In the Community
Collaborate for EfficiencyApril 20, 2016
Why is this important?
The fact is that there are a lot of nonprofit organizations serving our area. A lot. And each has its own board, its own mission and its own administrative budget. Each is continually looking for operating dollars, as well as dollars to support growth and new projects. And there are only so many charitable dollars available to provide such support. It is critical that the most efficient use of such dollars be made.
The Community Foundation does not wish to support duplicate efforts. Therefore, if there are overlapping missions for specific programs within nonprofits, it is our expectation that the organizations work together rather than compete—saving time, effort and dollars for all of us.
Collaboration is a popular topic in business articles and books. This is because, while it makes a great deal of sense to collaborate, using knowledge and resources jointly, it is apparently not as easy as it seems.
So here are a few things to consider when approaching a collaborative effort.
- It is CRITICAL that all partners in the collaboration establish a GOAL together. If I establish a goal, and ask you to collaborate with me to accomplish that goal, our chances of success are far less than if we work together to establish the goal. Because the multiple partners in a collaboration have different missions, the goal of the partnership must serve the missions of each organization. Joint ownership of the goal is critical.
- If the goal needs to be jointly established and owned, then a sincere effort to get all possible partners to the table at the beginning is also critical. Much time is wasted when additional partners are added later, and then a) an orientation of where the group has been, and why they are where they are, has to take place, and b) the new partners will want modifications to suit their own missions and resources.
- Once a joint goal has been established, an action plan needs to be developed, and resources identified. For what will your team be responsible? What will you need from others? What is the sequence of activities and timeline? Are there important steps for which no one will take ownership? How will those be accomplished? How do the pieces to be owned by your team fit with the other work of your organization outside of the collaboration in terms of timing and resources? Who has decision-making authority in each partner organization and can authorize resources (personnel and dollars) to accomplish each part? How can each partner be assured that they will not be left holding the bag for the project, or overrun by another partner who wants to take control? Managing these expectations at the beginning will make the partnership run much more smoothly.
- Identify not only a joint goal and a plan of action and timeline, but also a means of communicating. Meetings? Sure. But what information might be needed or should be shared between meetings? Can you use technology to assist (DropBox or a Google Group, for example)? As problems arise, what method will you use to share them quickly so that solutions can be created?
Obviously, shared expertise and resources can create efficiencies that mean some amazing things can be accomplished. But this can only happen if significant pre-planning is a part of the mix and if all partners are equally responsible for the outcomes and receive equal accolades for the achievements of the group. Teamwork makes the dream work. But the effort can be well worth it and the achievements can create great pride for all. Finally, all those offering financial support to your effort will also be proud, and are more likely to live generously. You are assuring them that their resources are being used most wisely.
Denise K. Spencer
President and CEO