In addition to our regional Gatherings and statewide Conference, Come to the Table supports local faith communities, nonprofit organizations, and farmers markets through our technical assistance program. Previous technical assistance (TA) projects that Come to the Table has supported, for example, include assisting an organization with the development of better evaluation tools for their programming, and supporting an organization’s board as they experience a staff leadership transition.
Learn more about the goals of our TA program, the types of projects we work with, the kinds of support we provide, and the overall process in this Overview of Come to the Table’s Technical Assistance (TA) Program. For more information or to request TA, contact Jarred White at [email protected].
For this month’s Technical Assistance Program Spotlight, Jarred interviewed Susan Sachs, one of Come to the Table’s long-time technical assistance providers, about her work and perspective.
How were you introduced to RAFI-USA and the Come to the Table program?
I actually attended the first Come to the Table Conference in 2007. At the time, I was consulting with Resourceful Communities. While I was familiar with RAFI-USA before then, the Conference was my first concrete interaction with the organization and the Come to the Table event.
What is your experience working with RAFI and the Come to the Table program as a technical assistance provider?
I attended the TA kick-off events in November 2017 and began working with CTTT partners at the event and in more depth afterwards. I have been privileged to work with the RAFI Equity Fellows as well. It’s been very rewarding to interact with partner organizations and to see them at Come to the Table events, too.
You currently operate in a unique space in the nonprofit world as a consultant. How did you develop your niche, and what does your work look like on a weekly basis?
My niche in organizational development is broad, and includes strategic planning, program planning, development and fundraising, in addition to other specialized trainings. I developed my niche in response to both the needs that I encountered while consulting with various organizations and my educational and previous nonprofit experience. I have a background in mental health counseling and organizational management, so I use both experiences in my practice. The scope of my work varies from week-to-week. This week, for example, I traveled to the Duke Endowment Intermediary Gathering meeting in Charlotte where I served as a co-facilitator on Tuesday and later in the week I attended the NC Rural Assembly.
As a TA provider, what kinds of projects are the most engaging for you?
The most satisfying projects are when a group that I’m partnering with is ready to roll up their sleeves and do the hard work. When they are ready to fully engage with a consultant. Sometimes when it’s offered through a funder, a board member, or other outside source, organizations feel forced to accept consulting help even if they aren’t ready for it. In my experience, the most productive engagement occurs when the organization (staff and board) are ready for honest self-assessment and putting in the time and people resources to address organizational needs and discern how to maximize resources and align their work with the organization’s mission and values.
What do organizations often find to be the most impactful kind of support that you have offered?
Often times, my job is to hold up a mirror and create a safe space for the self-examination and reflection required to make internal and external changes that are needed. I’m an unbiased resource person and I don’t have an investment in a particular outcome. I can ask the hard questions and help to create safe space to explore new and different ways to address recurring issues and problems.
What are some of the biggest challenges that you face in helping organizations?
An organization’s readiness to engage with a consultant to explore change can be challenging. I’m reluctant to work with an organization that wants to have one meeting to fix a complex problem. Fit is also important, and that can take a while to figure out, along with the organization’s readiness to embrace change. I really try to co-create a process with the board and staff that feels right for them and their organization’s culture. When an organization wants to address problems, it’s critical to work together to identify the steps that will help them move beyond the presenting problem or challenge and consider new and different ways of addressing recurring problems and challenges.
What should organizations look for in a TA provider?
Fit is important. The organization and the provider need to be able to sync up and have shared values. Also, being realistic: the process isn’t magic, and it will take effort on both sides to “move the ball down the field,” so to speak. It’s all about relationships, really.
What is unique about receiving technical assistance through CTTT?
I appreciate the opportunity to work with grassroots organizations over a longer stretch of time allowing for relationship building with the organization’s staff and board. This sets the stage for longer term impacts as a result of deeper work that addresses the causes of organizational challenges rather than symptoms. I also like being able to support organizations that are engaged in sustainable agriculture and food systems work on the local level.
Who would you recommend the CTTT TA program to?
Organizations that benefit the most from CTTT TA, in my opinion, have done some pre-work to think through how TA can be applied in the most effective way.
From the perspective of a TA provider, what is one thing that many organizations and institutions in the nonprofit world can do to be more effective in creating substantial and sustainable change?
A willingness to look internally and externally. Often, organizations are created to address a specific problem within a community. Also, organizations typically take on characteristics of the constituency that they’re trying to support, which is completely understandable. So, adopting transparency and maintaining good boundaries are essential practices as an organization evolves and grows.