In this webinar, Julie Ha Truong will share an action-oriented session that will have you reflecting on your partnership building approach and give you specific tips to take your partnerships to the next level.

Full Transcript:

Steven: All right. Julie, Carrie, Lindsay. I’ve got 1:00 Eastern. Is it okay if I go ahead and get this party started? Thumbs up?

Julie: Yeah.

Lindsay: Yes.

Steven: All right. Awesome. Well, welcome, everybody. Good afternoon if you’re on the East coast. Good morning if you’re on the West Coast, I should say. Thanks for all of you for getting up early if you did. And if you’re watching the recording, I just hope you’re having a good day. We got a good session planned. We’re going to be talking about nonprofit partnerships, specifically that create lasting change because that’s what we want after all. So I’m Steven over here at Bloomerang and I’ll be moderating today’s discussion as always.

And just a couple of quick housekeeping items, just want to let you all know that we are recording this session and I’ll be sending out the slides as well as the recording later on this afternoon. You should already have the slides, but if you didn’t get them, don’t worry, you’ll get all the goodies later on today. You won’t miss a thing. So if you get interrupted or if a, you know, kid walks into the room and starts yelling at you, no worries. We’ll get you the recording. You can catch up on everything later on.

But most importantly, feel free to send us your questions and comments. We’d love to hear from you. We’re going to save some time at the end for Q&A. So don’t be shy. There’s a chat box and a Q&A box. You can use either of them. Honestly, I’ll keep an eye on both, no problem. But don’t be shy. Don’t sit on those hands. We would love to hear from you. And you can also send us a tweet. I’ll keep an eye on the Twitter feed if you want to send us a comment there. But, again, we’d love to hear from you. So don’t be shy at all.

If this is your first Bloomerang webinar, just for context, some people wonder, “Hey, what the heck is Bloomerang?” We do these webinars all the time. In fact, we got three of these sessions happening this week, which I’m excited about. We love doing webinars. We’re bringing on great guests. You know, this week is no exception by any means, but what Bloomerang is, if you’ve never heard of us, we’re software, we’re donor management software. So if you’re interested in that, check it out. You know, we’re pretty easy to find online. You can watch all kinds of videos and stuff. But don’t do that right now. Wait at least an hour because we got an action-packed hour for you here. We got some really cool people on to talk about this topic of partnerships, which is one we haven’t covered very often.

So we’ve got Julie Truong here from beautiful . . . well, by way of Minnesota, but now in LA. And she’s got a couple partners in here who she’s going to tell you more about. But this is going to be a good one. Julie, are you doing okay? How’s it going?

Julie: Great. I’m just here, it’s wonderful.

Steven: This is awesome to have you. Yeah. It’s been fun getting to know you over the last few weeks or so. We got connected from a mutual buddy and as we were talking, this topic became a no-brainer because this is your thing, you know it real well. In fact, you helped a project that got over 100 partners together, which wow, you know, one or two sounds like a lot of work, but 100, geez. So you’re going to want to connect with Julie over at Leadership Savvy. She’s awesome. She’s a trainer. She facilitates and coaches. She’s got her master’s in public policy and tons of experience in this arena. And I can’t wait to hear from you and Carrie and Lindsay. So I’m going to pipe because they’re not here to hear from me. So, Julie, I’ll let you bring up your beautiful slides and the floor will be yours. Let’s see if we can get it going. There it goes. Nice.

Julie: All right. Thanks, Steven.

Steven: Sure. Go for it.

Julie: Yes. It’s always fun to chat with you. I’m glad we were able to get this session together. Yeah. When Steve and I started chatting, partnerships were one way in which organizations could really change the trajectory of meeting their missions and seeing long-term completely, just transformations in their communities. And so we were just so inspired by that. We started talking about, well, how do you do that? Especially during COVID, what are some best practices to bring people together? And when there’s so much uncertainty and anxiety, what our organizations do to continue to connect and support each other and meet those missions. So today it’s not just going to be me. I love working with organizations on building their partnerships, but there’s a lot of folks in this field dedicated to this work.

So we’ve also brought along Carrie Harlow and Lindsay Kijewski. Kijewski. Yay. I got it right. New last name with us. So we’re going to walk through a few things today. But before we started, I’d love just for all of us to get a sense of where your experience lies when it comes to partnerships. Can you please participate in the poll that Steven’s going to pull up shortly and let us know? Choose what you feel applies to you. Do you have minimal experience in this area? Are you here with us because you’re seeking a potential new partnership or collaboration? Are you in the process already of negotiating a partnership agreement? Have you participated in perhaps one that was unsuccessful in the past or now looking for some tips to do it differently in the future? Or are you someone who’s just like us, really excited about the potential and actually have experienced a successful partnership in the past? Would you mind sharing with us a bit about where you lie within these options?

Steven: Julie, I think folks will have to chat in their answers because I’m not able to get the poll up for some reason. It’s giving me a weird . . .

Julie: That’s okay if the poll isn’t working.

Steven: Sorry about that.

Julie: Yeah. So chat. And us as panelists, we can see your answers. So gives us a sense of who’s in the room today. So what we will be talking about are, we wanted to start with the different partnership types because there’s lots of terminology that we all use interchangeably, unfortunately. So we’ll share with you kind of a foundation for how we are approaching that today. We’ll talk about what kind of funding is available and how to approach funding your partnerships. We’ll look at trends. Just as I mentioned before, especially in 2020 that we are seeing and best practices for us to all approach this work. We’ll share some experiences that we’re seeing in the field.

So, first of all, partnership language. Are we talking about partnerships, collaborations, collective impact, mergers? There’s actually probably 30 different terms for this type of work. And pretty much for today’s webinar purposes, we are talking about all of those, right? Including some of the newer initiatives, newer terminology that has become more popular, which includes strategic restructures, sustained collaboration. A few years ago, we really dove into collective impact models. So you’ll see these used kind of interchangeably. However, when you dive, specifically into each one, there are some legal and structural differences in those models. We won’t have time to cover all 30 of them today, but we wanted to share with you that we understand. There is a lot of terminology out there and wanted to validate that if you feel like it’s a little bit unclear in our sector, what’s the difference between that collaboration versus this network versus that association, that it is kind of because each organization comes up with their own name.

