Why can't we all just get along? It's a question that still resonates today. Only this time, we are not talking about race but rather nonprofits. Now, stay with us for a second. Nonprofits do a significant amount of good globally, but they can only do so much as lone entities. However, the impact they could have by banding together is immeasurable. So, why don't more organizations use the power of numbers to increase their influence? Well, the simple answer is that it's hard. Nonprofits compete for dollars just like businesses. To get grants and donations, they must differentiate themselves and stand apart from other organizations, the opposite behavior necessary for collaboration. That said, there are ways to make them work. “Do what you do best and partner for the rest.” BCT Partners considers the best practices that nonprofits can use to work together and multiply the benefits for their constituents.
1. Put Ego Aside
In order to make collaboration work, nonprofits must concentrate on the ultimate benefits rather than who gets the credit. Every nonprofit has unique expertise but can only influence a finite number of people within its sphere of influence. Organizations can accomplish much more together, but that means putting aside egos and focusing on the big picture.
2. Define Clear Goals
Both parties need to have a clear understanding of what defines success. Is success increasing donations by 100% or expanding media coverage by 20%? Is the goal to triple the number of people that you can help? Whatever the mission, it must be clear, measurable, and attainable. There is no point in setting an unachievable goal and leaving everyone in the partnership feeling deflated as a result.
3. Choose Partners Wisely
Ensure the mission and goals are aligned, and each party brings something unique to the table. Find partners that have complementary abilities. For example, one organization might be skilled at getting press coverage while another is excellent at fund-raising. Those two skills complement each other and amplify the impact.
4. Establish Roles and Responsibilities Upfront
Each organization and every member of the team needs to have clearly defined tasks, whether it's facilitation, progress updates, coordinating administrative duties, communications among network members, meeting summaries, etc. Without responsibilities being determined upfront, there is a good chance of conflict or duplication of efforts.
5. Build Trust
Building trust takes time, and it doesn't usually happen immediately. Be transparent with your partners. Engage in weekly reviews and be honest when something is not going well. Ask for help and advice and quickly pivot if things are not moving in the right direction. If you keep mistakes from each other, you will never succeed in the broader mission. Again, this goes back to putting ego aside and working toward the greater goal.
6. Be Open to Taking Risks
Significant rewards do not come without taking risks. You are already taking a leap of faith by entering a partnership in the first place, but both parties must be willing to embrace the discomfort that often comes with trying something new. You can't achieve greatness or reach goals by taking baby steps. That doesn't mean you should take chances just for the sake of it. They must be well thought out, and the downsides also must be acknowledged.
The bottom line is that no shortage of problems needs to be fixed, and nonprofits are at the forefront of making a difference. Whether helping families, curing cancer, saving the environment, or justice reform, nonprofits and foundations drive positive change. But they can't do it alone. By joining forces, organizations can make a more significant impact. It takes vision, trust, defined goals, and the ability to “put the mission above self.”
Resources recommended by the Council of Nonprofits.
· Mergers, collaborations, and strategic alliances (National Council of Nonprofits)
· Principles for Ethical Collaboration (various)
· Nonprofit collaborations: Structural options (Gene Takagi)
· Making sense of nonprofit collaborations (Bridgespan)
· Building successful collaborations (Lawyers Alliance of New York)
· Collaboration Hub (Grantspace)
· 8 Tips for collaborative leadership (Forbes)
· Start with a shared vision (Stanford Social Innovation Review)
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