Nonprofit Performance 360 Issue 12
to the next.We are in that unique spot that sees a lot of this, and since we can fund and track outcomes, that is an important role for us - not just as a fundraiser to give money to those organizations, but to help them operate more efficiently between one another and within each organization. It’s tough for groups to compromise. If I am going to coordinate with another organization, I have to go in with the spirit of compromise and seeing that there is a purpose in coming together that supersedes my personal self-interest. It may require me to give something away for the greater good of the community. As long as self-interest, self-preservation, egos, and turfism stay in the discussion, it will be hard to move the needle. But focusing on the community is a much more noble cause than focusing on organizational growth. Before you start a nonprofit, pump the brakes. See if there is somebody else out there, not necessarily doing the same thing, but addressing the same need. If there is, talk to them first. It’s much more exciting to get your own organization started and create your own logo and website, but you need to let it go. If my real purpose is to serve the community, not just create an organization, let me find out if there is a moving train I can hop onto, somebody else who is already doing this. We had an organization come to us, wanting to start a new nonprofit, but we thought they were more appropriately aligned with an existing organization.They are now a program under that organization, which makes the most sense for them. They will share the overheads of the other organization, which is a win-win. We recognize that we have leverage to say that we will withhold some funding until you collaborate, but we have stopped short of saying we will not fund you. In our view, that punishes the people who benefit from that organization. For example, if there are two non-collaborating backpack programs that provide food to kids on Fridays, I won’t cut their funding until they collaborate because I’ll be taking food out of the mouths of the kids. While it feels like an important knob to turn, that’s being a little reckless with money as a motivator. It just hurts the community. But we have said our funding is going to put strong preference on those organizations that collaborate.
Organizations that come together to collaborate should not set too high an expectation. If we put a lofty expectation on our first meeting, we may scare each other off, and we may not really know what we’re trying to do. Don’t be too rigid with saying that we have to have an outcome by December. However, at some point, you have to switch the conversation from the stream of consciousness rambling, and get people on a map. After you’ve have talked for a few meetings, what are some of the things you think you share? It’s very much like dating. Once you know a little more about each other, you can ask if there is something more there. Do you share a common purpose?
Should you work on a common goal? If so, articulate that as clearly as possible. Make part of your work to focus on that goal, and keep having this open conversation about other areas you might benefit from or other people you want to bring to the table. But if accomplishments are to be made for a sustainable impact on the community, you have to get a plan together. Basic Rudiments You must have a vision statement that is meaningful, clear, and concise, with no vague language or marketing fluff. Then you must talk about the strategy that will get you there. That strategy has to have goals, objectives, tactics, 90-day plans, 30- day plans, who is accountable for it, when it is going to be done, and how you will measure whether or not it was done. If you have that line of sight between that vision and what you need to have done Monday morning, that is a recipe for doing good things. Those early collaborative efforts need to be loose on the front end, but get more focused as topics bubble out of those areas. In those early stages where people are just talking, they leave the room, and the type A in you feels that you did a lot of talking, but you don’t know what was accomplished. The more patient side of you should say that you have done a lot of talking, but you haven’t talked before, so that’s progress. You have no real outcome yet, but you will get there. Maybe in a later meeting, you’ll
focus on a project and see what you can do differently together. That can be scary for organizations because everybody will probably have to compromise a bit. You need to know that going in. But if it’s better for the community, if what you lose is more than made up for by what the community gains, you should let it go. For example, we fund several backpack programs, but United Way runs programs directly for a couple of schools. Revenue for that is included in our total pledges that we report annually. Those backpack programs should coordinate and consolidate better. That probably will mean our backpack program could move to a more centralized program that might be able to operate more efficiently and effectively than us. Moving that backpack program out is probably the right thing to do to get it into a more efficient program. But I will have also moved thousands of dollars’ worth of revenue associated with that program outside of my organization. Somebody looking at our dollars might say that we went from $100 to $75, and are losing ground. Not really. I know where that program went and it makes more sense for it to be operated there. If I am collecting $25 less than I used to collect, that’s okay. In fact, that’s evidence that we collaborated on something. If my only interest is in growing our revenue, I would never do that. That’s why you have to let
34 I Nonprofit Performance Magazine
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