Since all nonprofit organizations are public institutions, they function as a web of social good services serving the best interests of those who empower them – the people of any municipality. In this way, they can be compared to departments of government with each serving a specific need that collaboratively make up a system of supports.

But unlike a system of government, which typically roles up collectively to one manager or body of governance, nonprofits are disconnected from each other, managed by independent boards who rarely spend time to connect across organizations. As a result, our nonprofits are silos of their own design.

This fact gets little attention from individual donors (unlike the lack of efficiency and effectiveness in government, which is a central focus of many voters), but it does get the attention of grantmakers and foundations who bemoan the lack of collaboration between organizations seeking funding. To-date, it has traditionally been the funding community that has promoted nonprofit partnerships, and unfortunately it has produced primarily weak and disinterested collaboration. Lacking proper understanding and incentive to seek partners, nonprofits are largely content to conservatively protect their resources and maintain a closed system for programming, facility, resource development and human resources.

And yet, there are many mission-focused reasons to seek collaboration. It can be a fast-track to achieving programmatic success and can help to ensure sustainability by design well before the exhaustion sets in. In May, CULTIVATE participants are exploring opportunities for partnerships, learning more about unique integration models, and designing a plan for implementing partnerships that make sense.

Specific areas of study include:

Accessing Partnership Potential
As is the case in previous modules, the first step to assessing partnership potential is to engage in an organizational audit. Opportunities to collaborate in the areas of programming, facility, resource development and human resources are possible for most organizations. Determining the goals and metrics for these collaborations can take more time to determine but are needed before engagement with would-be partners can be effective. A period of research is needed to ensure due diligence.

CULTIVATE participants will conduct an internal audit, identifying areas of their business models that could benefit from formal collaboration. It is the goal to bake in this sort of analysis for future consideration.

Exploring Partnership/Integration Models
Collaborative efforts can be accomplished across a wide spectrumin three categories – independent, interdependent and integrated. Emerging organizations must give consideration to each type of partnership, considering if it is critical to “own” all aspects of the theory of change. Growth and impact may be best served by maximizing effort through leveraging preexisting resources.

CULTIVATE participants are learning that they need not “go it alone” on all aspects of their business models.

Designing & Implementing Partnerships
Collaborative efforts are rarely easy and require a strong plan to be successful. Pre-work is likely to include outreach, documentation and trust-building. Funding is likely needed to make the partnership a success, and collaboration on the pursuit of revenue may be needed. Once implemented, the collaborative effort should be tested first in a pilot phase, with outcomes positive and negative used as feedback to strengthen the collaboration. Clear goals and ways to measure impact are keys to success.

Throughout this module, CULTIVATE participants are considering ways to test and further explore partnership potential. The cohort model for the incubator is useful – CULTIVATE itself is a form of collaboration.

Next Up: Building a Pipeline of Individual Donors