With the new year around the corner, it’s time to think about fresh and creative ways to strengthen your non-profit. One very good suggestion to inject some much-needed energy into your mission could be to seek out a collaboration with another non-profit in your community.

Having worked in the non-profit industry myself, I know how scary a thought this can be. With the tightening economy, competition for donations has never been more fierce. Why would sharing information, combining resources, co-mingling donors, and merging common visions be beneficial to any one organization?

It sounds messy at best and threatening at worst. What would happen if one of your biggest donors became enamored with the other group and decided to give to them partially or totally? That could be disastrous for your budget. I’ve felt this way many times over the years. It’s natural, I think, to be protective of what you’ve established and reluctant to put it at risk.

But, after seeing how a partnership can actually work in real life, I’ve got to tell you, this isolationist attitude is pretty short sighted.

So, here are five arguments for seeking out a cooperative arrangement. If you are still nervous, think about attempting one small project that has very narrowly defined parameters. Maybe a one-day service event might be a good idea for starters. Once you see how well this can turn out, I bet you’ll be looking for more and more opportunities to collaborate down the road.

Why would sharing information, combining resources, co-mingling donors, and merging common visions be beneficial to any one organization?

The first and most basic reason to work with another non-profit is that you’ll have a super-charged opportunity to carry out your mission. You and your partner organization share a common, but not exact role in the same community. This means that you probably have many similar acquaintances and are familiar with the unique challenges inherent to the field you are in. That also means that the people who work for your organization most likely “speak the same language” as the folks in the other group. Teaming up for a one day event would be very comfortable, draw a lot of public attention, and serve an increased number of people in one fell swoop. Everybody wins.

A second benefit that comes from working in a joint venture is that it forces you to precisely define your mission. If you sit down at a table to collaborate with an outside group, you need to know exactly what you do, whom your serve, why you’re doing it, and the ways in which you go about doing it. You would expect the other guys to know this information, so you should too.

Oftentimes, in the day to day managing of a non-profit, it’s easy to just plow ahead with routine details and sometimes lose focus and passion. It’s also easy to get wrapped up in something distracting, like fundraising, and forget about the actual reason your non-profit exists.

Therefore, by forcing yourself to work with a different entity, you re-focus, you re-energize, and you refresh. It’s sort of like having visitors over to your house. You want to make a good impression, so you clean up, organize, and prepare for their arrival. By doing this, not only do you make your guests feel welcome, but you end up with a very clean house! Again, everyone wins!

A third reason for a temporary merge is that you put the best of your organization together with the best of another organization, and the result is an ultra, high-powered force for good.

Each non-profit has its strengths and weaknesses. That’s just a fact of human nature. Alone, one group can definitely be effective, but when it combines its strengths, it has the power to make a significant difference.

For example, one group may be very good at communicating with the public. They know how to use the media to turn out a huge crowd and how to get everyone fired up. Another group, somewhat related to the first, may be better, however, in actually carrying out the management of the event or activity. By putting these two strengths together, you’ve now got one large, highly effective team.

There is also an added benefit in that the people in your organization will be exposed to the things that the other group excels at. They can learn valuable lessons and ultimately take those lessons back to your own organization. In the long run, you will get a more talented, more well-rounded, and complete staff. Each time you collaborate with a different non-profit, you increase the continuing educational benefits for your own workers.

Ok, for more reasons why seeking out a collaborative experience in the new year would be a good idea for your organization, I highly recommend you check out part two of this article, which will be available soon. Be sure to come back!

Photo By: Hoira Varlan

Posted on 09 December 2010

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