Lessons in Collaboration from the Goose Creek Association

Learn how your association can benefit when partnering with other groups to double down on your efforts.

When an association is faced with a yearslong project, it needs to harness not only its own internal resources but also the resources of partners with related goals. That’s the tactic the Goose Creek Association (GCA) is taking with its goal of restoring the Goose Creek watershed, located in Virginia’s Fauquier and Loudoun counties, which is currently designated as “impaired” by the Virginia Department of Environmental Quality.

The “Goose Creek Watch” project, which started in August 2021, brings together conservation organizations from across the region to monitor the stream to test water quality, remove litter from the creek, plant stream buffers to filter the water, and advocate against inappropriate development in the area. The coalition includes GCA, the Loudoun Wildlife Conservancy, The Downstream Project, and the Friends of the Shenandoah River Laboratory.

“We’ve had some great [individual] successes along the way, but we also work with partner organizations who may have a different or bigger jurisdiction in terms of the environment out here,” said Lori Keenan McGuinness, the Fauquier County chair on GCA’s board of directors. “We work as a group to do the right thing for our communities.”

Is your association ready to launch a similar collaborative project? Consider the benefits McGuinness pointed out when evaluating whether to form a coalition with like-minded groups.

Added Expertise

GCA has been doing this kind of work long before launching the “Creek Watch” project. The organization was founded in 1970, and its stream-monitoring efforts have been going on for more than 20 years, McGuinness said. But GCA bolstered its monitoring efforts in September by working with the Friends of the Shenandoah River Laboratory, which offers a professional level of chemical testing on the water that can detect bacteria and other contaminants. In recent monitoring efforts, high levels of E. Coli were found in Goose Creek.

“Sending that data to local officials about extremely high E. Coli levels certainly caught their attention,” McGuinness said. “That’s why we’ve hired the Friends of the Shenandoah: Their laboratory is certified by the Virginia Department of Environmental Quality.”

Expanded Capabilities

With help from the nonprofit The Downstream Project, GCA is going to map all stream-monitoring results in real time. Users will be able to go on a map of the area, click on specific sites, see the latest sample results, and check water quality at their specific location.

GCA has a small staff and leans on volunteers to help with stream monitoring and other efforts, meaning creating such a map might not have been feasible. But The Downstream Project, which has experience with web design, is creating the website for GCA so that its members can have this resource.

Strength in Numbers

McGuinness said that since they’re located within an hour of Washington, DC., Fauquier and Loudoun counties are under constant pressure to develop. GCA has been better-equipped to withstand that pressure since working with other local conservation organizations.

“It just builds credibility when you’ve got everybody rowing in the same direction,” she said. “We’re all small nonprofits—we don’t have huge budgets and a lot of employees. We’re helping each other do the right thing.”

McGuinness said this added credibility has made it easier to get grants, which have been vital to the project.

“When grant makers see the expertise of the people that are going to work on this, it certainly makes things quite credible,” she said.

Forming Partnerships

When forming a coalition, relationship-building is a must. You can leverage your network to connect with other like-minded organizations: McGuinness said she heard about other groups through common donors and met with them at conferences. Keep an eye out for organizations who have a different kind of expertise, so that when you partner with them, you’re each filling in knowledge gaps for the other.

“We can’t do it all,” McGuinness said. “We give each other credibility because we cover different things.”

A shot of Virginia’s Goose Creek, the subject of a collaborative conservation effort.(Bob Klannukarn/Flickr)

Michael Hickey

By Michael Hickey

Michael Hickey is a contributor to Associations Now. MORE

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