Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Everybody’s Doing It: Tips for Healthy Nonprofit Collaborations

By Asia Hadley, Training Coordinator, Foundation Center-Atlanta

Do you desire a beneficial partnership? Do you dream of having a partnership that will “get your organization’s name out there” in a good way? Are you looking to collaborate to increase your resources? If you answered yes to these questions, you are not alone.

According to The Power of Partnership by Plexus Consulting Group, 86% of the respondents to their questionnaire said the most important accomplishment of a strategic partnership is ‘to achieve a goal that the association could not achieve alone.” To respondents, that goal most often is to:

• Increase membership
• Increase resources
• Increase revenue
• Enhance visibility and/or brand
• Expand current markets (or develop new markets)
• Minimize the risk inherent in any innovation
• Maximize use of resources

Before you rush to hook-up with an organization, here’s a sobering fact: 50% fail. (I’m not citing divorce statistics either.) That’s according to a study “When to Ally and When to Acquire,” in the Harvard Business Review (July/August 2004) referenced in The Power of Partnership.

Use the following tips to develop a thriving collaborative partnership regardless of economic conditions.

What to do:

Determine your objective: Be clear about why your organization is choosing to partner and what you hope to accomplish. Your objectives should be in alignment with your vision, mission, and strategic goals. Remember to consider what others may possibly gain through the partnership as well.

Assess your readiness: Successful partnerships have committed leadership at both the executive and staff levels. Commitment is demonstrated by staff having dedicated time for meetings and work related to the collaboration. Commitment can also be seen by allocating resources to support the initiative. Does your staff have the time and resources available to fulfill your organization’s role? Have you determined your organization’s strengths and weakness to know what roles you can play within a partnership?

Explore collaboration models: According to the book Wise Decision-Making in Uncertain Times, three levels of collaboration can exist: 1) cooperation (project-specific relationship), 2) coordination (informal relationship), and 3) collaboration (formal relationships, which have separate boards of directors, bylaws, and other organizational structures).

Select an appropriate partner: This is where doing your homework will be crucial. Find out the mission of the other group(s). Are they respected in the community? What do they have to gain? Do they have the time, resources and buy-in to collaborate effectively? Once you select a partner, you may choose to outline an agreement of the responsibilities of each organization. The more formal the collaboration, the more a written agreement is needed.

Evaluate your process: Throughout the collaboration make time to assess what is working and what is not working. Are the meetings productive? Are there too many of them? This allows you to make appropriate changes when needed.

What not to do:

Act contrary to the above tips or ignore them altogether.

How have you collaborated with another organization?

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