Toledo Regional Autism Network

The Toledo Regional Autism Network (TRAN) is a regional collaborative leveraging the resources of 17 member organizations to advance the shared goal of better serving the needs of individuals with autism and their families and caregivers. First convened as The Autism Collaborative by the Great Lakes Collaborative for Autism (GLCA), this group of diverse organizations ranges from very small all-volunteer, parent-led organizations to major hospital and university programs whose combined activities include educational, therapeutic, employment and life skills, and recreational programs as well as policy and advocacy.

Initially, to support this community collaborative endeavor, a regional health system launched a fundraising campaign.  While successful, this campaign left some confusion about how the proceeds were to be distributed, which became a point of contention among member organizations. Knowing how important it was that they continue to work together to create a more seamless system of services for those affected by autism, members sought support to work through their differences and create a structure through which they could collaborate more effectively.

In 2011, with a Strategic Partnership Alliance Grant from the Toledo Community Foundation, GLCA engaged La Piana Consulting to help the group of organizations develop a funding agreement and formalize their collaborative structure moving forward. Working with Jo DeBolt, members negotiated an agreement for how jointly raised funds would be allocated as well as an operating agreement. Over a period of several months, a series of interviews, in-person sessions, and conference calls allowed time for members to rebuild trust. Formalizing their collaborative structure was as much a process of strengthening their relationships as it was about clarifying roles, responsibilities, and decision-making authority. 

In January 2012, the group signed an agreement, adopted the name Toledo Regional Autism Network, and created a website for the Network to help individuals and families meet their critical information-seeking needs. The Toledo Community Foundation now serves as a fiscal sponsor as TRAN raises and expends funds on collaborative programs and other ventures, which addresses many of the tensions around fundraising that had previously been a barrier. Although the process of learning how to effectively work together is an ongoing one, TRAN has made giant steps to better serve the community, in part through a clear leadership and decision-making structure that is inclusive and transparent and in which all members have an equal voice.


In collaboration, it is critical that the form of working together follows the function, or the shared goals to be achieved. For this reason, partnerships and structures may shift and evolve over time. Such is the case with TRAN.

As described above, TRAN has indeed been instrumental in strengthening relationships, fostering communication and information-sharing, and generating community awareness. However, as an unstaffed collaborative without an independent 501c3, its capacity to do actual programming has been limited. Recognizing this, members recently agreed to transition TRAN to focus on its value as a professional network of service and education providers. While TRAN will still hold member meetings and engage in limited campaigns such as community resource fairs, GLCA will assume responsibility for any major program activities such as conducting needs assessments, creating new programs, or providing services. This division of roles among TRAN and GLCA – and a proposed agreement to share decision making for future funding recommendations – is testament to the high level of trust that has been developed through this collaboration, and will enable these organizations to continue to effectively support those living with autism.