What we would encourage you to do if you are building a newer partnership is to first think about what you are trying to accomplish, how you would like to accomplish it, with who, right? And then determine which partnership model and term would work best for your organization. If you’ve already named your organization and effort already, that’s okay too. We’re not going to hold it against you. And what we wanted to emphasize that we are not talking about today are one-off partnerships. So if it’s just a quick collaboration between two organizations for one event or one program, that is really not the intent of today. We’re looking to talk about sustained collaboration where two organizations will really change fundamentally how they work together, how they deliver services, and perhaps change even their business structure through back office operations, merging or acquisitions. But bottom line is we’re all here together to figure out, can I work with other organizations to formally work together to achieve something greater?

So I’ll show you two charts here right after the slide that shows kind of the range of the language. But before that, just wanted to quickly share a few reasons why we continue to know that partnerships are so important. We have seen as the name of this webinar says, sustained lasting change. Not only do we see increased effectiveness, it’s increased effectiveness over time at a systems level. When organizations come together to partner, we learn things about each other. We share resources, we share knowledge, we share connections and together, we all are able to do this work better. We’re able to leverage those resources.

I worked with organizations, four tutoring organizations who actually were competitors, but when they came together, they better understood each organization’s specific focus and then made the decision that, “Oh, if you really are really great at mentoring and you like mentoring, why don’t you focus on mentoring? We’re going to be over here focusing on homework help.” Right? Another organization said, “Actually, we’re all about getting kids outside of the classroom and into physical activity and movement.” So in that particular district, we were able to take four competing agencies and allow them to collaborate to better serve the students. And so together that’s an example of them aligning their vision and their goals for that larger cause.

I also wanted to share, in the collaborations that I’ve worked with, I have seen that, especially like now during some tougher times, economic uncertainty, when you have a partnership, you can share the burdens. There actually is decreased volatility. So, for example, we have a major partner at one point with one of the partnerships I was working with, a mental health agency. They were really critical to our work, but they lost significant funding and couldn’t serve us as well, or as much. Fortunately, we have three other mental health agencies that were also supporting us. And so together, the five agencies came together and said, “How do we close this gap? Can some of the other agencies step up during this period and how can we support that other agency in fundraising because they serve such a critical role?” So it’s really wonderful in that really difficult time to have other people to share that burden with. And when one agency falls away or a program falls away, hopefully another partner or agency can step in because we all have that partnership mindset.

And finally, probably the most exciting thing about partnerships and why I’ve spent my whole career working on them is there’s this snowball effect. When organizations and communities come together and they start to come and problem solve together, they work through some of the nitty-gritty, some of the difficult areas. I remember a lot of organizations had previously bad experiences, so didn’t even want to talk to each other, but underneath that was still a shared mission. And so when we facilitated conversations, made it a safe space, they overcame that. And then other people caught wind, “Ooh, they’re playing nice together again. Oh, you guys are accomplishing something different.” And others wanted to join the collaborative.

And so when Steven said I’ve worked on the collaborative with 100 different partnerships, that’s not how we started. We started just two, and then four, and then six, and then eight. And then it suddenly snowballed where organizations, including the United Way called us and said, “We have this funding left over for this year and we’d love to allocate it to your cause, your collaborative.” So stick with it. Even when it gets hard, it’s worth it in the end.

To give you a sense of the range of organizations I mentioned earlier, there’s a few slides for you to start seeing how we think about the range of partnership and collaboration, strategic restructure types. So we have what’s considered a little bit lower complexity, lower intensity, may be perceived as a bit more informal all the way up to the higher intensity, higher complexity, more informal, sometimes a completely different business structure. And so a few of the words on the bottom are common terms that you’ll see. We may have food pantries who maybe you serve Monday and then the local church is Tuesday and a community center provides food on Fridays. This is one way for them to coordinate instead of competing each other, a community schedule and then they can do some joint marketing. At one point they may have been competitors, but now they’re working together to make sure people are fed throughout the week.

For community safety efforts, I’ve seen a lot of folks coming together with different pieces of knowledge about what they want for their community. And so they’re building coalitions. They’re not coming in and saying, “We know what the solution is,” but they’re coming together to co-identify what the problem is and to design that solution together. It’s very much a dialogue. So not a formal organization yet, but it is coalition with likeminded future goal. During the pandemic, we’re seeing quite a few mergers of arts and culture organizations. If you work in the arts and culture space, you know that space for rehearsals and creative labs and theater space is just really expensive. And so organizations have been coming together to share space and even share some staff to see some cost savings and be able to partner on programming.

And finally, on the youth development side, it’s a pretty advanced sector in terms of collaborations. For years now, we have seen educational institutions, the YMCA, Boys and Girls Club really partner with local libraries, and businesses, and health organizations to not only improve youth academics, but youth social, emotional wellbeing, behavioral issues, overall health, and parents’ involvement. To be able to attack such large outcomes, you can’t really do it alone. You have to do it in partnerships. So those are large collective impact collaborations, large scale. And because they have worked so well, we’re starting to see systems level change. So different states are learning from each other and at the federal level, we’re also seeing grants and opportunities to fund this work nationwide. So hopefully that helps you see that we truly are talking about a range of different types of collaborations in this seminar today.

We’re only going to spend two seconds on this slide and the next slide. Feel free to take a screenshot, but Steven also mentioned he’s going to be sending out the slide deck. I wasn’t kidding. I wasn’t exaggerating. There’s a lot of terms that are used as we do this work. So, again, encouraging you not to select the business model first or the partnership model first, first reach out to your community, your potential partners to truly understand that shared need before you decide on which model works for you.

