As an African proverb puts it, “If you want to go quickly, go alone. If you want to go far, go together.” This wise adage paints a picture of strength and resilience in partnership with others. In these uncertain times, many nonprofits should consider the possibility of joining forces with other organizations.
I am old enough to recall the first time I heard of a friend meeting his new girlfriend online (now his wife of about 20 years). At the time, dating websites were becoming increasingly common. However, there was widespread reluctance about publicly acknowledging a new method of meeting people beyond randomly crossing paths at work, weddings, bars, gym, church and other places. While many of us could admit that online dating was logical, there was something about the technology that made it appear less romantic.
Perhaps your nonprofit is open to exploring a partnership, but there isn’t a potential partner on your radar. You can begin the process by recognizing that you can be the initiator. It’s not necessary to wait for a random offer. If you believe collaboration can be beneficial, start outlining the attributes of a good partner for your organization. Next, identify organizations that seem to match many of those criteria, and reach out.
Realistically, most of the organizations you approach will say this is not the right time. You may be surprised by how many will barely acknowledge your suggestion, maybe even entirely ignoring it. Such is our preference for independence and autonomy in running our nonprofit organizations.
Interestingly, partnership possibilities often present themselves at awkward times — an organization is about to hire a new ED/CEO, is in the midst of a capital campaign or is about to launch a new direction that will require everyone’s complete attention.
Each year, the Charitable Advisors team works with one to two clients on what we call “strategic partnering.” In one case, the team behind a fast-growing program realized it needed to be part of a larger nonprofit organization to truly reach its potential. We were able to identify three organizations that were interested in discussing partnership possibilities. Our client merged with one of the three organizations.
In another situation, a nonprofit had experienced a series of setbacks, including going through multiple executive directors within a short period of time. As a result, the nonprofit was beginning to lose credibility within the community. Though they still had financial resources, board members took the heroic step of looking at what was best for the community. They decided to join forces with a former competitor and archrival that was better positioned to make an impact.
Our team at Charitable Allies would love to support you in your partnership journey. To learn more, please contact Bryan Orander by email or 317-752-7153.
Bryan Orander, President