Collaborations Illustration

Nonprofit collaborations can make you stronger. Here’s why.

Have you considered a strategic collaboration with another nonprofit?

There’s a saying I often call to mind…

“Do what you do best and partner for the rest.”

Wise words! When it comes to nonprofits – especially those with smaller budgets – there are limits to what can be accomplished on your own. As Forbes notes, “Many nonprofits, especially those in the social services sector, face shrinking funding streams.”

There’s often far more vision than funding for your programs and services. That’s why I recommend our Brewer Direct clients explore strategic collaborations with other nonprofits.

Strategic collaborations benefit your individual goals, while allowing you to take steps toward your larger, more visionary goals that wouldn’t be possible with your current resources and expenses.

Resource and cost sharing is one huge benefit of collaborating – but there are more!

  • Geographically expands your services and programs.
  • Creates opportunities to win and/or engage more donors.
  • Eliminates duplication of services.
  • Improves efficiency for everyone involved.
  • Allows additional marketing/branding opportunities
  • Increases awareness of all the nonprofits in the partnership.
  • Produces a greater overall impact in your communities.

Strategic collaborations can strengthen your presence and visibility in your community and the media. According to the National Council of Nonprofits, “High-impact nonprofits work with and through organizations and individuals outside themselves to create more impact than they ever could have achieved alone.”

I can practically hear you right now, saying: “Shellie, this sounds great… in theory. But it’s too hard to collaborate with other organizations who have totally different ways of operating.”

It’s true. Barriers to strategic collaborations can include distance, schedules and workloads – or even internal resistance to adopting new or revised processes.

So to help you begin, here are 3 tips to consider:

  1. BE POSITIVE. It’s easy to see the potential issues of collaborating, but that doesn’t mean everyone in your organization will agree right away. It’s important to approach working together with a positive mindset. If your leadership team chooses to celebrate the benefits of collaboration, the rest of your staff will likely follow.
  2. DEFINE YOUR “WHY.” Make sure your collaboration works by articulating your goals from the start to prevent headache and heartache down the road. To clarify your collaborative focus, ask questions like:
    • Will we increase access to important services or programs?
    • Is there a particular problem we can solve together?
    • Will our partnership eliminate the duplication of services in our community?
    • How will our nonprofits, staff, volunteers, etc. benefit?
  3. EVALUATE YOUR “HOW.” Philanthropy News Digest recommends the following: “Be clear on the ‘why.’ Be agnostic on the ‘how.’” Every collaboration will be different – and require different approaches. Make sure each “how” is appropriate for the specific goals and operation of the nonprofits involved.

Here’s a great collaboration I’ve seen in action. For many years, a Rescue Mission client of mine collaborated with other local shelter organizations on a “Hotline for the Homeless.”

THE PROBLEM: When people called or came in for shelter, there were times the Rescue Mission didn’t have enough beds OR couldn’t accommodate a unique situation (e.g. a father with a young daughter). While there were multiple nonprofits offering overnight stays, it wasn’t clear which could help a particular client on any given day.

THE SOLUTION: This client set up and maintained a database of all their local shelters, who they served and number of available beds. Each day, the shelters would call with their current info to update the database. When the Rescue Mission couldn’t accommodate someone, they knew exactly where to send them. And other local agencies could call them to find out where to send people as well.

It became a one-stop shop for shelter. A brilliant collaboration! Instead of competing, the local shelters worked together for a common goal – getting as many people off the streets and into safe shelters as possible.

Strategic collaborations with other nonprofits are a powerful way to create change in your community. Your organization can become stronger, more efficient, more visible in your community and, usually, more cost-effective.

So remember this: Do what you do best and partner for the rest!

Brewer Academy – led by Shellie Speer – offers personalized mentoring and consulting for nonprofits.

  • Shellie Speer

    Shellie Speer-Burnett, Senior Vice President, BDI Academy

    With over 30 years of partnership in Rescue Missions and nonprofit organizations, Shellie Speer-Burnett brings her expertise, counsel and philanthropic-centered passion to assist in furthering the work of BDI’s Rescue Mission clients. For 22 years of her career, she served as the Founder and President/CEO of her own agency, ENEX Group, which helped her clients capture hearts and donor loyalty in their communities.

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