Here’s another chart. I like how this one delineates the different phases of work. Earlier on in a collaborative or a partnership, you all might join forces more as an alliance or a network around a cause. Next, you might take the next level of formality and actually sign formal contracts and have shared service agreements. And then finally, as you get to know how to work with each other better, you’ve built that trust, you know much better what the community needs. You might be ready to actually formally join forces and become integrated organizations. So there are a few examples of each listed on this chart. This chart actually comes from the Sustained Collaborative Network, and that is the organization on the bottom. Carrie and Lindsay are both on the national committee and work on this effort. So we’re going to ask them to share a little bit more about this in a minute.

So before we dive in and meet Carrie and Lindsay and actually have them speak up quite a bit more and so it’s not just my voice for the rest of the seminar, I’d like to kind of tee up that, how do we get this work funded? It can be scary because some of these initiatives sound large and they sound a bit messy. One of the wonderful things that I have experienced that I have found actually works better is not starting with any new money. A lot of times the impetus to start is because there’s a grant over here for folks to come together and perhaps work on building a health clinic. It would be great if the community ideally comes together to first look at what are our existing resources to address health in our community before they all dive in to write this time-intensive grant to receive funding on that effort.

So that would be my recommendation. That’s how I usually work with organizations to first map out the current resources and funding. And during that process, you start to see there are cost-efficiency opportunities or at least ways to further leverage the dollars that are existing. When you do that, your partnership is based on shared resources and trust. It’s not based on, “Let’s get some new money, who gets 10%, who gets 20%, who gets 50%.” Those can get a little messy, but it’s okay. We understand. We are all very busy as organizations. So if that is really the impetus, make sure that you do proper planning and visioning before you start to write that grant.

So the next layer of opportunity is foundation funding. What’s wonderful about today’s seminar is we’re going to highlight some of the foundation opportunities, foundations who have not only verbally committed, but also are financially committed to partnership efforts in supporting capacity building around that space. We have seen collaborations and collaborative efforts being promoted for probably the last 20 years, but in the last 10 years, we’ve really seen foundations come in and alongside nonprofits and truly partner to be a support in this effort.

So Carrie and Lindsay will share with us what those projects are and then . . . but before we move to them, I want to remind you that even if there are no funders in your area, specifically waving a big flag saying, “We fund the collaborations.” A lot of them, once you’ve built a relationship or just pick up the phone and talk to them, make the case to them, let them know. Maybe you are a foster youth agency and you have this program that would really change the experience of youth that are aging out of the system. And you want to do it with a partner. Pitch that program to them, pitch that partnership to that funder, to that donor you may have. And it always goes back to if it’s a worthy cause and they feel so compelled by it, they will support it. So a lot of foundations and donors we’ve spoken to say even if they don’t explicitly have a partnership collaboration, strategic restructure grant, just ask and bring them alongside as a partner.

So I’m sure you’re excited to have me rest a bit and hear from Carrie Harlow and Lindsay Kijewski. These are wonderful community colleagues that I have been working with and really appreciate their thoughtfulness to this work. What I have seen is there are no preset expectations for what the outcomes should be when partners come together. It really is a genuine, let’s just explore. We want you to explore with another partner or set of partners and see what possibilities might arise, how can we work together better?

And so I wanted to share with you that from a consultant perspective, that as agencies come together, even if the outcome is not what they originally intended, I have found that leaders of the Sustained Collaborative Network, Carrie and Lindsay as well, have just been so supportive because when you embark on a partnership process as an organization, even if you’re not able to partner in the end, you learn a lot about yourself, about the partner organizations, about your landscape of services. So there’s a lot of benefits just by embarking on the process of potential partnership.

So I’m going to share with you a little bit about who Carrie and Lindsay are. So I’m going to look at my notes for just a bit. Carrie is the manager of the Nonprofit Sustainability Initiative. It’s an LA County-based pooled fund of 19 foundations in this area and it’s actually held by the California Community Foundation. Carrie also sits on the national steering committee for the Sustained Collaboration Network. And she was previously the program officer at Ahmanson Foundation. She understands what it’s like to work in the field. She spent many years in various fundraising roles as well. So she’s been on both sides of the table.

Lindsay is from SeaChange Capital Partners. And in that role, she manages the national SeaChange Lodestar Fund for Nonprofit Collaboration. She also plays an active role in the National Sustained Collaboration Network and as an instructor at the University of Pennsylvania’s School of Social Policy and Practice. She, as a teacher, has been dedicated in her career in leadership development, strategic planning, and program expansion. So she has also helped a lot of individuals and organizations develop their capacity to do this work prior to coming to SeaChange. Thanks for joining us today, Carrie and Lindsay.

Lindsay: Thanks for having us, Julie.

Julie: So right off the bat, would you mind sharing about what programs you now oversee and what those partnership initiatives are and what is your role and your ultimate goal in doing this work?

Lindsay: Sure. I’ll go ahead and get us kicked off. So as Julie’s kind introduction noted, I’m Lindsay. I’m here today from SeaChange Capital Partners. We help nonprofits navigate complex challenges with the aim of becoming more efficient, effective, and/or sustainable. And one way that we approach this is through our grant-making work. So SeaChange manages three funds for nonprofits considering or doing the hard work of implementing a sustained collaboration, which can be any sort of form on that spectrum that Julie shared earlier.

Our three funds for funding this work are the New York Merger and Collaboration Fund, which is a pooled fund of foundations and individuals ran by my colleague, Jess Cavagnero. The Nonprofit Repositioning Fund, which is on the ground here in Philadelphia, where I am . . . I don’t know if you have any other Philadelphians here today, but hello, if so. That is a pooled fund of 12 foundations in the area and run by my colleague, Nadya Shmavonian. And then lastly, I run our national fund, the SeaChange Lodestar Fund for Nonprofit Collaboration. And there is no geographic boundary on that specific fund, so I can make a grant or consider a grant commitment wherever there is not a local fund on the ground in the Sustained Collaboration Network, which we’ll talk about a little more in a second.

