Special to the Philanthropy Journal
By Peter Gamache, Ph.D. & Jackie Sue Griffin, MBA, MS, Turnaround Life, Inc.
When you’re fighting for every new donation, the ability to reach more people matters. Social media can help, but nonprofits looking to scale might find themselves searching for other avenues. In addition to that, organizations who haven’t built up their credibility yet might be looking for ways to build both credibility and reach. Many nonprofits are turning to community collaborations as a means to achieve each of these beneficial ends.
However, a lot depends on how nonprofits will collaborate and whether they fit well with their chosen collaboration partner. In any field, these strategic nonprofit partnerships can improve the organization’s exposure and build their credibility, as well as improve organizational efficiency, sustainability and impact on the community.
So, why collaborate? What’s in it for your nonprofit?
A partnership between two community organizations naturally includes cross-promotion. That’s a valuable opportunity for nonprofits to reach more people, as the two organizations will work on raising awareness of one another. So when picking a partner for a collaboration, consider the target audience they usually work with. Would your message resonate with them? Does it fit even loosely with your nonprofit’s donor persona? Is there potential for expansion within that new audience? If the answer to all these questions is yes, consider that partner seriously, as the collaboration with them will be beneficial for your nonprofit.
If your nonprofit has recently started, it may not have built up as much credibility as you’d want. And that’s crucial in attracting and retaining donors, which is why it’s often among the priorities of nonprofits in every field. Community collaboration with a well-known and trusted organization could help immensely with boosting your nonprofit’s validity, as the mutual campaign would naturally lend some of their credibility to you. It would also improve the public perception of your nonprofit, helping you to raise your profile and attract more donors.
However, this effect goes both ways: a collaboration with an incompatible partner could damage your nonprofit organization. When choosing a partner, always aim for an organization whose core values align with yours, even if your mission is slightly different. That will ensure that you have a good fit and that they won’t suddenly do something that would reflect on you poorly.
Other Benefits of Collaborations
Collaborations have other, more intrinsic benefits for nonprofits in addition to increased reach and credibility. Those include increased efficiency and effectiveness, considering both organizations will need fewer resources to do their work and will advance their purpose faster and with more success. And those nonprofits who are aiming high with their mission in the desire to cause a broad change in the existing system might find that they’re stronger together, and more capable of affecting change when they join resources.
There are many benefits of community collaborations for nonprofits, but the leaders have to be clear on the “why” and “how.” Picking a partner can be a long process, but choosing right can pay off with increased reach and credibility.
Here’s How to Pick the Right Partner(s)
If you’re aligning your brand with another, you must do your research to make sure your potential partnership will achieve something more than either of you can alone. Test your prospective collaborators against the 3C Model to gauge the appropriate depth of your involvement. By moving through this spectrum of involvement, you can test the waters and make well-informed decisions before committing publicly and completely.
- Cooperation: Test any new partnership with a limited and low-risk exchange. For example, can your facility host staff from another family-focused nonprofit in need of physical workspace one day a week during a specific program like the four-week application window for a summer camp? Would this draw more of your target demographic (parents) to your location for services (budgeting classes)?
- Coordination: When you’re ready for a more formal relationship that commits significant resources from each partner organization—perhaps dedicated, year-round office space in your facility for a specific number of staff members—you’ll also begin to share rewards: your shared clients increase each organization’s impact in specific programs.
- Collaboration: Full-blown collaboration is a durable and often transformational relationship between two organizations that may lead to reorganization and perhaps even a new, shared mission. The most successful collaborations may even lead naturally to a merger to eliminate redundancies, streamline operations, and significantly improve outcomes and impact.
For more nonprofit guidance and advice, visit Turnaround Life, Inc. website and help us fulfill our mission of assisting organizations and programs that support people turn their lives around.
Peter Gamache, PhD, is a research, development, and evaluation specialist for health services organizations, private foundations, and federally-funded public service organizations. His current research interests include disparities in health and mental health, integrated care, program fidelity, and program outcomes. He advocates for a collective understanding of race, gender, sexual orientation, ethnicity, and culture to prevent and address marginalization of people living with disease, illness, injury, and disability.
Jackie Griffin, MBA, M.S., serves as the development director, systems analyst, and director of evaluation for Turnaround Life, Inc. She has more than 26 years of experience dealing with nonprofit management, overseeing operations, grant development, grant management, capacity building evaluation, and performance assessment. Ms. Griffin is a Certified Recovery Coach, and the former vice president of development of Operation PAR, Inc., and executive director of the LiveFree! Substance Abuse Prevention Coalition of Pinellas County. She earned her master’s with a concentration in nonprofit management and master’s in Organizational Management and Leadership from Springfield College School of Professional and Continuing Studies, Tampa Bay campus. Ms. Griffin founded Jackie Sue Griffin & Associates, LLC in 2013 to provide nonprofit organizations, health and human services and government agencies consulting expertise and technical assistance in fund development and philanthropy and capacity building.