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It’s Time for Out of the Box Thinking About Collaboration

Nadia Prescott

There is growing pressure on private foundations to pick up shortfalls as government budgets around the world continue to be squeezed. There are limited funding sources to tap, and a growing number of organizations vying for these monies. Funders and donors are increasingly partnering with those groups who are working together to achieve the common goal of improving outcomes for their constituents.

Historically, non-profit collaborations centered on discreet partnerships between local groups who shared a common mission. These partnerships were geared towards expanding or improving regional program services, and included shared best practices and/or back office services. This short-sighted strategy rarely yielded long term sustained social change.

For non-US based organizations, this emerging strategy involves pursuing creative
partnerships through corporate sponsorship. If, for example, your organization operates in an area where the economy is tourism-based, partnering with hotels to promote local projects can provide access to a new and potentially very lucrative donor.

An article by Peter Panepento’s in SSIR talks about the growing number of successful
collaborations between groups working towards achieving very different missions, or between nonprofits and groups outside the nonprofit world.

If you are US based, there are plenty of opportunities to identify global donors using
international fundraising platforms such as Global Giving. You can also leverage social media to expand your donor base. To tap into this fundraising market, you will need a strong and visionary website that clearly states how a donor’s financial support will make a significant difference in achieving your mission.

Innovative collaborations can be very exciting, and infuse new energy into your organization.

Success will be dependent on how well you craft your strategy. True collaboration happens
when nonprofit leadership analyzes their market and forges alliances with other entities that will support long term progress towards achieving meaningful social change. If you are contemplating a new type of collaboration this year, it’s a good idea to complete an honest assessment of your organization’s core competencies. Determine what you do better than anybody else, who your target audience is, and your desired social change outcomes.

The results of your assessment will help you identify which entities (private and public) are
potential prospects for a long term partnership that will help your organization realize your goals.

To move your mission forward through innovative collaboration, you will need to create a value proposition that articulates your organizations strengths, and describes how these strengths will also support achieving the goals of your potential partners. You will have to craft a story that illustrates that through collaboration, the social change outcome will be more meaningful than if both organizations continued to operate individually.

Think of your non-profit as part of a larger network of organizations trying to impact social
change, versus an island in and of itself.

To recap, nonprofit leadership must embark on a 3-part process to determine if collaboration makes sense and if so, with whom to collaborate:

  • Complete an organization assessment to determine your nonprofit’s core competencies (what you do better than anyone else), target populations (who you seek to benefit or influence), and desired social change outcomes (the change you’d like to see in the world). Consider creating a Theory of Change.
  • Map your external marketplace to identify potential collaborators, and how it makes
    senses to forge these strategic alliances
  • Engage your board in the process. Ask them for help in developing high-level relationships with the leadership of your target list of potential collaborators.

Collaboration makes strategic sense when a nonprofit is very clear about the change they want to effect, and then identifies what other entities can help achieve it.