Collaborations Are Important to Nonprofits

In theory, collaboration is a great idea. How do you collaborate to maximize the value of your nonprofit’s mission?

How many times have we heard the adage, “It’s not what you know, it’s who you know that matters.”? That is certainly true when one collaborates. If you know the right person with whom to collaborate, it is a marriage made in heaven.

There is a difference between a service provider and a collaborator. A service provider is someone who has a transactional relationship with your nonprofit. They do something and they receive compensation. Service providers are necessary and we all need them and sometimes need to be service providers.

A collaborator also receives compensation but not typically from your nonprofit. From your nonprofit, they receive intangible benefits. However, in most cases, the intangible benefits are more important than financial compensation to the collaborators.

What should one look for when selecting a collaborator?

Support – An organization (nonprofit, government agency, or corporation) that provides nonfinancial support to your nonprofit. Examples of support are advice, advocacy, referrals, or volunteers.

Purpose – An organization whose purpose aligns in some way with your nonprofit’s purpose. For example, they touch your clients’ lives in a way that enables or facilitates your mission. They might provide pre-services, post services, or parallel services.

Accountability – An organization that is more than coincidentally involved (They do more than donate yesterday’s unsold newspapers to your literacy program.). They have goals and expectations of themselves and your nonprofit when providing services and they are willing to be held to goals and expectation your nonprofit has (mutual accountability).

In other words, there is a symbiotic relationship. Both organizations care about the other’s sustainability and well-being. The loss of the other organization would matter. There is an incentive for the two organizations to help each other succeed.

Until the partnership meets the three preceding criteria it is a relationship with the potential to become a collaboration. One of the reasons collaboration is seen as more work than it is worth is because people mislabel their relationship. They refer to something less than collaboration as collaboration.

Next Step:

Make a list of organizations (nonprofits, government agencies, and corporations) where a synergistic relationship might be possible

Prioritize the list based upon the greatest benefit to your clients and mission

Develop a process for qualifying and selecting potential collaborations

Rigorously evaluate each prospective relationship before beginning to work together

Collaborations are more work to create than service relationships. The collaboration usually lasts longer, is more beneficial, and harder to dissolve than a service relationship.

Collaborations provide the community with a more robust solution. The community benefits from the increased breadth and depth of the collaboration. This encourages broad and generous community support.

Collaborations provide mutual sustainability. Which of your current synergistic relationships would be easiest to transform into a collaboration?


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