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How to Collaborate with Other Nonprofits to Weather Hard Times

If the field in which your nonprofit works has seen a decline in funding or an increase in competition for staff or clients, it may be time to identify others who provide similar programs and begin to work together. Who shares your organization’s values and approach? Can you serve clients better by combining services?

Forming a collaboration enables you to bring different strengths, resources, and knowledge to a task. It assumes that you can work with greater depth and understanding through a partnership. You also may save some money.

Pilot the nonprofit partnership first

Try a temporary, modest project with your partner before launching a large-scale combination of services. Shared goals and values matter and shared fields of interest matter, but personal compatibility is important as well. Also, as you step into a partnership arrangement, make sure that more than one leader in each organization is participating in the conversations and negotiations. Collaborations often falter if the key contact person at one of the two agencies leaves. A team can ensure continuity.

Share a back office

Maybe program collaboration won’t work for your organization, but other types of collaboration may be successful. For example, why not approach another nonprofit about sharing a staff member? By hiring together, you may be able to offer a stable, full-time job with a competitive salary rather than a part-time gig. In turn, your organizations can engage more experienced and qualified employees.

Sharing things instead of people also can reduce your operating costs. Consider whether you can save money by purchasing equipment, securing office space, or combining supply orders with others. And don’t assume that you can share these things only with organizations that resemble yours.

In a recent study of nonprofits in the Puget Sound region, researchers found that some of the best shared-space experiences were among unlike nonprofit organizations, such as a theater school that operated in the late afternoons and evenings and a day-care center that operated early in the day.

Place a program within another agency

If your nonprofit is stretched too thin to achieve everything it’s trying to do, why not spin off a program, placing it within another reputable agency that shares your values? You may find that another organization, operating at a different scale or involving people with different skills and knowledge, is positioned to do a better job of managing that program.

It’s difficult to give up a piece of your agency’s work, but making this choice is the responsible thing to do for your clients. Plus it may allow you to focus on the services that best address your nonprofit’s mission. Of course, placing a program with another agency also will likely reduce your costs.

Merge with another nonprofit

One challenging but responsible choice for your nonprofit may be to merge with another agency. Mergers in nonprofits are similar to those in the business world. Generally, in a merger, one organization dominates the other.

Mergers require thoughtful planning that involves teams of people from both nonprofits. First, thoroughly discuss your missions, goals, and program philosophies. If those aren’t aligned, the merger won’t work. Next, keep those goals foremost in mind as you choose a name, select staff, consolidate boards, and arrange a new structure.

When executing a merger, use a facilitator to lead you through the plans and decisions, and work with an attorney to draw up your final agreements. Also be open to the idea of bringing in new staff and board members who will be committed to the merged organization without loyalties to either of the original entities.

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