Twenty years ago, I was able to articulate my life’s work with the still-relevant, "I want to make a difference," mantra. I continue to live by these words, but the past three years have challenged how I define making a difference. I’ve come to grips with the fact that my life's mantra is only useful if I employ leverage. Drat!
When I came across The Foundation Review article entitled, Four Principles for Collaboration Success, it occurred to me that now is the time for me to shift gears so that "making a difference" is synonymous with "need to understand how to leverage through collaboration."
Principle 1: Strategy is determined by mission impact before organizational growth
Principle 2: Build partnerships based on trust, not control
Principle 3: Promote others rather than yourself
Principle 4: Build constellations, not stars
There is so much to say about the four principles--and I’m always on the hunt for blog material—that I’m going to probe two principles now and the remaining two next week.
Principle 1: Strategy Is Determined by Mission Impact Before Organizational Growth
Over the past 20+ years, I’ve served on the boards of several nonprofit organizations and have been part of … "look at us grow—it’s all good!" It’s human nature to grow, but I am only now appreciating that growth can fuel revenues, but there isn’t necessarily a direct link to the organization’s mission.
Sometimes new programs and revenues distract attention and resources from core areas. I’ve seen more than one situation where a donor wants to fund a project or program that is only tangentially related to what the organization is supposed to do. As readers can imagine, those deals are really hard to turn down over fear of alienating the donor.
The other piece of this principle is that an organizational culture is such that a joke around the coffee pot might be, "Mission? What’s that?" This principle is all about the need to focus on what matters most. Without focusing on mission impact, collaborative opportunities may be positioned for failure rather than positive impact.
Principle 2: Build Partnerships Based on Trust, Not Control
I’ve given quite a bit of thought to this one. And if I were to assign a weighted point system to the four principles, No. 2 would receive the heaviest weight—because it is the most important.
There are instances -- I'm sure you can name a few, too -- where it seems so simple and logical for organizations to work together, especially those that seem to complement each other. I've served on several boards and appointed groups where I've suggested such a working arrangement and was met with silence and awkward glances around the room.
What could be one reason for so much mistrust? Sometimes, leadership can be an obstacle. If there isn't a foundation of trust among leaders, the thought of collaboration may be shot down as quickly as it is brought up.
If there really isn't an appetite to work collaboratively, all of the good intentions in the world may not help others at the table to "see the light". Looking back on some of my past experiences on boards, I can only speculate on what would have created efficiencies and effectiveness—and "made a difference": regular communications, visits to the various sites/locations, information and knowledge sharing, joint events and trust building. And that’s just a start.
Have you used these principles to achieve collaboration success?
Learn about these and other concepts used in TPF's approach to philanthropy.
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