The Struggle to Collaborate
There are a lot of nonprofits doing the exact same thing. Not literally – clearly each nonprofit has their own methodology, belief system, and implementation. But many social organizations are attempting to serve the same populations and solve the same problems, while not working with those other organizations doing the same.
Wendy Woods, Global Head of the Boston Consulting Group’s Social Impact Practice, spoke to the power of collective cooperation during a 2013 TED Talk. She highlighted two organizations fighting malnutrition in the same region, but turning potential patients away because those patients didn’t fit the criteria of who they serve. These organizations were in the same region, serving the same cause & population, but were ineffectively solving the problem. The solution? Working together.
So many nonprofits are wary of giving up their “secret sauce” – that program, practice, or tool that sets them apart from others in the space. This perceived competitive advantage, that their system of change is the most effective, has the potential to hinder the efficacy of the overall endeavor – whether that is helping the most people or solving a key problem. What the “secret sauce” does is create an environment for that nonprofit to continue to exist, but not to achieve larger goals.
And communicating this advantage ultimately comes down to why your method is better and how much more effective you are because of your practices and people. In fundraising and outreach communication, what nonprofits end up selling are outcomes and activities created by their methodology and work. But these outcomes aren’t enough when you consider the potential to serve more people. By giving up the notion of working independently on this effort, and instead collaborate with others who are tackling the same issue and population, you have the opportunity to more effectively help those in need.
But giving up the “secret sauce” is no easy task. As a nonprofit leader, you have to balance the needs of so many stakeholders, including a board of directors, staff, volunteers, funders, not to mention the people you are directly serving through your mission. Your competitive advantage helps those internal to your organization, but at what cost to those externally?
Inefficiencies abound in the nonprofit space, and a lack of collaboration is just the beginning. But in thinking and considering the big picture of your work, including the opportunities that exist to step outside of your organization’s needs and existence, you can realign your work with your mission. And isn’t that what we’re all here for?
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- Shana Masterson of NPEngage discusses the challenges and optimism with DIY fundraising. A great quote from the article, “The success of the Ice Bucket Challenge, the widespread availability of the internet, and the increasingly social nature of the population have created a perfect storm of both hope and unrealistic expectations.”