hope is alive and well in Tulsa

Hope, as it turns out, is alive and well in Tulsa.

On Tuesday, October 16, 2012, almost 300 professionals working with more than 90 Tulsa-area nonprofits gathered on the University of Oklahoma-Tulsa Schusterman Center campus for a common purpose: to learn about Hope Theory and its application to the mission of their respective organizations.

The theme of this event was “A Common Language for Collective Impact” and the grounding premise was simple—individually, nonprofit organizations provide a safety net for at-risk clients experiencing poverty, abuse, neglect and other hardships. We wanted to explore ways in which these individual agencies can come together to collectively enhance social change.

Hope Theory provides a common language that becomes the glue for our communities. There are main components of hope:

  • Goals: Our behavior is determined by goals we desire;
  • Pathways to achieving goals; and
  • Agency: Commitment, Determination, Motivation to follow pathways.

Hope, then, is the idea that we are all attempting to achieve a goal. It requires us to have the pathways (mental strategies to goal attainment) and agency (mental determination to follow pathways). In order to be high hope, a person must feel they have both the will and the way(s) to achieve a goal. In other words, the more one believes he or she can do something, the more likely they are to do it.

As Dr. Hellman wrote in his recent paper, Nonprofits as Pathways of Hope, “Empirical findings have shown that hope is a strong predictor of well-being, hope is positively associated with behavioral change, and is positively associated with physical well-being. This concept of hope can be empirically supported as a theory of change for the nonprofit community.”

While it may seem intuitive, we think Hope Theory has the potential to revolutionize the way nonprofits assess their work and report successes to funders. Dr. Hellman and his team at OU-Tulsa are working to make hope a measurable metric with which we can quantify the previously “unmeasureable” human impact of nonprofit work.

From the onset, our goal for this day-long conference was to generate energy around this collective approach and to prompt culture shifts within the organizations. Toward the end, participants broke out into small groups to participate in World Café-style dialogue on the following questions:

  • What is “hope” within the context of your organization?
  • How does your agency help to enhance or build client agency?
  • How does your agency help to enhance or build client pathways?
  • What supports will be necessary for the implementation of hope as a framework for service delivery at your agency?

Students took careful notes during these conversations and we were pleased to see common themes emerge: collaboration, empowerment, relationships, motivation, communication, language to name just a few. The image above visually depicts the notes from all groups attending the conference.

Over the next nine months, we will continue to explore through a series of follow-up sessions the impact of Hope Theory on nonprofit organizations in Tulsa. In the meantime, we invite you to weigh-in on the conversation through Twitter and Instagram using the hashtag #TulsaHope. Additionally, you can learn more about the Conference by visiting www.ou.edu/tulsa/hope.

Hope cuts across all sectors of the nonprofit world from the arts to child advocacy to education to homelessness—everyone needs hope. As Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., once said “We must accept finite disappointment, but never lose infinite hope.”

[cross-posted from schusterman.org]


Dr. Chan M. Hellman is a professor in the Department of Human Relations at the University of Oklahoma and the founding director of the OU-Tulsa Center of Applied Research for Nonprofit Organizations which seeks to create and maintain a culture of inquiry through conducting original research on nonprofit agencies’ impact on the quality of life among all citizens.

Randy K. Macon is working as a research specialist with the Center of Applied Research for Nonprofit Organizations and is completing an interdisciplinary Ph.D. specializing in philanthropy, also at OU. He is a former Program Associate at the Charles and Lynn Schusterman Family Foundation