Building Capacity by Sharing Stories: Online, In Person, In Your Community

Pollen started as a newsletter created by Lars Leafblad, in which he shared local events, job openings, and news and updates of his friends and extended network, the recipients of the newsletter. Since its beginnings, the content of Pollen has always been generated by and for its members, designed to build ties across the civic-minded community.

Pollen has since grown to 7,500 plus Twin Cities-based connectors who contribute biweekly to each issue of Pollen. Today, Pollen announced a merger with OTA, a South Dakota based, fellow Bush Foundation grant recipient who also has a mission of building stronger communities by connecting civic-minded individuals. Together as OTA-Pollen, they aspire to scale their commitment to community building across North Dakota, South Dakota, and Minnesota.

We shot some questions to Jamie Millard, Meghan Murphy, and Hugh Weber about OTA-Pollen, the self-described “laboratory for possibility.”

CRC: How do you see OTA-Pollen helping other organizations, nonprofit or otherwise, to build their capacity?

O-P: Every capacity building organization has their niche role to play as a part of the “rising tide.” For OTA-Pollen, the role we’re playing is a piece that often gets overlooked: network-building and storytelling. When organizations and the individuals leading them are better connected and have the platform to share their story, the possibilities for impact are exponential. We’ll be directly growing the capacity of organizations and individuals through immersive, large-scale gathering experiences and also our online community rooted in resource and story sharing.

CRC: As general cheerleaders of the Accountability Standards (your executive director, Jamie Millard, is even a former staff member of Charities Review Council) how are you keeping the standards in mind while building Pollen into a new nonprofit along with OTA?

O-P: We do indeed love the Accountability Standards! They’ve been an invaluable asset for us as an organization in startup mode. It’s already been helpful to refer back to certain Standards as we navigate very early decisions and discussions. For example, as we move into our first conversations for strategic planning, the philosophy and context behind Standards like the Impact on the Community and Diversity and Inclusivity help ground our thinking.
As we begin the process to seek 501c3 status (right now we are under fiscal sponsorship with MAP for Nonprofits), we plan to go through the Accountability Wizard to ensure we start off “Meeting Standards.”

CRC: Where will OTA-Pollen be in three years?

Meghan Murphy, Jamie Millard, and Hugh Weber of OTA-Pollen

We are looking to build artwork into storytelling in new and exciting ways, and we are confident our digital platform will be innovative in this space. We will primarily seek talent right here in the region to accomplish a new kind of reader experience. This new network will be powered  by individuals with ambitious goals, that are eager to take advantage of generous deadlines and serious compensation for a high quality work. We are excited to hire an amazing body of first-rate writers and illustrators and we are eager to empower individuals outside of that market, artists and big thinkers, to take on a passion project under the OTA-pollen banner.

CRC: What is something Pollen is not doing right now that you’d like to see come from the OTA-Pollen collaboration?

O-P: Even though Pollen has been building a rich, engaged community for the past five years, it’s mainly a digital network. In our recent member survey, it was unquestionable that one of the number one things Pollenites crave is the opportunity for more in-person gatherings. With the expertise OTA brings to the table, we’ll now have the ability to offer that type of experience!

We are also eager to extend the network well beyond the boundaries of the metro area. From the beginning OTA has focused on the stages of North Dakota, South Dakota and greater Minnesota. We look forward to building hyperlocal Pollen-like resources in communities like Bismarck, ND, Duluth, MN and Rapid City, SD. We’re excited to see all of these communities have their own petri-dish of connected, cross-sector civically-engaged community that bubbles up into the overall regional network.

CRC: What ways can smart givers be involved in the work of OTA-Pollen?

O-P: Smart givers have a deep understanding of the nonprofits and individuals doing impacting, meaningful work. One of best ways smart givers could bring that expertise to OTA-Pollen is through our first big initiative, our We Must Be Bold Tour. In January and February, we’ll be traveling the length and width of the OTA states of Minnesota, North Dakota and South Dakota, collecting stories of boldness. Our hope is to work with our community to collect nominations identifying bold artists, innovators, entrepreneurs, community builders and cross-sectors leaders across the region who had embraced an ethos of creativity, connectivity and community.

Get live updates about OTA-Pollen by following them on Twitter.

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