustain the work of the partnership.

Collaboration does not happen between people at a meeting table; it happens when organizations agree to change themselves in order to change the system. These kinds of agreements cannot be made by individuals “representing” their organization at the collaboration table. It can only happen when whole organizations commit to changing themselves.

“In northern Minnesota, stand-alone and dual programs are trying to figure out how we can support each other without having to merge and have one organization responsible for such a large geographic location,” said SWR Director Amanda Ysen. “I believe strongly in the model of a stand-alone sexual violence program, so it doesn’t get lost in competing issues.”

Ysen found like-minded organizations in other counties. Together, they collaborate to openly discuss emerging issues, build capacity, partner on grants, and share resources with other programs in northern Minnesota.

“Collaboration is key,” says Ysen. “It’s important for us to maintain our own identity, but to also nurture the collaborative partnership between stand alone and dual programs – we must support each other to ensure victims don’t get lost.”

For additional resources on effective collaboration, visit Karen Ray’s website.