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Essential Partners, Inc.

 186 Alewife Brook Parkway, Suite 212
 Cambridge, MA 02138
[P] (617) 9231216 x 23
[F] --
Damien Lally
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 Printable Profile (Summary / Full)
EIN 22-3432160

LAST UPDATED: 01/10/2019
Organization DBA Essential Partners
Former Names Public Conversations Project (2016)
Organization received a competitive grant from the Boston Foundation in the past five years No


Mission StatementMORE »

Essential Partners fosters constructive dialogue where conflicts are driven by deep differences in identity, beliefs, and values.

Mission Statement

Essential Partners fosters constructive dialogue where conflicts are driven by deep differences in identity, beliefs, and values.

FinancialsMORE »

Fiscal Year Sept 01, 2017 to Aug 31, 2018
Projected Income $1,400,000.00
Projected Expense $1,400,000.00

ProgramsMORE »

  • Capacity building for local communities

Revenue vs. Expense ($000s)

Expense Breakdown 2017 (%)

Expense Breakdown 2016 (%)

Expense Breakdown 2015 (%)

For more details regarding the organization's financial information, select the financial tab and review available comments.


Mission Statement

Essential Partners fosters constructive dialogue where conflicts are driven by deep differences in identity, beliefs, and values.

Background Statement

Too often, we avoid difficult conversations (on the issues most important to our communities), or we approach with fear. Many believe, often based on experience, that talking to people with different ideas threatens the stability of their community or results in unproductive debates where neither "side" feels heard or valued. Even when people do engage with their differences, they often retreat further into what they know and understand: devolving into silence, heated disagreement, or sometimes violent conflict. In this stalemate, everyone loses the richest, most essential parts of living and working in diverse, pluralistic communities.

In American democracy, disagreement is a fundamental principle of self-governance and determination. But, disagreement becomes dysfunction without mutual trust and understanding. EP helps our communities develop skills for building and maintaining trust and understanding, allowing us to work together for mutually beneficial outcomes, whether or not we agree.

Essential Partners, originally named and incorporated as the Public Conversations Project, was founded in 1989. It began as a question family therapist Laura Chasin asked herself -- and her colleagues at the Family Institute of Cambridge -- after watching a televised debate progress from disrespectful to angry to chaotic. Essentially: could the same methods that help families have safe, constructive conversations in counseling sessions also help people talk with each other in situations where there are deep differences in identity, beliefs, and values?

After two years of formal field research on the highly contentious issue of abortion, what is now known as the Reflective Structured Dialogue (RSD) approach took form. Since that time, our practitioners have refined and adapted Reflective Structured Dialogue for use with many other issues, in varying contexts and multiple countries.

These include:

  • LGBTQIA+ inclusion in faith communities
  • immigration and refugee crises
  • gun rights in America
  • gender, race, socio-economic class, wellness, sexual orientation, and mental illness on college/university campuses
  • dialogue across political differences
  • science and conservative Christian faith
  • inter-religious tolerance in Nigeria

Impact Statement

Top 5 recent accomplishments:

1. Increase in frequency and reach of programs: The impact of our training is a testament to the power of dialogue and stories. In the past year we have engaged in 44 communities and 4 countries. Our Practitioners have completed innovative programs in places like Bern, Switzerland; San Diego, CA; Morrilton, AZ; and Wenham, MA.

2. Re-branding successes: We successfully completed new branding and standardizing resources and guides; templates, handbooks and style guides; branded and coded video files for YouTube, Facebook and website, social media banners, thumbnails; and search engine optimization, keywords, phrases.

3. Expanding our base of Associates: We had a company-wide retreat through which we confirmed company-wide objectives, teaching methods and resources.

4. Development of an internal monitoring and evaluation system: We developed a comprehensive system to monitor and evaluate (MEL) the impact of our work. Our MEL helps us consolidate and code details of all program evaluations, interpret data and build a report.

5. Google Ads grant awarded: We were awarded a $10,000/month Google Ads Grant to reach online marketing goals and take advantage of search engine optimization strategies.

