December 18, 2008

Seek First To Collaborate

I like quotes. But more than the quotes themselves, I enjoy their application. That's why the sage words at the end of every post here at Deserted After Dark relate to the not-so-sage words above it: I like to offer a take-home. How presumptuous.

Below is a post from Lois Savage, President of the Lodestar Foundation. Recently, the Lodestar Foundation sponsored The Collaboration Prize (it's exactly what it sounds like, an award recognizing achievement in partnership). The winner of the $250,000 grant will be announced at the ASU Lodestar Center on Philanthropy and Nonprofit Innovation's Annual Spring Forum for Nonprofit Effectiveness (or NAMBLA). This post was originally published on the fantastic blog PhilanTopic:

In this tough economic environment, calls for nonprofits to adopt business strategies in order to become more efficient and maximize the impact of their work abound. Usually included in the list of such strategies are the dreaded "c" and "m" words -- collaboration and merger. The implication is that employing either of these strategies is a sign of weakness, a last-ditch attempt to avoid organizational extinction. In reality, collaboration and merger strategies often are employed by nonprofits when they are healthy, with powerful synergistic results: the collaborative entity is more effective and impactful than the individual nonprofits, acting alone, ever were capable of being.

Still, collaboration can be daunting for many organizations, which is why they avoid it. Frequently cited as barriers to collaboration are the sheer time and resources it takes to collaborate; difficulties in integrating staff, programs, and different organizational cultures; loss of funding from long-standing donors; and ego and turf considerations.

These challenges are real, but the benefits of collaboration can be exceptional. For example, the Global Forum for Media Development, a global conference of world-wide independent media NGOs, has led to organized coordination and cooperation within the industry, enabling significantly more efficient utilization of resources and effective results within the field. Similarly, the Arizona's Children Association's acquisition of two existing nonprofits resulted in a dramatic reduction in operating costs for the first acquired nonprofit, Golden Gate Community Center, while the second acquisition enabled the New Directions Institute for Brain Development to increase its training capacity by 100 percent in a single year.

Since our inception almost ten years ago, the Lodestar Foundation has focused on helping nonprofit organizations collaborate to leverage the growth and effectiveness of philanthropy. While there is a wealth of information about collaboration in the business world, including case studies, models and how-to books, there is very little information about the unique realities of nonprofit collaboration. With the goal of providing such information to the sector, Lodestar earlier this year initiated the Collaboration Prize, a $250,000 award to the best U.S. nonprofit collaboration (including joint programming, administrative consolidations and mergers) between otherwise competitive organizations. We thought that if we received a hundred nominations, we could consider the project a success -- and were amazed when we received 644 nominations, all of them formulated during relatively prosperous economic times.

We are now in the process of organizing and analyzing this treasure trove of information. One thing is clear, however: While some of the nominated collaborations were formed as a result of adverse conditions (such as loss of an executive director or loss of funding) or pursuant to funder mandates, many involve marriages between strong viable organizations focused on maximizing effectiveness through joint action. This latter group demonstrates that collaboration can be a thoughtful, positive strategy for fulfilling an organizational mission, not just a desperation-induced tactical decision. All the nominees provided quantitative evidence of efficiencies and impact achieved through the vehicle of collaboration.

Collaboration will continue to be promoted as an option to nonprofits as a way to reduce costs and survive. Learnings from the Collaboration Prize, which we will begin to roll out in the first quarter of 2009, can be used to advance the concept of collaboration as a positive tool. In addition to providing models for initiating and managing collaborations, data from the nominees address a broad range of collaboration-related issues of import to funders and to nonprofits, issues ranging from how funders can create an environment that encourages nonprofits to explore collaboration, to how nonprofits can overcome common challenges that inhibit collaboration. Armed with practical knowledge about successful collaborations, perhaps more nonprofits will consider this powerful strategy. Stay tuned.

"Seek first to collaborate, only then to lead."
Bill Clinton

PS - Much to my girlfriend's delight, tonight is the last night of Mustaches For Kids. Much to my delight, the three of us have raised nearly $1,000. Pretty cool for three dudes with a little extra upper-lip fuzz. On behalf of the 1,200 students you have impacted through your gifts, thank you so much!

1 comment:

Aaron Stiner said...

It is amazing how humans innately want to organize from individuals into groups - there are so many advantages, resource sharing, work distribution, knowledge building - yet once those groups are formed, the groups throw up walls and stop considering how they can benefit from enlarging their group of individuals into larger groups of individuals, working together for bettering our communities and the lives of everyone in the communities.

Even in these times of reduced resources, there are still more than enough resources for everyone to get their share. Too often nonprofits are scared that collaboration leads to smaller pieces from the same size pie. Collaboration helps bring together resources so the pie can grow.

BTW, creating networks and collaborating are one of the Forces For Good Practices of High Impact Nonprofits.

Finally, in nonprofits, the mission, the vision and the goals are much more important than the organization form. Mission and vision should drive organization form, not the other way around. If collaboration is the best way to achieve your mission, then the public trust you hold on behalf of your donors entreats you to collaborate!