When I mention “collaboration” in meetings with other nonprofit directors, I can flip a coin on their reaction: will they cringe in disgust or light up like a light bulb.
Why is collaboration such a polarizing word in the nonprofit industry?
Collaboration is rooted in the idea of creating a unified vision and working towards a common goal, and yet, time and again so many director-level individuals shy away from working together. I have asked nonprofit directors where their hesitancy in collaborating comes from and listened intently as they describe why collaborating doesn’t work for them.
The overlying response can be summarized as: “if I collaborate with another nonprofit, I risk losing a donor who learns about the work of another nonprofit. I’m not willing to help educate my donors and to help market other nonprofits to my donor base. It’s too great a risk to my organization.”
If this is your perspective, you do not really understand collaboration. The reality is that by avoiding working as partners, the very people organizations are striving to serve are missing out on new ideas and initiatives that are created by collective action.
Foundations are increasingly looking to widen their impact by contributing funds to nonprofits that are demonstrating their ability to work collectively rather than by themselves. Collaborating with another organization allows you to advance your individual mission while simultaneously creating new opportunities for the community being served.
Previous experience, of course, plays a role in one’s willingness to collaborate on future projects, however, every new experience working together provides a chance to think outside the box and develop new relationships.
I encourage and challenge all nonprofits to look around and identify what existing relationships they have with other organizations. If the answer is “none,” spend some time to understand why that is the case, and what opportunities you may be missing out on as a result. Nonprofits, no matter who they are serving, are united in their mission to advance our community. This is the common industry bond regardless of how you approach serving your target demographic or organize programming.
Think outside the box, think differently, and instead of getting coffee or lunch with a donor, take the time to schedule a meeting with a fellow director and sit down to learn more about one another.
If you’re in Indianapolis, feel free to connect with me. I’m always ready for a cup of coffee and have an intellectual conversation about our industry and finding ways we can work together.