The Importance of Collaboration to Endure the Economic Downturn

I attended the first in a set of free quarterly workshops/discussions for non-profit organizations called “Power of Partnership,” co-presented by Craigslist Foundation, The Foundation Center, and Northern California Grantmakers. Tonight they had three panelists discussing the importance of collaboration between non-profits in the face of the state and nation’s budget crises.

A few highlights from the panelists:

Jacob Harold, Program Officer at the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation said some very insightful things about the current state of the nation and world in regards to philanthropy: Foundations, from the non-profit’s point of view, look like big entities that wield a lot of power. Jacob argued that they are bit players in the change game. He said that the Hewlett Foundation invests about $20 million per year to improve the California community college system, but the aggregate budget for the whole community college system is over $6 billion per year!

He also said several times that “the world is in flux,” and the basis of power is moving from organizations to networks that have the ability to mobilize quickly, accomplish their goal, and then disperse quickly. And despite the fact that the amount of money/funding is going down, social need is going up. How are these needs being met? With more efficient networks of people, and not clunky, bureaucratic organizations.

Sherry Simmons from the Northern California Community Loan Fund decrees that in order for organizations to successfully collaborate they need: 1) to have a clear goal, 2) to clarify the shared measures of success, and 3) to bring the right people together.

She also shared the story of how a coalition led by the Silicon Valley Council of Nonprofits worked together to fight proposed budget cuts in Santa Clara County–and they won by banding together, instead of getting picked off one-by-one.

Steve Fields from S.F. Human Services Network facetiously recounted former SF Mayor Willie Brown’s take on collaboration: “The definition of collaboration is what you think the other guy should be doing to further your agenda.” Obviously he disagrees, but it painted a picture of how government views collaboration with the non-profit sector (e.g. it doesn’t really exists).

Biggest Take-aways

  1. Collaboration is difficult because non-profits get really stuck in their own proprietary silos
  2. Multi-organization collaboration is a necessity, not just for funding, sharing resources, or sharing best practices, but more importantly for survival. As we face an economy and world in flux, more often than not, the non-profit sector is the first to lose funding. We must make it a priority to band together, realize that we are not competing with each other, and understanding that we are all providing unique services for the betterment of the entire community.

Who said anything worthwhile was easy? Are you currently collaborating in meaningful ways with other organizations?

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