Collaborating for the Success of Your Clients

It is easy for a nonprofit’s programing to produce results.  It is hard for nonprofits to create meaningful and measurable outcomes that fulfill the promises of their mission statements years from now.  It is the outcomes that donors want and communities value.

One of the reasons nonprofits have a hard time producing the desired outcomes is that the nonprofit is usually only one entity in the host of services provided to a client.  In many cases, a client is like a river and the services are like rocks in the riverbed.  As a client’s life flows, the client bumps into a variety of entities offering services.  All of the services change the direction of the client’s life.  Some produce a significant change and some blunt or negate the work of others.  Everyone assumes someone is directing the flow but of course, no one is.  At the same time, everyone is trying to influence the flow.

The client could be, perhaps even should be, the flow director but it is unlikely anyone has taken the time to teach the client how or made the client aware of the need.  Compounding the problem is the lack of collaboration between the service providers.  The result is that the client receives less value than he or she could, the nonprofits struggle to fulfill their mission effectively, and society has a growing social problem because of everyone’s struggles.

The easy place to start is with the entity that immediately precedes your nonprofit in the service stream.  As an example, think of an independently operated afterschool program, that receives students from multiple schools.  The schools are the immediately preceding service provider.  The schools and the afterschool program are committed to the success of the students but it is unlikely they have met and agreed on what success means, how each can contribute to the other’s success, and how to create a seamless experience for the students.  Parallel with the afterschool program’s services are other service providers (music lessons, sports teams, church groups, parents, clubs, etc.).  Following the afterschool program are evening programs, summer activities, weekend activities, and the next school in the educational progression.

Everyone is doing the best they can, but without coordination it is unlikely that anyone’s long-term hopes for the student will be fully realized.  In fact, because of the confusion, many providers have given up on creating a long-term vision (life-changing outcomes) for their clients and have settled for short-term results.  The standards for the results are minimal because of the difficulty achieving significant results in the current environment.

Initially, it is unlikely that a nonprofit could collaborate with all of the service providers in the segment.  However, collaborating with a few will change the results and outcomes for a few more clients.  Those positive results, especially the immediate change in the results, create a compelling reason for others to join the collaboration.

Collaborations take time, effort, and money to create and manage. Therefore, one of the goals for each collaboration must be to ensure it reduces the service delivery costs for the affected clients.

Once you have evidence of better results and lower costs, you have a compelling case.  Then it is time to expand the number of collaborators.

Next Step:

Be selective when recruiting the early collaborators

Manage the relationship with your collaborators with more rigor than you do your most important vendors (specifications, goals, expectations, roles, responsibilities, etc.)

Survey your clients to determine which collaboration opportunities will produce the best results and to discover new collaboration opportunities

Initially, it is unnecessary to have high-profile collaborations.  When the collaborations change the results and produce cost savings, with whom you collaborated is unimportant.

The purpose of the collaboration is to make the clients’ lives better.  Avoid collaborating with entities who are unwilling to put their clients and mission first.  They will be hard to keep engaged.

Grants are usually easier to obtain when a carefully constructed collaborative applies.  The grants are also usually more generous.

The impact your nonprofit and your collaborators have on your community and your clients will more than justify the time, cost, and effort you expend forming and managing the collaborations.

If you want to go fast, go alone. If you want to be strong, go with others. Collaboration increases sustainability.

Take It Further:

Look for collaborative opportunities to enhance your fundraising


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