Top 4 goals for the upcoming year:

1. Expand work with schools and underserved communities: We are expanding our work in schools and colleges to help educators facilitate contentious issues within their communities and classrooms.

2. Develop online learning and engagement: We are developing an online learning and engagement platform. The web-based courses will integrate data and analytics that measure outcomes and identify needs.

3. Develop certification program: A certification process will ensure the integrity of our method of teaching and practice of dialogue facilitation.

4. Increase Associate diversity: We’re diversifying the talent pool of facilitators who will be more racially and culturally representative of communities around America.

Needs Statement

General operations: demand for EP trainings and services has increased across the US over the past year. Unrestricted gifts help us cover the costs of operation, as well as emergent needs and demands by expanding our offerings to communities facing deep division. $75,000.

Civic Engagement Incubators: a new state-by-state initiative to build up regional leaders in facilitated dialogue and civic engagement, focusing on developing skills in EP-style dialogue engagement and facilitation. The bottom line for this program is to revitalize a spirit of curiosity and connection in American civic and social life. Pilot programs are underway in Utah and Ohio, with more states yet to come. $60,000 per year, per state. 

Community Dialogues: since the 2016 election, many smaller communities (towns, neighborhoods) have reached out to EP seeking resources for conversation/community building on contentious issues: immigration, economic justice, climate change, education, policing, race, and gender. We have found that “conversation projects” within towns or neighborhoods help communities maintain social cohesion while wrestling with conflict. Communities in and around Wash. DC, Boston, Seattle, Minneapolis, Phoenix, San Antonio, and Tulsa are eager to be trained / supported for local projects. $7,500 per community for training and ongoing support. 

CEO Statement

Over the past 27 years, the Public Conversations Project (PCP, now known as Essential Partners) has grown from a quiet experiment by a small group of family therapists to an international organization that fosters more constructive conversations where conflicts are driven by deep divides in identity, beliefs or worldviews.

Abortion. Sexual orientation within faith communities. Competing priorities over forest management in Maine. Diversity on college campuses. Gun rights and reform in America. Reconciliation in post-civil war Africa. Police and community dialogues in North Carolina. These are all issues in which our organization has played a decisive role.

The interventions that family therapists use to help families break destructive communication patterns, increase respect and develop trust are the basis of Reflective Structured Dialogue (RSD), our unique approach to conflict management. By providing a strong structure that creates a sense of safety, we makes it possible for participants to tell their stories, to listen to one another’s stories and to engage in constructive conversations that improve communications and reduce stereotyping of “the other.”

In addition to intervening directly in specific conflicts, we train mental health workers, conflict-resolution experts, educators, members of the clergy, and others who see the value of incorporating our approach in their professional and personal lives.

We welcome readers to visit our site to learn more:

EP is a small organization (annual operating budget is less than $2 million) with large ambitions. The goal is nothing less than to change the way people think about and manage conflict in their communities.

The only barrier to reaching this goal is resources. EP is honored to be included in The Boston Foundation’s Giving Commons, and would be especially honored to receive funding from individuals associated with The Boston Foundation.

Board Chair Statement


Geographic Area Served

Our organization is based in Cambridge, MA, and has historically served the northeast region and communities throughout the broader United States. We have also run international programs for communities in Europe, Asia, and Africa. 

Organization Categories

  1. Civil Rights, Social Action, Advocacy - Management & Technical Assistance
  2. International, Foreign Affairs, and National Security - Democracy And Civil Society Development
  3. Community Improvement, Capacity Building -

Independent research has been conducted on this organization's theory of change or on the effectiveness of this organization's program(s)



