Funder Initiatives Open New Doors to Nonprofit Collaboration

How foundations and other capacity builders are using a three-phase process of education, assessment, and exploration/negotiation to support nonprofits in implementing collaborative strategies.

On May 15 and 16, San Francisco’s Office of Economic and Workforce Development invites San Francisco-based nonprofit executives and board members to a half-day learning session and discussion about strategic restructuring, including nonprofit mergers, joint ventures, and other alliances. Presented in partnership with La Piana Consulting as part of San Francisco’s Nonprofit Sustainability Initiative, each session will highlight the benefits and challenges of partnerships featuring a panel of local nonprofit leaders sharing their experiences with strategic restructuring. In addition to coming away with practical information about how such partnerships can support organizational effectiveness, registered participants will be eligible to apply for a limited number of consultant-facilitated assessments using La Piana’s Strategic Restructuring Self-Assessment Tool to determine their readiness to explore a potential partnership. Some will then be able to apply for technical assistance grants to support further exploration and negotiations with interested partner organizations.

This program is similar to the Mission Sustainability Initiative launched by Forefront in Chicago last October, which drew 500 nonprofit leaders to an initial information session, provided readiness assessments to 20 participating organizations, and is currently accepting applications for grants to help support the costs of exploring and/or implementing strategic partnerships. La Piana is conducting the assessments and serves as a consulting partner in this work.

Both efforts are patterned after a model inspired by the Human Services Strategic Restructuring Pilot Project in Ohio and further adapted for use in Los Angeles as the multi-funder Nonprofit Sustainability Initiative. This approach employs a three-phase process of education, assessment, and exploration/negotiation to first engage nonprofits in better understanding various partnership options and then more closely examining their own needs and motivations before offering grant support for technical assistance in negotiating an agreement. La Piana has conducted a similar project with the David and Lucile Packard Foundation and will be launching a new initiative this spring with the Lyda Hill Foundation in Dallas.

Funders and nonprofits have found that such phased initiatives help open new doors to collaboration by creating a low-risk environment for learning and exploration, addressing readiness as a critical factor for success, and providing funds to help cover the costs of obtaining external expertise. Each initiative has led to a number of successfully completed negotiations, but this is not the only measure of their success. There is significant value in having provided organizations the opportunity to explore partnership even if participants ultimately decide it is not the right time or not the best match. These, as well as the organizations that may have only attended an information session or completed an assessment, come away from the experience better prepared to consider partnerships in the future.

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