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I work with social venture entrepreneurs and I bring up the subject of organizational collaboration early and often because authentic collaboration can be the Holy Grail of a successful social venture, one that can make the difference in good to great.
Collaboration requires a courtship to understand synergies and opportunities, overcome pitfalls, and create mutually beneficial collaboration. It’s about creating something new and great neither organization could do themselves. We reach new people, build different and better programming, or simply help nurture and support each other’s existence. Nonprofit collaborations allow us to take risks, share resources, and plan reciprocal programs marketing the benefits of both of our organizations. Together we also inspire more volunteers, donors and each other.
It’s true, that foundations often encourage collaboration, but there is no roadmap that suggests best practices on how to do it. Without the training or best practices to guide us, many organizations simply don’t know how to pave the path. Knowing the pitfalls and learning from models that work can help pave a path towards successful collaborations.
Collaborative Pitfalls – Don’t Let Them Get You Down!
Each of the following represents pitfalls that are surmountable. Like love and marriage, it takes work to make collaborations successful and two willing and interested parties.
FUD: Fear uncertainty and dread. We might lose members or customers and we can’t afford that. Maybe they’ll like the other program better or like their leadership more. Answer: We need courageous, risk taking leadership to make a difference.
Scarcity of Resources: We’re too busy to work on that, to give them attention. They have to pay big money to be a Partner.. Answer: Consider that the collaboration may result In longer term gain. Are there economies of scale you can leverage? Could there be shared resources that might result in greater efficiencies and margins?
Programmatic Differences: We’re different. there’s no obvious synergy. Answer; it’s healthy and good to meet and learn from each other. Never underestimate the value of building bridges culturally, across vertical markets and community. Business opportunities can be found in surprising ways.
Marketing: Just send out our event flyer/fundraiser; but oh sorry, we can’t reciprocate and share yours. Our Board won’t let us, my boss won’t let me, and/or we don’t think our people will be interested in yours. (Translation: We just want to use you, not collaborate with you.) Answer: Healthy collaboration will involve reciprocity.
Courtship and Collaboration – This is the Fun Part!
Some companies have great product or services, leadership, personnel, assets like office or facility location. Just like in dating, this is the fun part, where you get to see what’s great about each other. Plan how to share resources and make introductions respecting each other limitations, appreciating the strength in each others’ products, services or experiences and getting creative about offering better programs together. Then establish a respectful and reciprocal marketing plan for joint programs, proudly sharing the relationship, your enthusiasm for the other and cherishing the benefit you bring together to the
Hera Hub and its multi-location women’s network provides an incredible collaborative and rich entrepreneurial setting throughout San Diego. Make the time to work with potential partners, and take advantage of hubs, networks, and associations to build relationships that could lead to healthy collaborations. Collectively, we’ll enrich our communities and make a greater impact every day.
Jennie Starr is the Founder and CEO of Startup18 a San Diego based social venture lab and accelerator. You can read more about her work at www.startup18.org. You can connect with her on Twitter at @Startup18SD and @tarbuton.