Tipping Points

Recently a seasoned non-profit professional working with the Treehouse Foundation gave me a strategic homework assignment: to go out and talk with successful colleagues around the country who are further along the non-profit path to find out when their organizations achieved optimum forward motion, their tipping points. In short, to find out how these non-profit leaders created the tipping points that led to their success.

I found the assignment exciting for a couple of reasons. First, the Treehouse Foundation and it’s two major initiatives, the Treehouse Community and the Treehouse Center of Innovation for Foster/Adoptive Care, are young. Typically organizational development consultants would be talking about tipping points and leverage with a more seasoned organization. However, thanks to the unique collaborations we have created with Beacon Communities, Berkshire Children & Families, Treehouse community members and our Treehouse Innovation Partners, we have been able to accomplish a great deal in a short amount of time. Second, I love collaborating with others to move the Treehouse Foundation forward so we can expand the number of folks actively supporting our mission to help improve the odds for or our young people experiencing foster care.

Before I started my assignment, I wanted to look closely at the two major initiatives led by the Treehouse Foundation:

1. The Treehouse Community is home to over 100 people, ranging in age from 4 to 90. It’s a multi-generational neighborhood that strives to help prevent children from “aging out” of foster care by removing them from the foster care system and providing them with enduring family relationships and community connections.

In the Treehouse Community, where families who are adopting children from foster care live with neighbors who invest in their lives daily, we have learned that when we care about the lives of all of our neighbors the health of everyone involved is enhanced. Widespread investment in lives, community based solutions, and well-being are critical to the success of the Treehouse Community and the Treehouse Community Approach.

2. The Treehouse Center of Innovation for Foster/Adoptive Care seeks to collaborate with philanthropists, civic and business leaders, non-profit organizations, colleges and universities, national thought leaders, and social entrepreneurs to create innovative programs and practices. The TCI, in collaboration with its Treehouse Innovation Partners, supports the strengthening of lives throughout western MA. TCI is currently collaborating with Enchanted Circle Theatre, the Eric Carle Museum of Picture Book Art, Friends of Children, Hampshire Educational Collaborative, Holyoke Rows, Sibling Connections, School Sprouts, Smith College, Westfield State, UMass and others to transform lives both on Treehouse Circle and throughout the western region. Our goal: to develop and pilot a compelling new menu of engagement options that serve children, families and communities in our backyard – a menu of exciting new ways for people of all ages to support vulnerable children that we can offer up to the nation for replication.

Sharing the unique Treehouse Foundation strategy for creating a culture of possibility is helping to fundamentally change the way we care for our youth whose lives have been impacted by foster care. The Treehouse Community and TCI Approaches bring more energy, people, ideas, collaborations, creativity and fiscal resources to our young people in foster care. The result: hundreds of young people in our region are not at high risk for homelessness, incarceration, teen parenting. leaving school without a diploma and unemployment because they are surrounded my a cadre of caring people who are invested in their success.

With the Treehouse Community and TCI Approaches in mind, I got out my copy of Malcom Gladwell’s book, the Tipping Point. It’s a book about change. Gladwell says on Gladwell.com, that the Tipping Point “is concerned with figuring out the rules by which social change happens.” The phrase comes from the world of epidemiology. It’s the name given to that moment in an epidemic when a virus reaches critical mass. It’s the boiling point. It’s the moment on the graph when the line starts to shoot upwards.” Wikipedia notes that tipping points are “the levels at which the momentum for change becomes unstoppable.”

As soon as I was satisfied that I knew what I was asking people to describe, I picked up the phone and began reaching out to colleagues around the country. I told them about my assignment and listened closely to their tipping point stories.. I learned about creative strategies that non-profits engage in to stay alive in this economically challenging time. I learned a lot about organizational development. The most interesting fact I learned was this: Each and every one of my colleagues said that their organizational tipping point came when people decided to invest in their mission, their approach and their idea.

Widespread investment looks like this: committed philanthropists, engaged board members, support from civic leaders, multi-disciplinary buy-in, writers sharing the good news about the organization, a broad based coalition of support for the mission and vision of the organization, an array of strong partnerships.

When people chose to invest in the organizations they began to live their mission and vision in the best ways possible. They served more people. They began to create lasting change. They documented their findings and shared them with others around the country and inspired community leaders and citizens to join in and become part of the solution. They broadened their base of support and began to tip.

What I learned from my esteemed colleagues is that when lots of people consider the Treehouse Foundation’s mission and innovative approach an asset AND commit to it wholeheartedly, we will begin to move toward our tipping point. May non-profit leaders used the phrase, “strength in numbers”. In short, we need a solid base of investment that makes the line on the Treehouse Foundation graph shoot upwards.

Here’s to investment in the Treehouse Foundation! Investment- in healthy lives, raised expectations and engaged communities. Investment- in innovation, opportunity and leveling the playing field. Investment- in the creation of a “culture of possibility” for all of our nation’s children.

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