Collaboration... It sounds so easy, so efficient, so logical; then why don’t more not for profit organizations with similar missions do it? Because, what sounds so simple, actually, is anything but. Now, thanks to The Patterson Foundation and No Margin, No Mission, (a national consulting firm helping nonprofit organizations craft business plans), the CEOs and boards of HOPE Family Services (HOPE) and the Women’s Resource Center of Manatee (WRC) and their teams (not to mention everyone’s sense of humor) -- will actually pull this off.
HOPE and the WRC have similar goals; to help women become empowered, make good choices, stay safe, and be strong and independent. We knew it was a good idea – Ashley Brown the CEO of WRC is one of the smartest women I know. She is a kindred spirit. When she suggested a joint fundraiser wherein our two organizations would share the proceeds – I knew I’d met the right person.
Trumping nonprofit stereotypes
HOPE and WRC already collaborate in terms of programs – HOPE clients go to WRC for counseling when the stigma or distance of traveling to HOPE is too great. HOPE sends clients to WRC for job training assistance and WRC sends families who need specialized domestic violence services to HOPE. But share money – whoa, now we tread into dangerous waters; after all, aren’t not for profits supposed to guard their money, their “turf” if you will?
Thanks to a conversation with forward thinking friends at The Patterson Foundation, HOPE and WRC had the opportunity to take a ‘harebrained scheme’ to collaborate on an earned- income strategy and work with Michael Oxman and Larry Clark from No Margin, No Mission. No Margin, No Mission believes in the power of entrepreneurial thinking and business strategy to create financially sustainable organizations that achieve greater social impact. Michael and Larry have a wealth of knowledge and experience and even for these seasoned professionals, working with two teams, simultaneously, on one business plan was a first. As it turns out, it was a learning ‘adventure’ for them too.
Collaborating to provide HOPE and empowerment
So what did we learn? We learned collaboration is tough stuff and takes deep trust in each other’s ideas, boards of directors and motives. We learned that knowledgeable consultants helped more than we ever believed. Their weekly homework assignments kept us on track and accountable to each other, the project and our goals. Their suggestions for changes helped enormously; especially with the Fast Pitch presentation before potential funders.
We learned that success wasn’t going to happen overnight. We learned that our project was going to cost much more money and human capital, and we learned that it was okay to change direction to better organize the business plan to achieve the desired result.
We learned that two CEOs who are a bit bossy (did I say that?) had to compromise day to day in the meetings, had to listen to the consultants as maybe we didn’t know everything (what?) and more importantly, we learned that keeping our eye on the prize…more money to help more women… made any of the challenges more palatable. Taking our egos out of the mix was one key to success.
So where are we now? We are still friends, we have a shiny, new, well-thought-out 80+ page business plan; a powerful tool to help pitch our new entrepreneurial business strategy. We have better infrastructure at each organization. We are looking for other ways to collaborate and consolidate activities and are ready to launch our new project.
The end result? Better organizations individually and collectively but most importantly, the promise of a better future for the women who access HOPE and WRC because, as Ashley likes to remind us….when you empower a woman, you strengthen her family; which, in turn, improves our entire community.
Learn about these and other concepts used in TPF's approach to philanthropy.
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