Getting Started with Nonprofit Collaboration

by Anne Yurasek on March 27, 2010


At a recent event sponsored by the Liberty Bank Foundation, Jane was asked by an audience member, "I have no resources to pay a consultant to help us determine if we can identify ways to collaborate with other organizations or even merge.  How can I get started?"  Jane responded, "All it takes is a relationship, knowledge about the possibilities, and a cup of coffee." 

What do we mean by that?  It is important for you to not just think of your own organization's survival in these times.  We encourage our clients to think about the organizations that support the populations they serve and to consciously construct a relational map.  Then monitor that map to understand the effects on the organizations in their arena.    Who are the organizations that refer clients to you?  Who do you refer to for ancillary or supportive services?  If your clients need housing supports, or basic needs supports, who is providing them?   Who are your competitors and what shape are they in?  What are their plans…which programs will they close or cut back on?  If you have partnerships with other organizations, how are they doing?  Will they be able to maintain their contribution to your joint work?   What is the status of your relationship with the leaders of these organizations?  After developing your own relational map, identify the individuals/organizations with whom you have strong, positive relationships and/or a common focus, client base, or geographic area. 

The other component that we believe strengthens these conversations is knowledge about the possibilities.  There has never been a time where understanding what is possible has been more crucial.  Nonprofit leaders must learn how to use models of collaboration and consolidation: formal agreements, joint ventures, management service organizations, networks, parent corporations and mergers.    There are innumerable examples that can be searched and examined on the Lodestar Prize Collaboration website.  The National Council on Nonprofits recently compiled a guide to sources that are available: .  In addition to Jane's book, Forging Nonprofit Alliances, we also recently published an article for funders who are considering how to support these types of efforts that also may be helpful to you.  It is up to you to build your understanding of the possibilities that are available to you.
What next?  Here comes the coffee.  Collaborative efforts can simply begin with a cup of coffee and a conversation with another nonprofit leader that you have identified as a possible partner - not with a lawyer or an expensive feasibility study.  Key questions for your discussion may include: 
  • Where are our efforts to support our clients aligned?
  • What are the impacts of the current environment on our clients?
  • Are you interested in exploring ways that we can support one another?
  • What is the status of your programs and funding?
  • Who else may be interested in talking with us? 

So give it a shot, consider the options, and reach out to a potential partner…what have you got to lose?

Are you already collaborating with other agencies? How did you get started? What was most helpful to you?  We will share responses and suggestions in a future blog entry.

Photo Credit:  DeePeaJay

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