Taking on barriers to nonprofit collaboration

Taking on barriers to nonprofit collaboration

Posted on January 23, 2015 by Pam Truitt

If collaborations work, why aren't there more of them? Let’s look at the barriers to collaboration shared by this study, which was recently published through support from the Lodestar Foundation.

Many of the barriers identified by foundations and nonprofits are aligned in their priority, except one -- matchmaking. Nonprofits rank it high and foundations low. Summarizing comments made in the study, I offer my own experience and observations:

A nonprofit leader opined that it would be helpful for a foundation to invite 14 local nonprofits  in for a conversation.

Yes, that’s a good idea, if the foundation is aware, but the nonprofit leader could also take action and invite those nonprofits to a brown bag lunch. Numerous nonprofit leaders come to The Patterson Foundation asking if I keep a list of organizations who are interested in partnering. On more than one occasion I have wished for a match.com format for nonprofits! Until that day, I try to help them along:

Who else is in this space?

Have you tried using The Giving Partner?

Are any of your board members on similar boards?

Do you have an upcoming event that might be appropriate to invite organizations with similar missions?

Have you asked funders whom they think might be a good fit?

Consider a brown bag lunch to meet others, include an ice breaker to help everyone get comfortable.

Be patient. Relationships take time to mature.

Funders create their own barriers, too. A couple of examples from the study:

Shotgun weddings do not work. Funders who suggest partnerships tied to funding have learned over and over that once the funding dries up, so does the partnership. But, it still happens. Nonprofits appropriately suggested that funder’s approach the subject with a “would this collaboration work” attitude coupled with the support of a neutral facilitator.

TPF approaches partnerships through exploration and this above statement is exactly why the foundation believes this is the right model.

Another barrier? The BOGO mindset. A common refrain I’ve heard from foundations is that a merger of two nonprofits is the same as Buy One Get One Free. In the long run, it will cost less, but the first few years will likely cost more. Implementing a merger can be very costly. The study puts the range at $100,000-$1 million. Funding situations will be different depending on the scenario, but one workable concept is a funder collaborative, which enables all funders to come to the table and discuss how to best allocate resources to needs.

What solutions do you see for nonprofit collaborations?

  • Learn about these and other concepts used in TPF's approach to philanthropy.


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