Co-Create Success

The old ways are unlikely to work much longer if at all. That is easily said and universally accepted. However, the way forward is less clear.

Moving to a new model is difficult. There is risk because the new path is uncharted and unproven. Waiting until it is clear means following other nonprofits, which implies a loss of sustainability, a competitive disadvantage, and lower mission relevance. The new path may mean abandoning some of the current activities. If so, that will be hard to sell to long-time donors, some staff members, and other supporters. It is easy to say the new path will mean new skills, new ideas, a new business model, and new technology but giving up part of the past is painful.

No one has all of the wisdom needed to optimize the decisions about the path forward. It is time to co-create. Convene one or more meetings. Invite forward-thinking donors, clients who have unmet or undermet needs, creative and engaged staff members, knowledgeable community leaders, board members, and others to explore the issues and identify options. Nonprofits, government, and for-profits generally move in the same direction. Individuals with limited or no understanding of the nonprofit sector can see things with fresh eyes and explain how other sectors are responding. The meetings also opens doors for connections and integration of activities.

Historically, organizations could be internally focused. Thinking about what is best for an organization is hard to displace since all of the internal stakeholders are practically and emotionally vested in the organization and its mission. However, the new paradigm requires every organization to be client centric. Client centric now means fulfilling mission-centric client needs and finding collaborators willing to help provide clients with robust solutions beyond what your mission is able to offer. The sustainability, relevance, and strength of your nonprofit depends on the successful integration of your services with others and the sustainability of your relationships and partners.

Satisfying the needs of clients is becoming more complex and requiring a broader and deeper range of services. There must be partnerships and partners must be carefully screened. In addition, your partners have a right to expect your nonprofit to meet the same exacting standards as you apply to them. While each partner is autonomous, they must be willing to surrender some of their independence. That is a major cultural change for most nonprofits and especially for their boards. The greater good of the community and clients must be the focal point for the partnership’s decision making.

The partnership must also be agile. It is hard for any organization to be agile. It is harder still for partnerships where there are conflicting priorities among the partners. Without agility the partnership will miss out on opportunities, which will lower the sustainability and relevance of the partnership and its members. The cost and effort to repair the partnership or replace a partner will be significant.

Next Step:

Convene stakeholders and synthesize their view of the future, your clients’ future needs, and an understanding of your nonprofit’s role in serving the clients

Establish the profile and standards for each partner and their role in the partnership

Recruit partners who can help you create a complete solutions for your clients

Establish a method for holding the partnership and its members accountable

Ensure your supporters embrace the partnership before you finalize it

Ideally each partner will bring all of their stakeholders into the partnership. However, usually one or more partners will loose stakeholders. Before the partnership is formalized, it is important to assess the impact the loss of stakeholders will have on the partnership.

Foundations and other granting sources are becoming more enthusiastic about partnerships, especially when they have a formal operating agreement that creates mutual accountability. The accountability increases the funders’ confidence that plans will be executed and success will be achieved. They also often see the partnership as a more efficient and effective way to significantly impact the community.

Take It Further:

Expect it to take three to five years to form the partnership (this will provide you with the time to lay a solid foundation and carefully screen and engage the optimal partners)

Consider operating the partnership informally for 12 – 18 months before fully committing

Search for a funder who is enthusiastic enough about your plans to fund the partnership formation expenses

Seek help from a consultant with a success ratio greater than 60% and talk with several of the clients that were unsuccessful to better understand the risks and pitfalls


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