Hudson Valley Alternative Dispute Resolution

"There was pre-existing cooperation between the organizations. If there are programs we don’t offer, or someone calls from a county we don’t represent, we will refer to each other. It pays to know who your neighbors are so you know where to send people." – Donna Ramlow (Dispute Resolution Center), Jane Cottrell (Mediation Center of Dutchess County), and Dawn Wallant (Common Ground Dispute Resolution), Executive Directors

The Dyson Foundation encourages collaboration when it sees an opportunity that can strengthen multiple nonprofits at once. When the Dispute Resolution Center (which serves Ulster, Putnam, and Orange counties) approached the Dyson Foundation about a mini-grant for social media and marketing planning, Foundation staff suggested they consider collaborating with other mediation centers in the region because they face similar challenges in terms of community awareness, education, marketing, and donor development. As part of this grant, which falls within the Strengthening Nonprofits theme, Dispute Resolution Center worked with Common Ground Dispute Resolution (Greene and Columbia counties) and Mediation Center of Dutchess County (Dutchess County).

“Social media was an area of known need, but an area that we were very much under-utilizing. We did not have the ability on staff or on our board to move forward with it in a logical way,” says Nevill Smythe, board president of Mediation Center of Dutchess County. “When we were approached by Donna and Susan it fit right into an area of known need for us.”

“It was educational. All of the centers had really good contributions to make, a lot of good dialogue back and forth, and, along with the marketing firm, it was a great collaboration,” adds Susan Hamilton, Communications and Outreach Director of the Dispute Resolution Center.

Together the three centers produced a joint website ( that lists their organizations’ common services and refers users to the appropriate geographic center. They further developed a joint Twitter account (@HudsonValleyADR) with content that increases awareness, educates the public about mediation, shows its effectiveness in conflict resolution, and curates interesting and relevant stories to illustrate all of the above.

“There is a lack of awareness and there are misperceptions about mediation,” says Dispute Resolution Center Executive Director Donna Ramlow. “A lot of people don’t know that it exists as an option that will allow them to be involved in the outcome instead of having a situation escalate to the point that they’re going to court.”

Furthering that idea, Jane Cottrell, Executive Director of the Mediation Center of Dutchess County, adds, “Mediation is less expensive and more efficient than the courts. All conflict makes us anxious, but court is arguably worse because it’s usually drawn out. Mediation provides expedient relief.”

Common Ground Executive Director Dawn Wallant agrees: “Mediation is not adversarial like the court system is. It’s a peaceful process, it’s a cooperative process, and it’s one where the participants really have a voice in the end result.”

The joint website, which provides traffic analytics data to each agency, has already won a design award and all three organizations report positive results, with referrals coming from the website and their Twitter feed.

“What I found interesting,” says Common Ground’s Wallant, “was that, although we offer similar services, each of us had a very unique interpretation or nuance that we wanted to be brought to the discussion. Because we do what we do, we were all able to listen and hear what each other was saying. That's really why this worked. We were not reticent. We were collaborative, but also clear about what we believed was important to this process.”