So the SeaChange Lodestar Fund is a partnership fund between SeaChange and the Lodestar Foundation in Phoenix, Arizona. I manage the fund with input from an investment committee made up of representatives from both of the funders. In our time, we’ve supported around 140 grants each to two or more nonprofits and the two trenches of our grants, our exploration grants, which take nonprofits through the exploratory diligence to be able to come to a board vote as to whether to move forward more formally with a collaboration or implementation grants, which are for nonprofits who have formerly decided to come together in one of these collaborative structures and cover part of the onetime costs required to get that work done. And so you’ll probably hear some similarities between my description of my work and Carrie’s fund because the ultimate goal for each of these funds not just at SeaChange, but in the network, it’s to normalize these conversations among organizational leadership, both board and staff. And then, of course, we like to show our support for these collaborations with our grants. So that’s a little bit about what I do.

Julie: It sounds like you have four job titles. But thank you so much. It’s wonderful. Thank you for being here. You work nationally as well as locally. So, Carrie, I’d love to hear more about your work on serving Los Angeles County as well as nationally.

Carrie: Sure. Thank you, Julie. Lindsay, you’re right. I think a lot of what I will share about the Los Angeles Fund, which we call the Nonprofit Sustainability Initiative or NSI is modeled a lot off after the Lodestar Fund. So you’ll see some similarities, but it is 19 foundations supporting the work here in Los Angeles. The funds, like Julie mentioned are held the California Community Foundation and the initiative is managed by a consultant, that’s me and a committee of four managing funders. So representatives from four foundations here in Los Angeles. And over the course of the last, let’s see, eight years since the initiative was founded, we have . . . there’s actually an update from these numbers even today. Nearly 250 nonprofit organizations and LA County have received funding from NSI to explore about 100 different partnerships.

So it’s a lot of activity here in LA and we support the work in two phases, similar to Lodestar with the negotiation funding as the first phase of funding to help organizations afford a third-party consultant to help facilitate that process, that exploration process. And then should they come to an agreement, there’s also opportunities for what we call integration funding, which is one-time costs associated with implementing an agreement.

And then we also partner here with a local legal service provider Public Counsel, here in Los Angeles, and they connect NSI grantees with pro bono legal counsel as needed through the exploration or implementation process, and that’s a key partnership for us as well. And then like Lindsay said, we share that same aim of normalizing the activity of strategic restructuring or creating those sustained collaboration models that support more efficient, effective, and sustainable organizations. And so that normalization aim is really core to our mission.

And then NSI is one of several members of the National Network, which we’ve alluded to multiple times now. So we can talk a little bit about that. And I’ll hand it over to Lindsay in a second, but NSI has been part of the Sustained Collaboration Network. For years now, we’ve been meeting regularly at least once a year, and now more, much more regularly to build up this network. So it’s a little bit meta. We’re taking a little bit of our own medicine and practicing partnership on our own among the initiatives that are funding this work. So you’ll see here, the yellow dots that represent some of the active initiatives within that network. And Lindsay, do you want to share more about what we’ve been working on together?

Lindsay: Yeah. I’d love to. So thanks, Carrie. As she mentioned, it’s a National Network of seven initiatives who have these local community serving funds. And so LA and the NSI has been a member of that backbone from day one. Our Philadelphia and New York City funds at SeaChange are also members. And then the four other geographies currently involved in the network are Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, Austin, and Dallas, Texas. And we welcomed our first statewide initiative this year from the state of Arizona. So we have been going through all of the sort of tough implementation work of a collaborative network ourselves and certainly feel our grantees pain and also enjoy that really great fruits of such a collaboration. And so SeaChange is currently the administrative backbone of the SCN, the Sustained Collaboration Network.

As Carrie mentioned, we’ve been meeting for quite some time, but formally solidified and launched this past May. So we’re still pretty new. The initiative managers meet monthly to share knowledge and just practices and to plan for the network’s future. So some of our biggest accomplishments to date are that we’ve launched a joint evaluation that each of the seven geographies uses to evaluate their grant-making work and share learnings and then we’ve launched a website with a repository of materials and resources for people all throughout the nonprofit ecosystem, either wanting to learn more or look at potentially implementing one of these transactions. We’re also working on planning our first technical assistance training institute to be taking place later this year. So if anyone on this webinar’s at all interested, please check out our website in the coming weeks to get some more information about that.

Julie: Thank you. It’s so nice to hear about the behind the scenes work and some of the accomplishments of the Sustained Collaborative Network because it kind of reminds us who are working on other partnership efforts, it gives us some ideas on what our partnerships can do as well. So thank you for sharing. So the next question is . . . let’s just dive right in. Even if it’s not as much top of mind, it’s still really impacting us as organizational leaders approaching, how do we do this work in this environment? Could you share what you’ve been seeing over the last six months or so during 2020 in our field from your perspective?

Carrie: Sure. I’ll start here. I think in the context of COVID this year, we are working on shifting the narrative and thinking about the language we use to describe strategic restructuring or collaboration. We’re talking about shifting the narrative from traditionally, I think, funders and leaders in the field alike have oftentimes sort of thought about sustainability in the terms of organizational sustainability. So preserving the structure of your organization. And now we’re kind of pushing on that a little bit and thinking, “How can we frame this to be more about mission sustainability?” So if we free ourselves from that obligation of protecting the organizational structure as it exists today, and in some cases, you know, it’s no longer sustainable in the new context, how can we partner to preserve the things that matter most? So the mission, the impact, your community work.

