By Courtney Bugler
Advocacy Action — Building a successful collaboration
By Courtney Bugler
Diagnosed with breast cancer one month after turning 29, I was not immediately drawn to advocacy work. I was nearly a year out of treatment in 2007 when I attended the annual Conference for Young Women Affected by Breast Cancer. It changed my life.
The conference—a collaboration among Living Beyond Breast Cancer, the Young Survival Coalition and Susan G. Komen for the Cure—introduced me to other young women with the disease and opened my mind to different perspectives and experiences.
Advocacy groups should remember that they, too, are not alone. Collaborating with other organizations ignites innovation, fortifies limited human and financial resources and expands the reach of groups’ dovetailing or unifying missions. More important, collaboration enables all partners to connect with a larger audience and provides them with the support and resources they need. Here are some steps to help you forge a successful collaboration.
1. Find a need. Is there a population that isn’t being served? Do you have something to offer them? If the answer is yes, research how your organization can help. The first young survivors conference arose from an informal survey of the young members of Living Beyond Breast Cancer. The survey revealed two unaddressed needs: Young women wanted to attend a daylong educational program targeted at them, and they wanted to network with others like themselves.
2. Find partners. In a successful collaboration, all parties bring something to the table. Every individual or organization has strengths or services to contribute and should be equally invested in creating an effective program or initiative. All partners must have ownership of the responsibilities, as well as the successes.
Because of the work of the Young Survival Coalition on behalf of young women with breast cancer, the organization decided to help plan an advocacy workshop at the first Conference for Young Women Affected by Breast Cancer, which was organized by Living Beyond Breast Cancer in 2001. A year later, Living Beyond Breast Cancer and the Young Survival Coalition decided to collaborate on the conference—a partnership that continues to this day. Susan G. Komen for the Cure joined the effort in 2007.
3. Set goals and agree on expectations. This isn’t the time to reinvent the wheel—or to compete. Be honest with your partners about your strengths and weaknesses. Look at what each organization can offer. Perhaps one organization has a great public relations team; another has experience in planning your type of event. If you’re working on a legislative initiative, partner with an organization that has staff or volunteers who are trained in this kind of work.
4. Evaluate the collaboration. After a collaborative program or event has concluded, meet with your partners. Discuss the project’s successes as well as any improvements that could be made. A collaboration constantly evolves and grows. Living Beyond Breast Cancer, Susan G. Komen for the Cure and the Young Survival Coalition work year-round to make each conference for young women better than its predecessor.
Finally, in any collaboration, be sure to find organizations that share your vision for patient advocacy. Together, you can create something you couldn’t do alone.
Courtney Bugler is a breast cancer survivor and the executive director of the Young Survival Coalition’s Atlanta affiliate.