Capacity building for local communities

In the past few years, EP has invested in building capacity at the local, grassroots level by training leaders from communities and regions around the US in its methods for dialogue facilitation and civic engagement. 
Budget  --
Category  Civil Rights, Social Action & Advocacy, General/Other
Population Served US
Program Short-Term Success  In the immediate term, we work with local leaders to provide trainings that allow them to cultivate personal skills for dialogue facilitation and community engagement. We also focus on training leaders in groups so they form communities of practice; viable networks where communities facing division can seek facilitative leadership. Under most circumstances, leaders apply what they have learned in training directly as they organize and facilitate their own dialogues with community participants (and with guidance/consultation from veteran EP facilitators). 
Program Long-Term Success  Over the long run our hope is for communities of practice and facilitator networks to hone skills over time through repeated experience, becoming local resources for difficult but necessary dialogues on a range of potential issues. The strength of our approach is our method -- widely applicable and cultivated over years of deliberate practice. With a strong culture of facilitative excellence working toward civic engagement in a community, we hope to inspire thriving cultures of conversation and more resilient, proactive communities capable of navigating and celebrating differences; more resistant to polarization. 
Program Success Monitored By  --
Examples of Program Success 
To see a list of EP's successes in this area, please visit 

CEO/Executive Director/Board Comments

The philanthropic world changed drastically with the economic downturn in 2008. Like many nonprofits, Essential Partners has looked long and hard at what is necessary to ensure our long-term sustainability. Balancing this with our commitment to our social mission has been a major challenge.

We are following dual paths, working actively to build up our fee-for-service work while continuing to engage with large public issues that are often deeply divisive. While our best-known work occurred in the wake of shootings in two health clinics, the approach that made this work successful has translated well to other issues and contexts, from environmental issues to conflicts around sexual orientation in religious communities to post civil-war conflict in Africa.

Because EP is a relatively small organization, and much of our work has been done within intimate groups, finding the best route to effectiveness and impact when we become involved with big national issues is a challenge. We have a number of strategies to meet this challenge:

·      We develop partnerships and collaborations with other organizations and groups. Examples of this include Welcoming America (immigration); The Democracy Imperative (public civility and engagement); and the Center for Peace, Democracy, and Development (CPDD) at UMASS Boston (conflict resolution, coexistence and tolerance).

·      We write about our work and our approach to reach a wider audience—Associate Mary Jacksteit’s article in the American Bar Associations’ Dispute Resolution Magazine (Winter 2012) expanded upon the ABA’s resolution to set a high standard for civil discourse as an example for others.”

·      While much of our work is confidential and cannot be publicized, certain programs, such as The Family Dinner Project, which was recently featured in the Christian Science Monitor, can be discussed publically and benefit from press coverage.

Driving all of our decisions is a deep commitment to the value of dialogue. We know it helps people and groups who are stuck in stale, polarizing, and unproductive conflicts find new ways to talk and relate to one another.


CEO/Executive Director Ms. Parisa Day Parsa
CEO Term Start Jan 2015
CEO Email
CEO Experience

Parisa brings decades of experience in facilitation, interfaith leadership, and nonprofit administration to Essential Partners. Born into a multi-faith family in Shiraz, Iran, Parisa’s career has taken her from the shelters of Boston to the streets of San Francisco and back again to Milton, where she served as a minister in the Unitarian Universalist church for a decade. As a Unitarian Universalist minister, she is deeply conversant in the multiple languages of faith and culture that are present in diverse communities. In addition to acting as the administrative, spiritual, and fundraising rudder of her congregation, Parisa served in a leadership capacity for the regional Unitarian Universalist Association, providing congregations with tools for effective leadership development and change management.

True to her commitment to meaningful exchange across communities and cultures, Parisa is also a trained intercultural facilitator. She has spent the past two years gathering nonprofit teams and congregations working to develop skills at culture change toward greater intercultural relationships within their communities, a skillset deeply aligned with the mission and values of Essential Partners.

Co-CEO --
Co-CEO Term Start --
Co-CEO Email --
Co-CEO Experience --

Former CEOs and Terms

Name Start End
Laura Chasin Aug 1996 June 2006
Cherry Muse 2006 --

Senior Staff

Name Title Experience/Biography
John Sarrouf Director of Program Development John was first exposed to the work of the Public Conversations Project while studying in the masters program in dispute resolution at the University of Massachusetts in Boston. Since then John has facilitated dialogues on issues such as sustainability, gender, Israel-Palestine, religious pluralism, and technology and sexuality. He served as the Assistant Director of Difficult Dialogues at Clark University, where he taught dialogue to faculty and students. John teaches in the departments of Communication and Peace and Conflict Studies at Gordon College. John’s private consulting work has focused on mediation and transforming conflict in small work groups and non-profit boards. To all of his work he brings a background of 15 years in the theater as an actor, director, and administrator. 


