The myth of the self-made person suggests that one who is competent can succeed alone. The fact is, we depend on each other to survive. Try to identify someone who became a success on his or her own. It’s not easy to do. Alaska Native people, for example, have survived in often unforgiving environments for more than ten thousand years. Their resiliency, in large part, can be attributed to their ability to depend on each other.
With this awareness we know that working together, collaborating, having partners is not the nice thing to do – it is what must be done to survive. For an organization to become sustainable, it must form partnerships with other organizations and individuals.
The nonprofit sector engages people who work together to improve their community. This sector is as important, if not more so, as any other in our society, because it is mission driven. The nonprofit sector builds community. Nonprofits serve those in need, support families and youth, inspire through the arts, educate, conserve natural resources, and unite in efforts to create thriving economies. In order for the sector to work, organizations must embrace their interdependence at all levels. That is key to success.
Funders are increasingly urging strategic partnerships as a way to stretch resources and increase efficiency. Nonprofits should form partnerships before a funder asks them to. Often, decisions to collaborate are made in crisis. Organizations that take the lead in forming partnerships have better opportunities to thrive. They also have time to gain the support of its board, staff, and stakeholders. While it is possible to form good partnerships when a funder drives the process, the challenge can be intensified.
What steps do you think a board and staff can take to build strategic partnerships?
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.