Collaborative Silos

Collaboration is work in progress. It takes more time and effort to break down the "silo" effect among organizations.

A friend of mine, Jason Wells, guest wrote a blog for the Iowa Biz blog, hosted by the Business Record.  He asked about what could be done to foster more collaboration among organizations in Des Moines.

I’ve been trying to figure that out for the last 7 years.  For the reputation that Des Moines has in being one of the most charitable cities in America, having the most non-profit organizations per capita in the nation, and a great city for young professionals, there are areas that need improvement.

A better way of saying it:  we may need to demolish some silos.

There is a culture of silo thinking when it comes to organizations.  Most of it is structure, and some of it is territorial and ego.  To me, there is a sense that organizations do not like to have another organizations impede on what they are doing, and that kicks in their egos.

For disclosure, I’m going to use the organization I’m directly involved with as an example.  I serve on the American Diabetes Association of Central Iowa board.  Over the past year, we have brought in new leadership to help us rebuild our brand, mission, and our purpose:  to provide education and support individuals affected by diabetes.  We are different that what the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation does.  JDRF raises money for research to find a cure for juvenile (Type 1) diabetes in children.

A view of 7th Street in Downtown Des Moines
A view of 7th Street in Downtown Des Moines (Wikipedia)

JDRF is a great organization and does phenomenal work.  So do we at American Diabetes.  The difference is that ADA does more than raise money for research.  We provide and offer educational, nutritional, and health programs for children and adults, African-Americans, Latino Americans, namely all people who are affected by diabetes.

Regardless if that person has Type 1, Type 2, gestational, or various types of diabetes.

Would it be beneficial for both organizations to collaborate as a united front to fight and stop diabetes?  Sure.  My opinion is we can, but if JDRF chooses not to collaborate, then who am I to force them to?  I don’t know if they see us at ADA as competitors, but if they do, then it’s on my organization to go out and show the community how we can provide a service that JDRF does not to offer.

The fact being is that JDRF and ADA are committed to the same mission:  to eradicate diabetes, but they have different ways of going about it.

Ego is a touchy subject, for no one wants to admit that they have any, but organizations, in one way or another, do display a level of egotism.  They want to be the best and they’ll do everything to be on the top of everyone’s mind when it comes to people knowing who that organization is, what they do, and why people should support it.

Jason wrote that “Des Moines is near the top of the list in terms of having some of the most developed and diverse YP groups in the country…I can just about guarantee you there is a group in Greater Des Moines for you to join.”

That is true, though I have noticed that young professionals in Des Moines tend to join organizations that already has a large number of young professionals in it.  I’m guilty of that, for I’m a member of the Young Professional Connection, along with Jason (he is the past president of the YPC board).

That’s not a bad thing, but it makes it harder for other lesser-known organizations to reach out and encourage YPs to consider being involved with their causes and missions.

Before 2011, I was the only ADA board member that was under the age of 40.  I continue to have difficulty encouraging fellow YPs to be interested about diabetes.  The same can be said for someone advocating for Multiple Scerlosis, historical preservation, or tutoring at-risk students to become better students at school.

It would be nice to have her deliver my insulin shots everyday, but I digress...

Today, my board has 3 members under the age of 40.  One of them is a recent Business Record Forty Under 40 honoree.  The current makeup of the board is starting to reflect what the community looks like: diverse.  The point here is don’t join a group because everyone else is.  That’s silo thinking.   You need to expand into topics and causes you may or may not have a connection in.  It’s cool to help kids, but sometimes you have to learn how to help your peers, and other groups.

In order for a city like Des Moines to best represent it’s identity as a great city for non-profits, the number of people being involved in organizations, for-profit or non-profit, has to be distributed evenly.  .

There are some forms of collaboration, but not at the level that or vision some would like for it to be.  Collaboration takes time, patience, and sometimes a “Come-to-Jesus” moment where it doesn’t take one light bulb to go off in one person’s head.  It takes two light bulbs from both sides to see the opportunity to work towards a common goal.

The United Way and Community Health Charities is another example of how much work and time it will take for a transparent form of collaboration.  Up until 3 years ago, I did not know that the United Way doesn’t directly support or fund non-profit health organizations, which includes Alzheimer’s Association and Komen.  These groups have to be supported by CHC, which operates as a consortium for health organizations to connect with companies about their causes and fundraising.