How does this new framing of sustainability really present options for leaders? And so this is something that we’ve been working on, is like sort of shifting that understanding of sustainability from the organizational framework to something a little bit more empowering for leaders to be able to explore partnerships, which is that mission sustainability frame. And then in terms of the trends this year, we’ve seen a number of inquiries. So those number of inquiries have grown. I think as organizations think about their options and explore different scenarios, we know that it takes time though. So these partnership conversations take time to see even, and initially, you know, you have to identify a partner then identify a consultant to facilitate the process, achieve board buy-in for engaging in the process before you even secure the funding, perhaps. So, for us, we know that it can take months to get to the point where you’re actually at the negotiation table. And so we’re kind of still waiting to see what that trend looks like later this year and into early next year. Lindsay, do you want to share anything about trends you’re seeing on a national scale?

Lindsay: Sure. Yeah. Thanks, Carrie. So I would say that from the national perspective, and obviously at SeaChange, I’m very lucky to have the colleagueship of two additional fund managers, so we were pretty able to share what we’re seeing and sort of keep abreast of what’s going on. We’ve definitely seen increased demand across the board. We’re getting more inquiries and we’re getting them earlier on in the process of pursuing collaboration. And so whereas I would say until about a year ago, the majority of the inquiries that we would receive to our grant funds would be from two or more nonprofits who have already determined the partnership or at least who their partner will be and they’ve started at least thinking about what the structures of the partnership might look like but don’t know quite yet how they’re going to fund that.

We are now getting a lot more calls from individual nonprofits who are considering this as a viable tool to be able to, you know, look at effectiveness, efficiency or sustainability and want to know kind of where to start. We’ve also been seeing a lot more cross-sector partnerships. So structures like Julie described, what she had been doing and bringing in players from across the board, not just nonprofit to nonprofit. We’ve seen private, public, and nonprofit all kind of braided together. And the nonprofit sector has often been regarded as the third sector, which fills the societal demands or needs that those to the public and private sectors cannot meet. But with a shakeup of how each sector has had to approach their work, the norms have shifted and there’s the need to work together in ways that have not necessarily been pursued before.

So I don’t want to speak for the group or for Carrie, but I do feel that this has been a challenge to us as funders to sort of level up and think about the best ways to support these collaborations in ways that we have not necessarily done and be open to sort of pushing the envelope in terms of what a collaborative structure can look like.

Julie: Thank you. It’s very inspiring. And I think to hear more organizations coming to you earlier on shows that they’re really being thoughtful about what Carrie said, not just operationally how this changes how we work, but how does this change how we meet our missions? And so during this pandemic to see organizations be more open to asking those questions has been really inspiring. So I’m glad to hear, Lindsay, that you’re seeing those inquiries come in, but you’re also seeing some . . . it sounds like more cross-sector inquiries as well. That’s really exciting. And the work that I’ve done, collaborations do help us get to a next level of systems change, but when it’s cross-sector with the government and the corporate sector, yeah, nothing’s impossible, actually.

Carrie: [inaudible 00:38:02]

Lindsay: Yeah.

Julie: So let’s move on to the next question. And what I’d like to chat with you both about are some best practices that organizations should think about as they embark on this process and as they manage the process. So my question for you is going to be around like when are good times to really dive into these honest conversations around how might a partnership or collaboration benefit the work we’re trying to do here as a collective? And as we work with organizations, ideally, it’s a process that we’ve been talking about that they don’t just dive right in. I’ve seen many partnerships just start with a handshake and then they merged the projects and the staff are lost and they’re wondering, “Oh, this is a lot to take on. We don’t know exactly how to merge our programs.” And there’s a lot of HR issues, kind of data sharing issues.

And so we encourage you to take that time and do the exploration carefully, plan out how an implementation would work and then actually implement. And during that implementation process, I can share with you as someone who’s been on the ground that there will be hiccups along the way. I remember after we had lots of time exploring partnerships, planning, implementing with wonderful fanfare, right? Lots of media, all the partners were excited, that the hard work was actually the staff having to come together from so many different agencies and being able to operate as one. And so it took a lot more training and mentoring than we had expected.

Another pain point that I just wanted to share with you, to commiserate with you was when I asked for data six months in, a year in, 100 different agencies sending you data is nuts. And everyone sent it in the way that they were comfortable with and the metrics that they use. And so that was a lesson quickly learned, that we need to come back to the table. We all have the same mission and goals and vision, but our metrics are all over the place. The way one person defines a social-emotional wellness of youth and whether or not it has improved over time is completely different from how another agency would define that. So taking the time to make sure that those nuances are fully fleshed out as much as possible and then kind of learn as you go and give yourself that patience. It’s okay. We’re all learning. Every partnership is different. But hopefully some of our experiences can give you a leg up.

So back to the question I had teed up earlier, I’m thinking about as we talk about for the rest of the seminar, best practices, what have you seen as good moments in an organization or a mission’s lifecycle to embark on a partnership conversation?

Lindsay: Yeah. I’m happy to kick us off on this one. So as Carrie and I shared, a common goal for both of our funds as well as our colleagues’ funds is for this to be normalized as a useful tool at any point in the organization’s life cycle. So our sort of inside vote would be that the right time to consider this is always. It might not always be the correct time to move forward with a plan, but it should always sort of be in the back of the head as an idea for how to, you know, improve upon mission delivery.

And so annually at board meetings, it should be a frequent part of conversation, both at the board and staff leadership levels and some sort of common entry points into considering whether or not a collaboration would be appropriate, would be to complete exercises such as landscape or competitive analysis, knowing who your peers space are, and looking at your organization’s individual plans for the next one, three, five, 10 years and knowing whether or not there’s capacity within the organization or the desire to develop the capacity within the organization to implement them from your organization or whether there are partnerships that could help the organization grow and determine whether or not it would be necessary to add capacity because somebody else is already out there doing what you hope to do three years down the road and doing it really well. At the very least, you would hope to have a conversation with that person to learn what’s worked and what hasn’t even if it doesn’t lead to a full-on collaborative partnership.

