Many of you out there recognize (and respect) Tom McLaughlin’s name. He is well-recognized and accomplished in the field of nonprofit collaborations. Tom, Director of Consulting Services for the Nonprofit Finance Fund, is also a faculty member at the Heller School for Social Policy at Brandeis University.
I have not had the pleasure of meeting Tom but look forward to the opportunity some day! Among Tom’s publications is a column, "Secret Sauce of Backroom Collaborations", he recently wrote for the NonProfit Times.
Tom’s perspective is that backroom collaborations require three main ingredients to work. Sort of like the holy trinity of cooking: onion, green pepper and celery. No self-respecting Cajun dish would be without it! Tom’s holy trinity is: standardization, replicability, and scale. I agree with many of his points, but will limit this blog to my perspective of standardization and suggest a fourth ingredient.
When using standardization as a tool or application for a nonprofit collaboration, there are—for sure—reasons to use or exclude. Let’s use finance software as the example. When nonprofits are considering back-office collaborations, one of the first actions should be to map existing processes and identify existing software. The conversation should start with these questions and gravitate to others:
What kind of software are you using?
Does the existing software meet your needs?
Can you achieve the same (or better) results using different methods and processes?
Are you budgeting for new or upgraded financial software in the next 1-2 years?
Are you willing to change your software?
Are you willing to change your methods and processes?
Do you have excess software capacity?
What outcomes are critical?
This line of questioning opens the door to the next—human resource capacity. For success, all of these discussions need to be open and honest.
Working through these questions with different organizations is no easy task. To start conversations around ‘standardization’, the participants must have a high level of trust. And that, I propose, is the fourth ingredient. At The Patterson Foundation, we know that without trust we can’t get nonprofits to embrace Tom’s holy trinity.
Those are my thoughts. What about you? What are your experiences?
Learn about these and other concepts used in TPF's approach to philanthropy.
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