Three Ways Boards Advance Nonprofit Collaboration
1. Considering Collaboration as a Strategic Option
One of the defining roles of a nonprofit board is to set organizational strategy, and collaboration is one strategy among many an organization might consider. As boards engage in strategic thinking and acting – monitoring their environment, identifying opportunities and challenges, and adjusting organizational strategy over time – it is important to examine the potential of collaborative strategies.
Whether responding to opportunities in the external environment or addressing internal business model challenges, collaboration, alliance, or strategic restructuring may (or may not) offer a viable and effective option. Boards play a key role in having this conversation. (Learn more about how strategic planning can be a catalyst for collaboration.)
2. Laying the Groundwork for Collaboration
Board members are highly valued for the relationships and networks that they can leverage on behalf of the organization. These may give them access to and insights about collaborative opportunities, such as news of another organization’s executive director’s plans to retire, or lunch with the board chair of a small but promising program looking to increase its reach and impact.
Whether making key introductions or participating in initial conversations, board members can provide the spark that leads an organization to more deeply explore collaborative opportunities. (This brief case study on Crittenton Women’s Union describes how boards can play lead role in identifying and pursuing collaborative opportunities.)
Board members’ trusted relationship with the executive director or CEO can also be critical in laying the groundwork for collaborative strategies by helping to identify when collaboration could be a necessary course of action or a positive opportunity. Board members may be in the best position to broach difficult conversations or tell hard truths about the organization’s need to partner in order to strengthen its work or become more sustainable; such candor is also important when identifying collaboration as a strategic opportunity to leverage untapped strengths.
3. Participating in Forming the Collaborative Relationship
Because board members exercise legal and fiduciary responsibility for the organization and its activities, they must be involved in negotiating and approving partnerships involving any change that impacts the corporate structure, such as formation of an MSO, parent-subsidiary, or merger. (This podcast describes more about the board’s role in strategic restructuring partnerships.) They may also play a role in other kinds of formal collaborations or alliances, such as those involving a contract or MOU.
However, board members bring more than just fiduciary oversight to partnership negotiations – they also bring their connection to and commitment to the organization’s mission. As ambassadors for the mission, board members can help to bring focus and purpose to partnership negotiations, in which the number one consideration must be service to the mission.