Every day the news carries another story about the work in Washington, DC to negotiate a deal on the debt limit and serious debt reduction activities. The issues are familiar – potential spending reductions and potential tax increases. One side will not budge from its position of no new taxes – and the other will not budge on its position of achieving results with new taxes and limited spending reductions. We know they need to collaborate to solve this – yet they are providing a good example of what collaboration is not. Over the next few weeks we will discover if they do learn the meaning of the word.
In the meantime, in our own communities, we have the ability to collaborate every day – and yet in the not-for-profit world I tend to see more competition than collaboration. How can we set an example to work with other not-for-profit organizations that have similar missions, values, and services? Is there a chance to provide improved services to the community utilizing fewer resources and thus improving efficiencies? Do organizations ever attempt to discover the answer to these questions?
In several cities across America there have been attempts to collaborate on back office services among not-for-profit groups. There has been collaboration on motor vehicles, insurance, human resources, facilities, training, and financial book keeping. Could there be more? If not for a number of barriers to collaboration, I believe it would be even more common.
Usually collaboration brings some initial costs – some of them financial – and some of them emotional. The financial cost is typically an upfront expenditure – or an investment in establishing the systems to collaborate – though these should bring a long term reduction in costs thus providing efficiencies for the future. The barrier to moving forward on this collaboration is the dollar amount of the initial investment.
Or maybe the barrier is the willingness to sit down and discover if savings can truly be made. This is the emotional investment of time and energy – and may require the ability to let go of “control” of an aspect of the organization. This emotional investment may, for some, be harder than the financial investment.
The above examples refer to back office or support services – and not to program delivery. Collaboration on program delivery can become an even more difficult task. But there are plenty of examples of effective program delivery through collaboration as well.
Two of my children attended Whitworth University in Spokane, WA, which is also the home of the more famous Gonzaga University. The two schools had a very good reciprocal program where students could take a course at the other university, at no extra cost, if it was not offered at their primary university. There were limits of course, but I found this collaboration well worthwhile for the universities and the students. I am also aware that other institutions of higher learning across the country have similar programs, though education is not the only sector involved in collaboration.
Over the next six months think about ways you could collaborate with another not-for-profit and begin a dialogue for how that might be accomplished – be it back office or program related. What examples have you witnessed in the past or recently? What were the results? What ideas would you like to try? Is there another organization you could work with to implement these ideas? Share your suggestions for and experiences in collaboration here. I am sure that untried opportunities abound!
All the best,