Best practices for nonprofit collaboratives

Best practices for nonprofit collaboratives

Posted on February 26, 2014 by Deborah Gauvreau, consultant with The Patterson Foundation

When I relocated to Southwest Florida in 2007, I was passionate about facilitating high-impact and synergistic solutions to the delivery of services. Since relocating, I have had the opportunity to work with the Cape Coral Community Foundation, the Charlotte Community Foundation, and the Southwest Florida Community Foundation to support the development of collaborative and transformational projects.

In September of 2013, I was invited by The Patterson Foundation to provide consulting and facilitation services to support the Nursing Collaborative. This project is designed to develop and implement a pilot project to lead change and advance health. This Southcoast region project is developing replicable tools, techniques and practices to share with other regions. The Nursing Collaborative is gaining momentum by employing some best practices beneficial for all projects that are collaborative in nature.

What is a best practice? Simply, it is a method, technique, or procedure that produces the best performance and results. They are guidelines, as opposed to hard and fast rules.

Best practices create strategies for approaching a body of work that have been proven successful.

Here are five best practices supporting collaboration success:

1. Develop a clear statement of purpose. As soon as possible, develop a purpose statement. Write it down. Re-visit is often, and revise it as necessary.

2. Invite the right people. Invite people that can and will contribute positively to the collaborative intention.

3. Have a big vision and take bite-sized pieces. A history of small successes will build confidence. A big vision provides the “pull” through thick and thin. Develop an action plan that demonstrates progress in attaining clear outcomes.

4. Create strong processes. The process is as important as the outcomes. Said another way, without attention to process, there probably will be no outcomes. Answering the questions of who, what, when, how, and how much are essential. Mindfully addressing process and developing a written account will create clear pathways for successful outcomes to be achieved.

5. Cultivate a safe space for honest communication. A collaborative environment can be somewhat foreign to leaders who are accustomed to hierarchical communication. Good communication and participation are necessary for participants to stay engaged. Challenges that arise in a well-cultivated environment can be more easily addressed and resolved.

6. Develop agreements for participation. Hold an expectation for all partners to participate. Collaboration is about engagement. Resources are required. Each organization can contribute differently but meaningfully. Develop a memorandum of understanding early in the process.

7. Create structure and balance it with flexibility. Form follows function is an axiom in the field of architecture. It is also true when building social architecture. Structures are necessary; they may be brief or longstanding. A flexible approach will greatly enhance the birth of new and better opportunities.

"Never believe that a few caring people can’t change the world. For indeed, that’s all who ever have." - Margaret Mead


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