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Collaboration: Doing it Well

“Collaboration” is easily said, much harder to actually do and (more importantly) to do well. At its core, a collaboration should have three things: 1) clear purpose, 2) clear agreements, and 3) clear results.

Collaborative strategies are a powerful way for nonprofits to accelerate their impact. Every day, organizations are exploring new and creative ways of working together to expand their reach, deliver more effective programs, and advance their missions. Even so, “collaboration” is easily said, much harder to actually do and (more importantly) to do well. At its core, a collaboration should have three things: 1) clear purpose, 2) clear agreements, and 3) clear results.

  • Clear purpose means no “collaboration, for collaboration’s sake.” With all the demands on your nonprofit, there’s no sense spending precious time and energy on collaboration (and it does take time and energy!) unless you have a compelling purpose for doing so. A collaboration must unite behind a common goal.
  • Clear agreements means you have mutually defined the rules of the game. How will you share resources? How will you share responsibility, and credit, for progress toward your common goal? Effective collaboration requires more than good intentions, it’s about taking action – action that is supported by a clear set of operating procedures.
  • Clear results means you are prepared to capture and learn from the successes, failures, and unexpected outcomes of your collaboration. All collaboration begins with a desire to have a greater impact than could have been achieved independently. Collaborating for impact means not letting the process of collaboration (which is often demanding) distract from the actual outcomes, whatever those may be.

Collaboration is term that encompasses a whole universe of relationships, from memoranda of understanding to mergers, from cross-sector initiatives to complex networks. Regardless of the form a partnership takes, its real value lies in why it has been formed, how it takes action, and what it can achieve.

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