Award Awarding Organization Year
-- -- --


Affiliation Year
Massachusetts Nonprofit Network 2009
Member of state association of nonprofits? Yes
Name of state association Massachusetts Nonprofit Network

External Assessments and Accreditations

External Assessment or Accreditation Year
-- --


Over the years we have developed partnerships and collaborations with many other organizations and groups including Welcoming America (immigration); Interfaith Mediation Centre, and the Center for Peace, Democracy, and Development (CPDD) at UMASS Boston (conflict resolution, coexistence and tolerance). More about our partners can be found at

CEO/Executive Director/Board Comments


Foundation Comments


Staff Information

Number of Full Time Staff 8
Number of Part Time Staff 0
Number of Volunteers 3
Number of Contract Staff 15
Staff Retention Rate % 100%

Staff Demographics

Ethnicity African American/Black: 0
Asian American/Pacific Islander: 0
Caucasian: 7
Hispanic/Latino: 0
Native American/American Indian: 0
Other: 1
Other (if specified): Persian / Iranian-American
Gender Female: 6
Male: 2
Not Specified 0

Plans & Policies

Organization has Fundraising Plan? Yes
Organization has Strategic Plan? Under Development
Years Strategic Plan Considers N/A
Management Succession Plan No
Business Continuity of Operations Plan No
Organization Policies And Procedures Yes
Nondiscrimination Policy Yes
Whistle Blower Policy Yes
Document Destruction Policy Yes
Directors and Officers Insurance Policy No
State Charitable Solicitations Permit --
State Registration --

Risk Management Provisions


Reporting and Evaluations

Management Reports to Board? Yes
CEO Formal Evaluation and Frequency Yes Annually
Senior Management Formal Evaluation and Frequency Yes Annually
Non Management Formal Evaluation and Frequency Yes Annually


Board Chair Mr Thomas Stephens
Board Chair Company Affiliation Essential Partners
Board Chair Term Oct 2018 -
Board Co-Chair Thomas Stephens
Board Co-Chair Company Affiliation Essential Partners
Board Co-Chair Term Jan 2018 -

Board Members

Name Company Affiliations Status
Kay Calvert President, Kay Calvert Consulting Voting
Francine Crystal Essential Partners Voting
Tom Gerace Skyword Voting
Adam Motenko Essential Partners, Inc. Voting
Bob O'Hara No Labels Voting
Julien Pham Essential Partners, Inc. Voting
Thomas Stephens Essential Partners, Inc. Voting
Julie White Essential Partners Voting

Constituent Board Members

Name Company Affiliations Status
-- -- --

Youth Board Members

Name Company Affiliations Status
-- -- --

Advisory Board Members

Name Company Affiliations Status
-- -- --

Board Demographics

Ethnicity African American/Black: 1
Asian American/Pacific Islander: 1
Caucasian: 6
Hispanic/Latino: 0
Native American/American Indian: 0
Other: 0
Other (if specified): 0
Gender Female: 3
Male: 5
Not Specified 0

Board Information

Board Term Lengths 3
Board Term Limits 2
Board Meeting Attendance % --
Written Board Selection Criteria Yes
Written Conflict Of Interest Policy Yes
Percentage of Monetary Contributions 100%
Percentage of In-Kind Contributions 100%
Constituency Includes Client Representation Yes

Standing Committees

  • --

CEO/Executive Director/Board Comments

Foundation Comments



Revenue vs. Expense ($000s)

Expense Breakdown 2017 (%)

Expense Breakdown 2016 (%)

Expense Breakdown 2015 (%)

