One Member’s Story

By Steve Cooperman

Getting involved in CoThinkk changed the trajectory of my life.

Steve Cooperman

CoThinkk Member since 2016

The standard approach in nonprofits to determine the effectiveness of their programs is to look at whether they’re accomplishing what they set out to accomplish. We said we’d conduct quarterly trainings with 20 participants – did we do that?

What this approach misses is all the unintended positive effects a program may have. For instance, two participants who meet in one of the trainings get together regularly for coffee and support each other through challenging situations in their lives.

Through CoThinkk, I was introduced to a tool designed to capture these unintended effects called Ripple Effects Mapping. The tool collects the stories of various stakeholders and visually maps the chain of effects in a way that sheds light on the organizational impact, both intended and unintended.

My own story of being involved in CoThinkk is one example of a Ripple Effects Mapping story.

In March 2016, I heard about CoThinkk from Ami Worthen, and several days later, while having lunch at Green Opportunities, I met Sheneika Smith, who said there might be an opportunity to provide support at an upcoming grant writing workshop.

The workshop took a more hands-on, participative approach to grant writing. Instead of participants just being presented information on how to write grants, they immediately applied what they were learning to complete the application for a specific grant. They got support from people like myself with more grant writing experience. And they connected with other participants, with whom they could partner. As a result, the workshop was more engaging, more empowering – and more impactful.

What I experienced at the workshop was just the start of my introduction to understanding a different way of approaching funding, and funders. I already had a sense of how ineffective, not to mention dehumanizing, the standard funding process can be – filling out an application for which it is not easy to know what the funder is looking for, that then once completed goes to some mysterious, invisible committee reading all the applications, never having met or talked to the applicants, and applying a scoring system that makes it easy for the committee to decide who gets the grants but is disconnected from determining the worthiness of the project or program being considered. And then if you somehow miraculously get awarded money, you are on your own until you submit your final report that is evaluated based on whether you did what you said you did.

CoThinkk took a different approach at the workshop – and in all its work with community members I’ve since experienced. They get to know the applicant – assuming they don’t already know the person, which they usually do given their community-centered approach. They help identify and provide whatever nonfinancial support is needed, e.g., capacity building, leadership development, volunteers. And they make it easy to complete grant applications, whether in the form of support for understanding and answering the questions or, in the case, of their own grant process, making it possible, and easy, to create a video application.

It’s not even possible to list all of the ways I’ve personally benefited from that one workshop, let alone every CoThinkk event and meeting I’ve attended since. I can honestly say that getting involved in CoThinkk changed the trajectory of my life. In addition to the connections made and friendships formed, I could write a whole book on what I’ve learned – experientially, and through direct, compassionate feedback – about my own whiteness, about institutional racism in Asheville and in the US, about how to show up in spaces led by people of color. I came to racial equity work pretty clueless; I still have a lot to learn, but now a racial equity lens is foundational to how I operate in the various local projects I’m involved in, as well as in my organizational consulting work outside of Asheville.

Oh, and I have learned about Ripple Effects Mapping!