Equipping nonprofits to advance social change

The Land of the Common Good

Written by Sean Thomas-Breitfeld

Tourists fall in love with New Mexico because of the food, culture, and natural landscapes. But over the past three years of BMP working with a variety of nonprofit partners, I fell in love with the Land of Enchantment for a completely different reason: the collaborative spirit of the people making change in the state.

From our earliest meetings with nonprofit leaders, people told Frances and me how important relationships are for getting things done. At first, this was a caution to slow down. So rather than convene a large group of organizers, service providers, and advocates at the outset, we focused on establishing trust and learning by listening to a lot of different people working on a range of issues from homelessness to the broken immigration system to environmental issues. Soon, we saw how long-standing relationships led to a close-knit community of activists, change makers and organizations. That sense of community created a quality of partnership and collaboration that seemed unique.

We wondered whether this was just the culture of one New Mexico community of organizations that we had entered. In a survey of nonprofits in the state, we experimented with social network analysis to visualize the connections between organizations, and whether they crossed the usual siloes of issue focus and theory of change. We found that these connections exist across the state in unique configurations. Yes, there were disconnections as well, but given the open nature of the social network question (list up to 5 organizations that are you close partners with), the results show New Mexican nonprofits as highly interconnected with both strong and weak ties.


Then, with this past year’s survey, we added a new set of questions about “the common good,” a phrase that seemed to have particular resonance; it really seemed to catch on and to tap into deeply held New Mexican values of sharing resources and working together. We had convened a series of four “peñas” where people from a variety of organizations came together to learn about each other’s work and discuss their common good perspective. Our 2015 survey found that a common good narrative resonated with more than nine out of ten respondents; a higher level of support than I expected.

There are a lot of problems that New Mexico’s advocates, service providers, and organizers are tackling. But whenever I’m there, I am always impressed by the connections, commitment and relationship of the state’s nonprofit leaders. When you put green chile on top of that, New Mexico can’t be beat!

Service and Social Change advocacy community involvement constituent engagement New Mexico nonprofit sector service delivery