Those are not the actual reasons, but this gives an insight from someone who has been involved in non-profits for nearly a decade about the challenges of collaboration and why there isn’t enough of it.  Can this change?  It’s possible.  It’ll have to take the right groups to establish that.  Let it be the wrong groups and the trains will jump off of the tracks very fast.

This is not to say that everyone should merge and pool all their resources into an “one-stop shop” kind of approach.  What I am saying is that organizations can collaborate on a project or goal that fits appropriately into what they are seeking to accomplish.


A Worthy Honor

Late last week, the piece of document above was placed in my hands.  I’m not one to publicly announce to the world anything about myself.  That’s not how I roll.  I’ll tell a few people who would be interested in knowing about it because they are people who care about the community and are willing to devote part of their time and their lives to helping their fellow citizens.  Secondly, they support and encourage giving back to the community, whether you are successful or you don’t have a lot but want to give anyway.

I’m humbled by receiving this award for my current position as a volunteer and a board member for the American Diabetes Association.  As I begin my 7th year with American Diabetes, each day has been an education for me.  Not as someone who serves, but as someone who has lived with diabetes myself.  I’m not a perfect diabetic, but you learn each day how to live with the physical, emotional, mental, and spiritual challenges with a life-long chronic disease. 

Since the award ceremony Thursday morning at S.E. Polk High School, a few people have congratulated me, and then added that my award was “sullied” or taken a notch down because of the person who handed me the award:  the governor. 

I don’t care who is giving me the award. 

The main thing is that there are volunteers across this state, in this country, and worldwide who deserves to be honored and recognized for what they do, regardless of their political, religious, or different ideologies.  The fact that a governor, a mayor, or the President is honoring you is a major deal. 

For anyone to complain about who was giving out the award, that person has “stolen” the moment for that worthy individual.  That person “stole” my moment by not focusing on what I did to be honored, by whining about who handed out the award. 

Additionally, to hear comments about “well, I find it ironic that it’s Branstad giving you this award…” is an insult and exudes pettiness.  Rather than saying “congratulations” and leaving it right there, those comments makes that person and their achievement hollow and meaningless. 

If it was Bob Ray, Tom Vilsack, or Chet Culver, I’m just as happy to receive the Volunteer Award as much as I was getting it from Terry Branstad last Thursday. 

Everyone should appreciate and laud people are being saluted for doing good works, not politically obsessing about who’s giving the honor. 

Biking for a Cause


The last time I rode a bike was in high school.  A buddy of mine, Matt Fischer, and I rode our bikes from our neighborhood in Highland Park (the one in Waterloo, not Des Moines’) to East High to do our off-season workouts for football.

Matt did the smart thing by taking his bike inside the weight room with him.  I chose to lock my bike up outside.  After we finished working out, I had no bike.  That was $90 down the drain.  Someone stole it.

I brought up that story as a lead-in to this post and what’s going to take place this upcoming weekend.  The American Diabetes Association of Iowa is hosting the inaugural Central Iowa Tour de Cure bicycle ride on Saturday, June 11th.  The bike ride will start inside Water Works Park at the south shelter.  The riders will travel down the Great Western Trail through Martensdale, St. Charles, and back.  Of course, there will be a stop at the world-famous Cumming Tap! 

Who in their right mind is going to bypass Cumming Tap?

We’re excited about starting this new event, but I have to be honest, publicizing Tour de Cure has been a challenge.  The bicycle community is inundated with a lot of events all over the area.  In fact, this weekend is the Tour the Raccoon ride along the Raccoon River, the Gravel Ride to the Sauk Trail, and the BRAMCO ride in Madison County. 

Central Iowa has a strong active bicycle community.  They do a lot of rides, for fun and for charity.  For us at American Diabetes, we’re the new kids on the block.  Over in Eastern Iowa, the Corridor Classic Tour de Cure will have their 4th annual ride in two weeks (June 25th).  It’s one of the most popular bike rides and events over in that part of the state. 

Plus, it doesn’t hurt to have the support of the Iowa Hawkeyes, namely Kirk Ferentz and Norm ParkerParker’s battle with diabetes is well-known.  Norm’s so tough, he’ll be back in the pressbox this season.  The guy has become a personal hero to me as a fellow PWD (person with diabetes). 

