Collaboration for Non-profits

Too often, community organizations view each other as competitors for funding, clients, and other resources. But it doesn’t have to be a tug-of-war.
Collaboration for Non-profits - Articles
Collaboration for Non-profits

Collaboration can result in stronger, more mission-focused organizations. Here's an example: Penn State Extension has been offering grant-writing workshops around the state, often in collaboration with local partners such as community foundations. It's a win-win relationship. Extension benefits from the local knowledge of the partner, who can promote the workshop to targeted audiences such as community non-profits and local governments, and who also serves as a co-presenter at the workshop. The local partner benefits from the opportunity to spread its message and expand its network of potential clients. The workshop participants benefit from the combination of Penn State Extension curriculum and the expertise of the local partner. And in some cases, the introduction of local funders to local organizations may result in new funding relationships.

Like most good collaborations, the relationships and the benefits don't stop after one successful effort. Now Extension and its local partners are exploring opportunities for more collaboration to build the organizational capacity of community non-profits. This is of particular interest to community foundations, who want to ensure that their funding goes to organizations that will be effective in carrying out grant-funded projects and services. What's in the future? More Extension workshops and programs for community organizations, in partnership with local foundations.

Just this week, Extension and the Community Foundation for the Alleghenies teamed up on a grant-writing workshop. One of the key messages from the foundation to organizations attending the workshop: find a way to partner with each other, so that our funders' dollars can go further and accomplish more in the community. Your grant application will be stronger and more likely to receive funding if it's a collaborative effort.

This is a great concept to apply not just to grant opportunities, but to any number of aspects of organizational life. Think about the many ways your organization spends resources to support your mission, but not directly on the mission:

  • Administration, bookkeeping, computers, office space and equipment
  • Communications and outreach, newsletters, website maintenance
  • Professional development and training (for instance, grant-writing workshops!)
  • Travel expense, vehicles
  • Buildings and facilities
  • Marketing

Are there opportunities to reduce some of these expenses? Most organizations don't get past this point in the analysis, for fear of losing autonomy or identity. They fear that major funding support will be compromised. But put yourself in your funder's shoes for a moment. Better yet, think about your own giving. Would you be attracted by an opportunity to make your dollars go farther or work harder in the community; if you didn't have to choose between worthy organizations? Now have a conversation with one of your major funders to explore his/her perspective. This can be an important first step that creates a comfort level for boards and staff.

No doubt about it - collaboration means a new way of thinking about the organization. It requires lots of discussion, introspection, and exploration, not to mention some willing potential partners. Take it slowly and deliberately. But keep focused on the prize, which is more effectively meeting your mission.