So oftentimes in terms of when people usually do tend to undertake the actual work of a collaboration, we see organizations coming as a result of succession planning. So a leadership transition is responsible. At our most recent discussion, I think we determined across the portfolios has been responsible for about 80% of the transactions that we see. Another common sort of entering point is if there’s a policy or regulatory shift and as a result often a shift in the way that funding is distributed and then community needs just growing beyond the capacity to serve, you know, either a growing swath of the community that needs services or the organization’s particular demand just sort of outweighs the supply. And yeah, those are some of the common ways we see people starting. Carrie, anything you’d like to add?

Carrie: Yeah. So I feel like you did a great job of covering sort of what brings people to the negotiation table, but maybe it’s worth mentioning some of the predictive factors of success with the negotiation. So when we think about some of the key success factors, we think about internal clarity, so having both the board and leadership staff on the same page of what they aim to gain out of a partnership, coming to the negotiation table, knowing what you’re hoping to gain on both sides. And then, of course, centering the needs of the community. I mean, this goes without saying, but, you know, having, you know, partnership, not for the sake of partnership, but because it moves you forward in meeting the needs of the community.

Honesty, trust building is so, so important, and that happens before the negotiation, the beginning of the relationship. So having some conversations with your partner, going to coffee or Zoom coffee in the new context, new paradigm, but having those appropriate conversations of like, you know, this is where I’m at with my organization. This is where I see there being some sticky points. These are the concerns of my board members before you even get to an informal negotiation so that you can kind of get a sense for how you’re going to conscious of solutions together ahead of time.

Some amount of positive working experience together is great. This is a really great predictor of success. If organizations have piloted the partnership informally in other ways. So Julie mentioned this, it could be like that you’re moving through a spectrum of activity and it’s becoming more and more formalized, but maybe you’ve partnered on a one-off event together or a program more informally. And that’s a great predictor of success because you’ve had a sense of compatibility in terms of cultural compatibility, relationship building, trust is already there. It’s so critical.

So this, of course, another that goes without saying, but compatibility of mission and culture, and this is a huge piece. And we know it’s one of the most common challenges, and we’ll get to the challenges next, but that cultural integration piece, it can be really difficult. And so one of the predictors of success is assessing, are the two organizations aligned in their mission and cultures.

And then this is something that we’ve learned a lot sort of in the work, in funding the work, is how important it is to have a third-party consultant to help facilitate. And organizations come to us having already done sometimes the hard work of negotiating on their own without a consultant and they always tell us that it was so much harder than it could have been if they had that expert in the room who’s a third party, neutral facilitator to help them navigate some of those power dynamics that understands sort of the rigorous process of due diligence that needs to happen and they can provide objectivity that the other stakeholders in the room can’t. So we know that that’s a really important predictor of success.

And then last is just having some time for it. So having the capacity to dedicate staff and board time to attending the meetings, working through the process, exploring the partnership, and then having the financial runway. So we see this, you know, building these sustained collaboration models takes time and sometimes there’s things that hold up the process, right? So you need six to 12 months of runway to be able to work through the process. And, of course, you don’t want to be in a crisis if the partnership doesn’t work out, right? If you agreement doesn’t pan out at the end of that. So we really see this as a strengths-based tool and not something that organizations should be sort of engaging in, in their final hour in desperation that this is not a crisis tool. This is, you know, a strategic tool. So I think that’s what I would share for now, and we’ll get a little bit into the challenges, I think next.

Julie: Thank you, Carrie and Lindsay, for very specific examples of when you’ve seen organizations embark on this process. I love how Lindsay took my question almost like as a trick question, anytime is a good time, which is true because it’s about when your organizations are thinking about strategic planning every year, every three years, every five years, partnerships can definitely be part of that dialogue, that consideration.

So I really appreciate you sharing what you’re seeing, specifically with the organizations that you are working with, you see a wide swath of the sector. So I’m going to ask another question around what best practice tips in managing and helping to ensure that your efforts are successful. With the organizations that I tend to work with, I help them assess whether or not they have the right people, purpose, and process.

So just real quick, for those of you who are on the call, this is a quick way to do a self-reflection with you and your planning team, maybe it’s with your new partnership a planning committee, or if you are an established partnership, something to kind of do an assessment on every six months or so to think about, “Do we still have the right people at the table?” During 2020, many things have come to the forefront. Organizational situations have changed, needs have changed. So to make sure you’re not too comfortable with your current partnership either, are there other people we should be inviting to the table? And for some people, maybe it’s no longer a priority for them. So giving them an opportunity to gracefully exit as well.

Carrie also mentioned earlier around trust building, taking the time to really do that and ensure that is developed off the bat. So, again, checking with the people, make sure that we are not assuming they’re still onboard and that we have clear understandings of where everyone is at. And then, again, during these times, is our purpose still the focus that everyone is committed to?

What I’ve noticed with partnerships is they have shifted for the short term to meet immediate needs of 2020. And that is okay. But you want to be really clear and communicative with those that you work with so it doesn’t feel accidental. You want to make sure that it’s a decision that is communicated across and that everyone understands that what we’re doing now, the shifts we’re making now, it is for, to meet the current most immediate needs, and who knows? It might actually change your long-term trajectory a little bit as well, right? It could inform how you do programming differently in the future. And so I just want to let you know that that is one trend that I am seeing and watching out for, is how will these short-term changes and purpose and process and how you run your organization, your collaborative may influence some of your long-term strategy.

So, Carrie and Lindsay, I’m going to pass it on to you again to share with, from your experience, what lessons have organizations learned and experienced? It’s so helpful to have the specific examples so that we don’t make the same mistakes and that we can benefit from the learnings.

Carrie: Absolutely. I’ll kick this one off. I know we’re running out of time. We’re coming toward the end.

Julie: Yes, we are.

