Inevitably, when nonprofit leaders talk about partnerships, someone brings up the notion of competition. They may say that partnering is great, but even nonprofits have to look out for competitors if they want to be sustainable.
Three of the four factors of nonprofit sustainability – focus, right people, and unrestricted funds – are arguably the same as those needed in the for-profit world. Yet while many “best practices” in that universe make sense in the nonprofit sector, one major difference exists – in the need to compete. In the for-profit realm, consumers can benefit from competition. In the nonprofit sector, competition, especially between organizations with a similar purpose, can have a negative impact on the consumer as well as on the nonprofit’s relationships with partners and funders. Conversely, partnerships can help nonprofit organizations manifest their focus. It is simply not possible to fully achieve most nonprofit goals without collaboration.
Organizations who work as partners do better than organizations that compete. A nonprofit does not have to compete to survive – but its leaders are wise to constantly examine their own performance against benchmarks and actively compete internally to improve capacity and their ability to adapt.
Well-conceived partnerships allow organizations to stay true to their core purpose and values while complementing their human capacity, saving or raising more funds, and, most importantly, serving their communities more effectively than if they worked alone.
While some organizations have difficulty with collaboration, many are willing to take a wide view on ways to achieve mission through partnerships. We should not be fostering a sector where organizations compete against one another. The better nonprofits understate and create thoughtful partnerships, the better they can improve the quality of life in their communities.
What conversations do you think need to occur between board and staff to encourage effective partnerships in your community?
Dennis McMillian, is President of The Foraker Group, a capacity building organization based in Alaska, and the author of Focus on Sustainability: A Nonprofit’s Journey.