We want to be where our colleagues in Eastern Iowa are at, but our main goal is to put together a great event for cyclists to enjoy and tell their friends about doing it in the future.   Rather than ask everyone to raise money this year (the ride is a fundraising event), and since this is our first TdC, we’re opening it up for you to register and ride with us for the day.  Registration is $25 and you can sign up on Saturday morning. 

A “Mission” Statement (sort of)

I had an interview two weeks ago that still bothers me today.  Check that, it made me dumbstruck.   I sat down, as I have several times in the past and the process began.

The first question out of his mouth:  “What is your passion?”

Oh, hell no.

Sitting there stammering and stuttering for 3 minutes trying to spit out a passion is like taking an one-way trip to the depths of hell with Osama Bin Laden.

Why ask me that question?  No matter what answer I give about a passion, it’ll never be the right answer in that person’s eyes. 

I’m starting to hate that word…passion.  But, according to so few people, “passion”  is the only way that they’ll accept me for who I am, and what I have accomplished.  It sounds unfair, but that’s what the interviewer pretty much said.

I’m so screwed.

Fast forward to a long discussion my Mom and I had on Sunday.  Initially, she was upset that I was thrown a curveball.  To her, you interview and hire people based on their skills and aptitude, not on what their passions and dreams are. 

Passion is a foreign word to around my family.  It was mentally drilled into our heads that if we want to succeed, we have to go to school, graduate, and land a job.  Those were the three tools we needed in order to “survive”and advance in the real world.  Passion wasn’t one of them. 

I’ve said in the past that “passion” is something I don’t have an answer for, and yet that’s all what anyone wants to know from me.  “What is your passion?”  “What are you passionate about?”  Hearing those questions grates on me.  Mom and my opinion is that passion is nothing more than something that successful people talk about having…once they have become successful.  Lori Day of FocusFirst said “passion alone doesn’t pay the bills.”

And yet, being pressed to offer an answer, I don’t have one.  My passion is to work.

Work is a function to sustain a living, either it’s meager to extravangant.  Work gives you a sense of identity and pride.  Passion, in its initial stages, is a dream, until it blossoms into an opportunity that’s sitting in your lap. 

As we talked, Mom and I discussed what I’m good at and what I enjoy doing.  For the sake of our discussion, the term “passion” was stricken from the record.  That word was driving us crazy.

  1. I’m proficient in writing
  2. Working within a structured environment (“structured” is like cubicle kryponite to many).  To me, “structured” is “what are the parameters and procedures to do this job”; “if a problem arises, who do I go to/what do I do”, etc.)
  3. I like gathering and dispersing information that would benefit individuals who deem it as important to them.
  4. I like volunteering for because there is a purpose and a service to the community that is or needs to be filled.
  5. Despite being a natural introvert, I enjoy working as part of a team.  I’ve played in sports all of my life, and it’s important that everyone has a role in what they are doing and we work together (despite differences) toward accomplishing a task. 

A light bulb went off in my Mom’s head.  “Why did Wartburg nominated you to serve on their alumni board?”  “How did you get involved with American Diabetes (Assn.)?”  “What about Art Noir and the Art Center?” 

The light bulb went off in my head. 

…dedicated to challenging and nurturing students for lives of leadership and service as a spirited expression of their faith and learning.

The line isn’t a quote.  It’s a statement. 

The Wartburg College mission statement. 

The four years I spent at Wartburg, I learned what it means to be of service to others.  It’s not a religious statement per se, though Wartburg is an ELCA school, but it applies to every student that walks through the campus mall.  I serve on the alumni board because I’m loyal to my alma mater and I adhere to the principles of what it means to be a Knight.

I serve on the American Diabetes Association board and work as a volunteer because I’m dedicated to teaching people what it means to live with diabetes (nearly 17 years now) and not being afraid to talk about it in the open.  I volunteer for the Des Moines Art Center because I have a deep appreciation for the arts (I can’t tell between modernism and expressionism, but if it looks interesting, I’ll listen). 

In some sort of way, I am dedicated to challenging and nurturing myself for a life of leadership and service as a expression of my faith in the community and learning. 

