“All of life is interrelated. We are all caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied to a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly affects all indirectly.”
Martin Luther King (Ohio, June 1965)
I distinctly remember a conversation that I had with a few nonprofit leaders a few years ago, when the last turn in the economy hit. We were looking at decreased foundation grants and dips in individual giving. I was curious about how nonprofits might band together to weather out the storm.
One leader said, “In these times, I’ve got to work more closely with other nonprofits to get our mission done. I don’t have the funds to accomplish it myself.“ She said that she had met with two other executive directors in her field to see how they could get more done with less resources.
In the same evening, I met another executive who said, “I don’t have the time or resources to collaborate right now. I’ve got to hunker down and cut costs wherever I can. If I share with other nonprofits, we won’t have enough to do our work.”
Two separate and very different responses to the same crisis. They are both partly right. Most people assume that if you are collaborative by nature, your organization would not be competitive. I think you need to collaborate in order to be competitive—not with every partner, and not on every issue, but lone rangers don’t make it too well in this environment.
Partnerships should be entered carefully, because if it doesn’t add more value than it costs in time and energy, it should be abandoned. It must be in the self-interest of your organization’s mission. (to add to the discussion on self-interest…) For some, the goal also means preserving the organization or preserving staff positions, which also has some merit. However, we need to be careful to steward the mission first, which might live on with or without the organization. That’s a tough pill, but one that has to be considered. Asking yourself, “What would happen to the community if my organization didn’t exist?” is a helpful question to clarify the key asset you bring to it, and how to safeguard that addition. Necessity is the mother of invention. We all need to be extra creative–perhaps create a new partnership–to achieve the results we need this year.