Nonprofit Sustainability Initiative Prepares Nonprofits for Partnership

On April 24, 2012, La Piana Consulting partnered with the Weingart Foundation, the California Community Foundation, The Ralph M. Parsons Foundation, The Center for Nonprofit Management, and the Luskin School at UCLA to launch the Nonprofit Sustainability Initiative, designed to support Los Angeles area nonprofits interested in pursuing partnerships as a way to strengthen their organizations in difficult times.

More than 650 people attended the launch event, far exceeding our expectations. The morning-long workshop represented an initial phase of engagement and generated lively discussion about nonprofit alliances and consolidations. Interest in the next phase, which offered participants individual assessments and consultation, was also higher than anticipated. Forty organizations were selected, ten more than originally planned for. Even after expanding the size of the cohort, the demand was such that we were unable to accommodate nearly 50% of those that applied.

The assessment phase was launched in mid-July through initial phone consultations with participating organizations to discuss their needs and concerns and to review the process. Each organization then completed the Strategic Restructuring Assessment Tool (SRAT), an easy to use online tool designed to educate and assess an organization’s readiness for strategic restructuring. With the board and selected staff present, the organizations were provided a 2- to 3-hour in-person consultation to discuss their results and map out possible next steps.

The forty organizations that participated in this phase represent a variety of sub-sectors, including mental health, advocacy, human services, and education. More than half self-reported on the SRAT that they are very experienced or have some experience in partnering with another organization. Most have identified potential partners and are now engaged in discussions around collaboration. In spite of this, many organizations were initially unaware of the different forms of partnership available to them or the degree of effort and resources strategic restructuring can demand, including significant amounts of time needed from the executive director, board members, and key staff to negotiate and launch a partnership. Some organizations expressed interest in partnerships as a way to reduce costs, not realizing that they may need to invest resources in setting up the partnership and that the most immediate outcomes are likely to be additional capacity and expertise that allows for increased efficiency in carrying out their work. The assessment phase helped organizations surface their assumptions in these and other areas, and created a space for them to have strategic conversations about alliances and consolidation.

The response to the Nonprofit Sustainability Initiative has been encouraging. We appreciate the leadership of our partners in this collaborative effort, and we look forward to sharing more about its results in the near future.

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