That’s as close of a “passion” statement I’ll get, for now. 

The interviewer may not get his “right answer”, but he’ll have to accept my response if I had to do the interview again.  Whether or not anyone else in the future will interview or hire me based on my “mission” statement, I can’t worry about that. 

I’m sticking to my guns on what I’m…well you get the picture. 

The Health of the Organization

I need help. 

I can’t think of another way in putting this out there but I will. 

Fundraising and talking is something I have feared for a long time.  I hate asking for money and public speaking is something I can’t do at all.  Marketing, well, I couldn’t market or sell you a lemon torte, though if enticed, I would buy one. 

I’m a volunteer and a board member for our local American Diabetes Association chapter here in Des Moines.  The past two years have been, to be politcally correct, tough.  We were the only chapter in America that was in the red last year.  We’ve struggled to get new volunteers, retain long time supporters, and be out front in the community. 

It’s not a very nice distinction to have. 

We want to re-introduce ourselves to Des Moines. Where and how do we start?

In January, we brought in a new executive director to help us assess the health of our organization.  I’m not afraid to say that we have an uphill climb.  No one knows who we are, what we do, and if we try to go out in the community, no one has interest in diabetes, in general, other than to say that their “uncle/grandfather/mom” had and died from diabetes, but never about what they learned about it. 

I hate asking for help, but I have to ask because every non-profit and charitable organization is getting support in Des Moines, financially and non-financially, KCCI will lend their name to every cause, celebrities love riding the coattails of organizations, and I feel like the only person in the world who wants to promote ADA, but I don’t know where to start. 

Why am I supporting the ADA?  Besides being a board member (the youngest) and lending my time as a volunteer (health fairs, office work, working events), I am a Person with Diabetes (PWD).  For the record, a Type 2 diabetic.  I have a full time job in managing how my body functions.  How much insulin do I need to take (Lantus or Humulog), is my glucose level okay for me to indulge in a salad, do my feet look swollen or feel numb, and on and on. 

Dick Clark, America's oldest teenager, was diagnosed with diabetes in 2003. Despite his stroke and limited mobility, he's still rocking-and-rolling.

I believe in the mission of the ADA.  It’s not just raising money to find a cure, as many people assume non-profit organizations only do.  The ADA have support groups, education programs, list of references to specialists, and materials that are as easy as a click of the mouse or a phone call away.  Yeah, we want to end diabetes, but for those who have it, like me, it’s not a death sentence.  Look at Patti LaBelle, Joe Frazier, Sonia Sotomayor, and Anne Rice.  They didn’t stop living when they were diagnosed with diabetes.   I haven’t stop either. 

How do I help ADA “re-introduce” ourselves to the community?

Awareness is Not Enough

You know that October is Breast Cancer Awareness Month.

October is Breast Cancer Awareness month.  Everyone will be talking, wearing, and painting Des Moines “pink”, as well as donating money, and walking for “The Cure.”

I wonder if people are going to do the same thing next month for American Diabetes Month.  Will they be wearing blue and raising awareness for that?

Several weeks ago, my friend Jesse Gavin wrote an insightful entry on his blog “No, It’s Iowa”.  He feels that everyone has “gotten the message” about breast cancer and asks if anyone is “aware” about the other diseases and illnesses like colorectal cancer or mental health?

On Tuesday, the local news stations talked about how the nurses at Iowa Methodist are wearing pink gloves.  On Wednesday, the American Marketing Association Iowa chapter had a lunch presentation and 50 % of the proceeds was donated to the Susan G. Komen Foundation.

Do you know what this ribbon represent?

Did you know that Tony Lemmo of Cafe di Scala participated and raised money for the NAMI walk last weekend?  Were you aware that the American Diabetes Association had their annual walk last month?  You never heard about Amanda the Panda?  The Iowa Coalition Against Domestic Abuse has been in the news lately due to a ruling allowing criminal defendants more access to confidential mental and medical health records of their alleged victims.

No, you haven’t.  Why?  Despite their efforts to spread awareness and reach out to those who are directly affected, everyone in Des Moines see”pink” as the cool thing right now.

Not everyone has been affected by breast cancer, or know of someone who has it.  But, since everyone knows about The Race for the Cure, it’s easy to support it.

