The Power of Collaboration
I was ready to quit.
I’d been running NGO Storytelling as my passion project for three years, and I didn’t have the energy or time to do it alone anymore. My goal had always been to give back to the humanitarian storytelling community by writing about my experiences, but I hadn’t written anything in months. I felt I’d let down the readers as well as myself. I planned to post a farewell/thank you letter. Then I’d archive the site’s files and let the domain name expire when it came up for renewal. It seemed to be my only option.
For some reason, I never thought of collaborating on NGO Storytelling with anyone, mainly because I didn’t think anyone would be interested. So I was surprised when a few weeks later, out of the blue, my good friend Crystal Randazzo suggested we revive the site together. I didn’t know what ideas she had, but it was like I could already feel a weight being lifted off me. Crystal and I had teamed up on a few storytelling projects when we lived in Rwanda, so I knew our work styles complemented each other. I knew I could trust her. Also, I liked her (and still do, of course, though that’s not a prerequisite for collaboration).
I’ll admit, at first it was a little hard to let someone else work with my baby. But only a little bit. Crystal had good ideas, and together we thought up even more. I could see she was as committed as I was to sticking to our newly-created editorial calendar; she didn’t want to let me down and I didn’t want to let her down, either. I felt renewed confidence and energy that we could grow NGO Storytelling’s audience through thoughtful writing and interesting interviews.
It’s been about a year-and-a-half since Crystal and I started working together. We Skype regularly to talk NGO Storytelling business and catch up on our lives. We edit each other’s blog posts and plan for the future. We both curate the Instagram feed. She manages the Facebook page and I manage the website. We’ve had a couple disagreements, but we’ve worked through them like the pros and the friends that we are.
I think NGO Storytelling is a thousand and one times better now than when I ran it alone. Crystal and I have created an e-book about humanitarian photography. We’ve started sending a monthly newsletter that now has over 500 subscribers. We’ve answered readers’ emails, held Skype chats with budding photographers, and spoken about humanitarian photography in workshops and webinars. And this year we wrote 42 blog posts — almost as many as I wrote when I ran the website solo. Our most popular post was an interview with researcher Elisa Morales about voluntourism photography and ethical issues, followed closely by “It’s Time to Tell a Different Nonprofit Story.”
For me, the best part of collaborating with Crystal is knowing there’s someone else who cares about NGO Storytelling as much as I do. I’m grateful we work together. To think, I almost quit all this. Instead, my collaboration with one person has turned into an ever-growing community of people as committed to ethical and honest humanitarian storytelling as we are.
Photo caption: Crystaline Randazzo, co-editor of NGO Storytelling, works on her computer during a recent editorial planning retreat in Baltimore, Md. Crystal may look like she’s working alone, but a moment before I shot this photo I was sitting in the chair across from her. Photo © Laura Elizabeth Pohl.