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The C word

To collaborate or not to collaborate? The ‘C word’ raises a key challenge for not-for-profit service providers – how to collaborate and compete at the same time? It would seem to us that in putting social impact first, collaboration can only be a benefit.

While not-for-profits must be ‘businesses’ in their own right in order to survive, there is also much they can gain from collaboration with others in their field.

We’ve heard the term ‘copeditors’ or ‘coopetition’ in regards to the not-for-profit space. We’ve also heard those supporting the sector, including trusts & Government, lament the lack of partnerships between likeminded not-for-profits. Which makes sense. Why would a funding body prefer to give three small grants to three organisations doing similar work, when it could give one large grant to a larger project using the skills and experience of all three organisations?

In our experience working in and with not-for-profits, we’ve been amazed at how many unrealised opportunities for collaboration exist in the sector.

If you think about collaboration in terms of social impact – and all not-for-profits ultimately exist to generate some form of social impact – it can only make sense to combine skills and resources to achieve a social impact related goal. The end is more important than the means. So why don’t we see more of it?

Collaboration doesn’t have to be scary or difficult. In fact, it can be incredibly simple.

There is much to be gained simply from networking with other likeminded organisations, be they organisations offering similar services, organisations providing a service to the same cohort of people, or organisations operating in the same location.

Some of the most effective collaborations we’ve been part of simply involve establishing a working group where ideas/challenges can be workshopped, and where inevitably, new projects emerge that can be delivered as a group effort.

One of the more recent examples of collaboration that we’ve been part of was a ‘community dialogue’ we facilitated in Dandenong. Local community group leaders discussed potential solutions to some of the local community challenges revealed by our research. Within two hours, the group had uncovered a range of previously unexplored opportunities for collaboration that would help solve some of the challenges the local community was facing.

But it takes an open mind, and a firm focus on a shared goal – i.e. outcomes for disadvantaged and vulnerable people – as opposed to organisational interests.

In a recent blog by the Centre for Social Impact, Andrew Young aptly states that you must always begin with the end in mind, because the most common form of human stupidity is forgetting what we were trying to do in the first place. If we are to achieve greater social impact, we must focus first on our common aims, and we need to do the rest (activities, collaboration etc) without forgetting.

Sometimes all you need to do is talk to each other. Good old fashioned communication, with one shared goal – to create change for a more just world.

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