Carrie: So I’ll cover some challenges and successes really quickly and then hand it over to Lindsay. So our learning approach has evolved over the years as the initiative. And actually, as Lindsay, I think mentioned earlier, we work together nationally now to have some shared survey tools to gather data, but we’re learning alongside our grantee partners. And so they’re sharing their experiences and some of the challenges that they frequently identify and share with me are just not having, you know, the capacity to allocate the time to all the meetings. You know, that’s a reality of this. It’s a process that requires a time commitment. And so that’s something, you know, going into it that you need to have realistic expectations of.

Board engagement availability. So it’s so important to have that board buy-in and engagement because ultimately the board is going to have to vote on an agreement, right? So you really want them involved from the beginning. And so that’s a key piece.

Communicating the process to staff and navigating staff concerns. This is a huge one that comes up often for leaders of organizations of really struggling to know when is the right time to bring in staff to the conversation because you, of course, don’t want to, you know, raise concerns too early on before you’re able to address them and, you know, before you even know what the outcome will be of this conversation, maybe you don’t want to bring in all of the staff, but at the same time, at some point you need to have their buy-in as well. So it can be really difficult to juggle the tension of those two aims. And that’s something that I think leaders oftentimes will reach out to me and say, you know, “Can you connect me with another executive director who’s been through this so I can talk through my like thought process of when is the right time to bring in staff?”

Navigating power dynamics. This is, of course, a big one, especially for like parent subsidiary models or exploration of a partnership among two organizations with very different sizes. Of course, there’s going to be power dynamics there. And I think it’s important to be thinking about that ahead of time as you design sort of the negotiation process. So how are you going to be able to make sure that the interests of both organizations are represented? And then, like I mentioned before, the cultural integration and change management piece, which can last for years post an agreement. So those are things that you spend a lot of time on, and it’s good to know ahead of time.

And then in terms of like, what are the successes, what are the things that organizations are telling us they’re getting out of this? Whether or not they come to an agreement, organizations tell us that they benefit from having gone through the exploration. So even if they get through the six-month negotiation and they decide we don’t want to get married, this is not the partnership for us, we find that they tell us that they report greater internal clarity and strategic thinking. They have a greater openness to future partnerships. If they are able to get to an agreement, are able to achieve sort of a broader continuum of services, reach a broader geographic area, growth of some sort, increased publicity or brand recognition because you’re bringing together maybe multiple organizations and leveraging all of their networks and then access to funding that otherwise they may not have had access to. So I think that’s a really big piece as well. And I have some examples of that, and I’m happy to share that in another time, or if people want to reach out after the presentation, I’m happy to share more.

Lindsay: Yeah. Thanks, Carrie. And then I would just add that as funders, if I could boil it down to a sort of three major lessons that we’ve learned, the first is that this is a type of funding that works best as a partnership, right? All of our funds are structured as partnered or pooled funds, but the partnership between us and our applicants and grantees is equally as important, having open lines of dialogue and taking cues from folk who approach us for funding and everything, from how to measure success, to the types of questions we ask as a part of the diligence.

I would also stress the value of a safe and confidential space to explore and navigate these transactions. You know, that’s why as soon as I start working on the diligence on a transaction, my role becomes advocate toward my investment committee. I don’t sit on my investment committee. Carrie serves the role as the impartial initiative manager who is there to answer questions, help navigate the process, and be that sort of confidential resource, regardless of whether a grant ends up being made or not. And so that’s extremely important. And then just to sort of echo what Carrie said, regardless of the outcome, we’ve found that the exploration process itself is valuable for organizations and allows them to work within that sort of trust-based approach with each other, with someone that might be seen, “as a competitor in the sector,” but also with a funder. And so those have been some of the biggest lessons learned from our end.

Julie: Wonderful. This was our last question for the panelists. One of the key takeaways that I heard is it’s all about partnering, and it’s that partnership mindset. Even when it’s messy, when it’s tough, that ultimately we’re here to have that shared focus. And even when it’s working with funders like Carrie and Lindsay, it sounds like you are inviting us to all work together in partnership on these efforts that they’re no longer siloed and that you understand and you’re kind of giving us insights that it can be messy and that there are a lot of resources out there and other organizations who have embarked on this that we can learn from.

So I hope that, and today’s webinar has reinvigorated you to continue to do this work and know that you have a lot of support from national partners and funders, as well as local players and consultants. So don’t ever feel like you’re on your own. If you are working on a partnership that you would like some support or just someone to talk to and think about your options, our last slide will actually have our contact information. So all three of us have agreed to, you know, be available and listen, and perhaps send you to the next resource that makes the most sense so that you can really try your best to help these partnerships really meet the goals that you are aiming for.

So our last question, if you wouldn’t mind putting it in the chat box is from this experience, are you more interested in embarking in a partnership and perhaps leading one? That would be really interesting, to hear from you. Or if you’re like, “This is too much work and I have trauma from my previous experience. I’m still not interested. I’m less interested.” That’s okay too. It helps us know what you guys are seeing and feeling in doing this work. So as I mentioned in the chat, our seminar is pretty much wrapped up. I’m going to ask Steven if there are any questions from anyone in the audience. And thank you, Steven, for having us.

Steven: Oh, this was awesome. My thanks to you three, this is really cool. It was cool to get the dialogue going because, you know, in a lot of these webinars, it’s just kind of one person talking the whole time, and we wanted to do something different. Julie, awesome facilitator. And so many things, you know, resonated with me. One thing Carrie said is, you know, it’s not a crisis tool. I think there’s a lot of people out there that might be in trouble saying, “Well, maybe we can just partner or merge.” And no, you really need that time. And it’s a strategic move, not a crisis move. That was my big takeaway. I love it.

We do have some questions, you know, we can do a couple. I know it’s at the hour, but I won’t keep people too long. A few people have asked, you know, how do you approach other people? Do you, you know, shuffle up to them at a party, a virtual party? Do you send them a cold email? What’s the best way to say, “Hey, I think we could do something together. What do you think?”