Amanda the Panda is looking for volunteers and support.

As someone who is a volunteer and a board member for a local non-profit, it’s disheartening not to find widespread support from the community when one major non-profit group is gets all of the love, publicity, and talk.  I’m not the only one who feels that way.

I made the decision this year not to ask my family or friends to get involved to raise money and support the organization I’m passionate about.  The last three years, I have asked for support, interest, and told my story about being a diabetic.

No one cared. No one was interested.

I’ve been a good solider in the past and offered my support to many friends and their causes throughout town, but they can’t return a small favor?  It hurts.  And I’m angry.

I’m not angry with Komen.  They are doing their jobs just like I am:  bringing awareness to a disease or illness that people should know about.  I’m angry with the community and the mindset of if they go jump on board with the biggest walk in Des Moines every year, it’ll make them feel good about themselves.

Children's Cancer Connection

There are groups like the Children’s Cancer Connection, American Foundation for Suicide Prevention Association, and others who need that type of support as well.

I know I would love to have more people care about finding a solution to end diabetes.  Iowa Hawkeyes defensive coordinator Norm Parker had his foot amputated due to long-term complications of diabetes.

I could be the next person to lose his foot.  Please, consider helping other groups in Des Moines.  The Komen walk should not be the only thing you can donate and invest your time and efforts in.

Following the trail of life

Life is a bike trail. You keep peddling until your "trail" ends.

On Wednesday night, Jan Thomas and her sons received the ESPY’s Arthur Ashe Courage award on behalf of the late Aplington-Parkersburg football coach Ed Thomas.  I saw the acceptance speech and I wasn’t worried at all.  I knew Aaron would knock it out of the park.  On a side note, the Becker family also deserve a standing ovation for being in attendance at the show.  They been through hell alongside the Thomas family.

I read with interest on how many people were “misty-eyed” watching the video tribute to Coach and the presentation of the Ashe Award.  I wasn’t “misty-eyed” or emotional at all.  I have seen, read, and listen to the AP story in the past.  Secondly, I had to use the “misty-eyes” and emotional components Wednesday afternoon for someone you don’t know.

Let me tell you about Kim Clayton.

He worked as an executive for American Administrators in West Des Moines.  He and his wife, Debbie, have two children.  Kim had a lot of hobbies and he was an avid Hawkeye fan.  Volunteerism was something he loved to do.  He served on numerous boards and volunteered his time and efforts.

On Friday, July 9th, he collided into the side of a SUV on his bike on a trail in Dallas County.  He was killed instantly. Wednesday afternoon was his funeral.

I’m not writing this to sway you from the attention Coach Thomas deserves to receive, but to tell you that Kim was an everyday hero like Coach Thomas.  He was no Coach Thomas or Mother Theresa when it comes to name recognition.  He didn’t rally a community to rebuild after a tornado or collected food to send to an earthquake-ravaged Haiti.  He volunteered to make his community a better place, in small ways.

Kim served on the American Diabetes Association board with me.  In 2009, we had a down year financially and facing a lack of local public interest in the the cause to find a cure for diabetes.  This year, we made a commitment, as a board, to find new ways to drum up interest for our annual walk & bike ride in September.

Kim was diligent and eager to volunteer in any way.  Sometimes, it was difficult for him when we hit a roadblock.  His facial expression was all I needed to see:  confused, puzzled, looking for a solution.  This spring, Kim found his “voice”, in contacting local companies that we never reached out to in the past.  He became comfortable in calling and asking if he could come out and give his pitch on why they should sponsor or help create and support teams to do our walk.

It was the same “voice” he had at his church, Lutheran Church of Hope, as an usher.  It was the same “voice” that was heard on the WestParks Foundation board as he worked with others to make the parks and the bike trails better and accessible to everyone.

It was that voice that was suddenly silenced on Friday.

As Ed Thomas said, we have to pick ourselves up and move forward.  It’s not that we have to.  We need to.  Life has no stopwatch and there is no button to play back what has taken place.

Life is like a bike trail.  Smooth and simple, bumpy and hilly.  We don’t know where our “individual” trail will end.  We keep riding it until we get there.

And at the end of the trail, hopefully, Kim will be waiting there for us.