Fiscal Year Sept 01, 2017 to Aug 31, 2018
Projected Income $1,400,000.00
Projected Expense $1,400,000.00
Form 990s

2017 Form 990

2016 Form 990

2015 Form 990

Audit Documents

2017 Audited Financials

2016 Audited Financials

2015 Audited Financials

2014 Audited Financials

IRS Letter of Exemption

IRS Letter of Determination

Prior Three Years Total Revenue and Expense Totals

Fiscal Year 2017 2016 2015
Total Revenue $1,344,117 $1,721,016 $968,750
Total Expenses $1,402,625 $1,567,771 $1,416,654

Prior Three Years Revenue Sources

Fiscal Year 2017 2016 2015
Foundation and
Corporation Contributions
-- -- --
Government Contributions $0 $0 $0
    Federal -- -- --
    State -- -- --
    Local -- -- --
    Unspecified -- $0 $0
Individual Contributions $1,100,953 $884,134 $708,669
Indirect Public Support -- $0 $0
Earned Revenue $242,544 $831,050 $259,917
Investment Income, Net of Losses $620 $1,049 $164
Membership Dues -- $0 $0
Special Events -- $0 $0
Revenue In-Kind -- -- --
Other -- $4,783 $0

Prior Three Years Expense Allocations

Fiscal Year 2017 2016 2015
Program Expense $1,014,473 $966,918 $766,654
Administration Expense $254,588 $297,057 $458,138
Fundraising Expense $133,564 $303,796 $191,862
Payments to Affiliates -- -- --
Total Revenue/Total Expenses 0.96 1.10 0.68
Program Expense/Total Expenses 72% 62% 54%
Fundraising Expense/Contributed Revenue 12% 34% 27%

Prior Three Years Assets and Liabilities

Fiscal Year 2017 2016 2015
Total Assets $540,553 $568,959 $912,070
Current Assets $529,789 $469,400 $124,183
Long-Term Liabilities $0 $0 $0
Current Liabilities $116,969 $86,867 $583,223
Total Net Assets $423,584 $482,092 $328,847

Prior Three Years Top Three Funding Sources

Fiscal Year 2017 2016 2015
1st (Source and Amount) -- --
-- --
-- --
2nd (Source and Amount) -- --
-- --
-- --
3rd (Source and Amount) -- --
-- --
-- --

Financial Planning

Endowment Value --
Spending Policy N/A
Percentage(If selected) --
Credit Line Yes
Reserve Fund Yes
How many months does reserve cover? --

Capital Campaign

Are you currently in a Capital Campaign? No
Capital Campaign Purpose --
Campaign Goal --
Capital Campaign Dates -
Capital Campaign Raised-to-Date Amount --
Capital Campaign Anticipated in Next 5 Years? --

Short Term Solvency

Fiscal Year 2017 2016 2015
Current Ratio: Current Assets/Current Liabilities 4.53 5.40 0.21

Long Term Solvency

Fiscal Year 2017 2016 2015
Long-term Liabilities/Total Assets 0% 0% 0%

CEO/Executive Director/Board Comments


Foundation Comments

Financial summary data in the charts and graphs above is per the organization's IRS Form 990s. Contributions from foundations and corporations are listed under individuals when the breakout was not available. Please note, this organization changed its name in 2016 from Public Conversations Project Inc. to Essential Partners Inc.


Other Documents

No Other Documents currently available.


The Impact tab is a section on the Giving Common added in October 2013; as such the majority of nonprofits have not yet had the chance to complete this voluntary section. The purpose of the Impact section is to ask five deceptively simple questions that require reflection and promote communication about what really matters – results. The goal is to encourage strategic thinking about how a nonprofit will achieve its goals. The following Impact questions are being completed by nonprofits slowly, thoughtfully and at the right time for their respective organizations to ensure the most accurate information possible.

1. What is your organization aiming to accomplish?


2. What are your strategies for making this happen?


3. What are your organization’s capabilities for doing this?


4. How will your organization know if you are making progress?


5. What have and haven’t you accomplished so far?