Carrie: Lindsay mentioned this. We’ve been getting a lot of inquiries this year from organizations that are wanting some counsel on how to navigate that initial courtship of identifying partners. And what I’ve been sharing is, I mean, it’s okay. Like it’s okay to just kind of put yourself out there and reach out. It’s okay if it’s a cold call, better if you can find it, you know, a mutual party to make the connection, but you don’t have to like frame it as, you know, we’re seeking a merger agreement, right? Don’t start with the model, to Julie’s previous comment, don’t start with the model and be prescriptive. Just kind of say, you know, “We want to explore. What are your needs as an organization? And let me share with you some of mine.” And like see kind of how it happens organically. I think take some of the pressure off of that first conversation.

Lindsay: Definitely. Approaching it from a place of learning. Like just even, you know, “I’m really impressed by this program that you run and would love to see if there’s a way to share what we’ve learned, what I’ve learned, and learned some from you,” is basically the best way you can do it either virtually or in person. I would. So it translates fine to our new reality.

Carrie: And even the strongest organizations in the context of 2020 and COVID and everything are doing scenario planning, right? So from what I’ve heard, leaders are really receptive to it being, you know, connected with their peers. And so, you know, even if it feels daunting or intimidating to reach out to a much larger organization, just be reassured to know that they are also looking to have these conversations.

Steven: Cool. Don’t come on too strong. It kind of reminds me of major gifts a little bit. You know, you don’t ask for somebody for a million dollar just like two minutes into the conversation. It’s kind of similar. Build a relationship. Along the same lines, any signs of red flags? You know, maybe you start to have these early conversations and it’s like, “Ah, geez. This isn’t.” What are those things that maybe you should look for where it’s like, this probably won’t work out or maybe we should, you know, step back a little bit?

Lindsay: I’ll get started and then Carrie, I’m sure you have plenty of war stories to add. I think that it’s smart every organization, as they’re thinking about these to have a prepared list, no matter what your size or whatever of your non-negotiables. And incorporate those into the conversation as early as possible, whether that’s personnel, or a program, or a name. It’s good to have those sort of in your pocket from the beginning so that you aren’t in a position where you’re feeling like you’re losing anything that is core to your identity as an organization.

And in addition, I would say the other thing to look out for is truly just that synergistic working relationship, someone that’s pleasant to work with for your style, for your organization style or another organization that fits that because you’re going to be doing a lot of work together, whether or not, I mean, you move forward to an implementation and exploration itself. It is very time-consuming and a lot of work on top of running the organizations day-to-days. So just someone that it’s pleasant and exciting to work with as well.

Steven: I love it. And speaking of synergistic, Lindsay, this may be a good question to end on. How do you communicate kind of the mutual benefit, maybe even after the partnership has gone off and running, maybe to the public where it may on the surface look like one of the entities is really benefiting while the other one isn’t, or maybe it looks more like, you know, the funder and not necessarily the beneficiary. Any tips for really communicating the mutual benefit of the partnership for both parties?

Carrie: I can give examples, but I don’t want to get into the weeds on case studies, but I think we have a lot of examples here in LA that I’m sure are not unique. I’m sure there are others across the country where there is a larger entity to provide sort of like that financial stability to a smaller entity that’s looking for that. But what they gain from it is maybe a cultural competency that they didn’t have, a programmatic expertise that they’re looking to include and to create, provide a more of a continuum of services, so there’s like a gap in their services that they’re looking to fill and this one small agency can help fill it. And so that’s really valuable.

You know, we’re looking at compatibility, I think of being like a puzzle and maybe one organization has more of the puzzle pieces, but they really need this one missing puzzle piece. And there’s a small agency that can provide it, and that’s really powerful. So I think, you know, when we’re looking about power dynamics, you know, that’s something that the consultant can help both organizations see and help balance out those power dynamics. But, you know, it’s never cut and dry where it’s like one organization is the recipient of all the benefits and one is the, you know, provider. I think it really is oftentimes very mutual.

Steven: I love it. This is so fun. This is a one of my favorites so far. I’m not just saying that, but it’s cool to have a panel and a lot of voices and a lot of expertise. So thank you, all three of you, for hanging out. This is a lot of fun.

Carrie: Thanks for having us.

Lindsay. Thanks for having us. Yeah. It’s nice.

Steven: Definitely reach out. You know, obviously they’re a wealth of knowledge, awesome people too. So, you know, hopefully you all can keep the conversation going. Check out all three organizations. And yeah, if we didn’t get to your question, definitely reach out. I know we went a little over, but it seems wrong to cut the conversation short. So this was a cool one.

I’m going to . . . Julie, bring back my slides. I just want to talk about our next upcoming webinar, which is tomorrow. Because I love it, I’ve got a session on Thursday also, but tomorrow we’re going to be talking about yearend appeals. Yup. We’re talking about at year-end. It’s September. Can’t believe it. I know time has no meaning, but it seems in 2020, but we’ve got, Mazarine, one of my buddies coming on. She’s got some specific case studies that she’s been doing with some of her clients for a yearend already even. So join us totally free, 4:00 p.m. Eastern. So 26 hours from now, I guess. We’d love to see you on another session. But if you can’t make it, don’t worry, we’ll record it just like this one. And we got lots of other topics coming up all through the end of the year.

So we’ll call it a day there. Like I said, look for an email from me with the recording and the slides. We’ll get that to you today. And hopefully we’ll see you again on another session. So have a good rest of your Tuesday, have a good week. Stay safe out there, especially around the West Coast. We’re thinking about you all, and we’ll talk to you again soon. Bye now.

Julie: Bye.

Steven: See you.

Kristen Hay

Kristen Hay

Marketing Manager at Bloomerang
Kristen Hay is the Marketing Manager at Bloomerang. From 2018 - 2020, she served as the Director of Communications for the Public Relations Society of America's local Hoosier chapter. Prior to that she served on several different committees and in committee chair roles.