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Effective Nonprofit Collaboration: Let’s Get Together!

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In the nonprofit world, it seems like everyone is talking about collaboration. Partnerships save money, close gaps in services, and spark innovation. Good collaborations allow organizations to reach wider audiences, build internal capacity, and develop new solutions. Collaborations deepen impact.

Yet, despite the buzz around collaboration, forming a mutually beneficial partnership is difficult. Here are some tips to help:

1. Focus on relational skills

Building collaborations can be frustrating, time-consuming and difficult. ‘Soft skills’ like empathy, flexibility, and conflict management are critical to creating lasting partnerships. Non-profit collaborations often run into problems because they rush too fast into the work. Instead, spend some time building relationships. Share a professional development opportunity, invite each other to your fundraisers, get together for a meal. Check out this great read on these skills.

2. Pay attention to the 3 Ts- Time, Trust and Turf

The success of a partnership depends largely on the interaction between three factors: time, trust and turf. Some questions to ask yourself when considering a collaboration:

    • Time: Do we have time to build a partnership? How will responsibilities shift to accommodate new expectations?
    • Trust: How open is our organizational culture to collaboration? How do we  build trust with our partners?
    • Turf: What are we offering to the collaboration? What do we expect from our partner? How will we both benefit?

3. Communicate. A lot.

When two agencies work together, information can slip through the cracks. Decide on clear communication channels. Avoid jargon. Ensure that everyone knows how communication is accomplished. Regularly solicit input. Many partnership pitfalls can be avoided with strong communication practices.

4. Write it all down

Define your shared goals. Figure out  frameworks you will use to accomplish those goals. Identify roles and responsibilities. Determine how you will evaluate effectiveness. Decide how you will deal with unforeseen conflicts. Develop a shared work plan, with detailed roles and responsibilities. Ensure that Memorandums of Understanding (MOU) and work plans are clearly communicated and understood by all.

5.  Show progress

Create metrics to measure the success of the collaboration- not just the program. How are both parties improved by working together? Clear, effective evaluation plans will help partners, as well as funders and community stakeholders, understand the benefits of partnerships.

Effective collaborations are the best way for nonprofits to make substantial impacts. By leveraging the experience around us, nonprofits can learn, improve services, and grow. Break out of the nonprofit silo. Start examining at how you can enlarge your impact with a partnership.

Purpose Aligned Consulting helps nonprofit organizations build effective, mutually beneficial collaborations. Contact Kerri Drumm today for a free assessment on how you can strengthen your organization with partnerships.


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After fifteen years in the nonprofit sector, Kerri Drumm founded Purpose Aligned Consulting in 2014. She has experience on three continents, in two languages and on literally thousands of mission-driven projects and programs.