Thursday, April 9, 2015

Is Two Really Better Than One? The Ups And Downs of Collaboration

Working better together. Connecting. Coordinated action. Sharing. Joint alliance. Partnerships. Coalition. All these terms and phrases provide a general description for what it means to collaborate. Your organization may choose to join forces with another for financial stability, diversification and expansion of services, or to avoid extinction (United Way, 2008; Yankey et al., 2008). In essence, the key to a successful collaboration is a strong relationship built upon (1) a shared mission, (2) trust, (3) similar stakeholders, (4) strategic plan, and (5) shared decision-making among all members (United Way, 2008).  There are many different ways for organizations to collaborate with other organizations, often across various sectors, on a range of initiatives. Your organization's decision to collaborate may present challenges and opportunities as seen in the following case studies.

Nonprofit and government. This is a classic case of government agencies outsourcing services to community organizations to reach those hard-to-reach clients. The Massachusetts Department of Social Services (MDSS) proposed a collaboration with La Alianza Hispana (LAH) to provide culturally competent child protective services for Latino families.  Although both MDSS and LAH have a common mission of improving services for the Latino community, challenges emerged as to how they will go about providing those services. Additional challenges included lack of trust, lack of shared decision making, and lack of ownership by members of both agencies (Sharma & Missey, 1998).

Nonprofit and nonprofit. Two very different nonprofits, Seattle Art Museum (SAM) and First Things First (FTF), formed a coalition after concluding that working together to pass a tax levy was more beneficial than competing for votes independently. The challenges SAM and FTF encountered was unequal distribution of roles and unclear roles and expectations from members (United Way, 2008). SAM primarily provided the financial resources, whereas, FTF had a strong volunteer base. This led to a lack of trust and mutual respect among the organizations as they tried to get both their tax levies passed. Though it is ideal to have a common goal, it is also important to ensure that all members feel acknowledged.

Nonprofit and for-profit. The Timberland and City Year partnership was established on a common mission of promoting social justice. Timberland's partnership with City Year earned them a reputation of a progressive business. Similarly, City Year benefitted by receiving Timberland apparel for their staff as well as financial resources. Like the previous cases, this collaboration faced the challenges of a shared vision and lack of strategic plan for sustainability (Sharma & Missey, 1998). Economic downturns resulted in a shaky future for the collaboration.

Evidently, challenges and opportunities are inevitable for collaborations. However by keeping in mind these simple ideas, your organization may be on its way to a better, more successful collaboration: (1) participating groups have a shared vision of the collaboration, (2) participating groups have a stake in the success of the collaboration, (3) encourage shared-decision making among all members, and (4) be open to the ideas and diversity of the members (United Way, 2008).

Elias, J. 1996. Timberland and Community Involvement. Supervisor James Austin. Harvard Business School Publishing. Boston, MA.

Fortier, S. 1996. Funding Seattle’s Art Museum and Low-Income Housing: The Politics of Interest Groups and Tax Levies (A). Supervisor Jon Brock. Cascade Center for Public Service: Public Service Curriculum Exchange.

Sharma, Janet and Amanda Missey. 1998. “How I learned to Stop Griping . . . And Love Collaboration.” From a presentation at the National Community Service Conference. June 30, 1998. New Orleans, LA.

United Way. 2008. “Best Practices Summary: Collaboration, Coalition-Building, and Merger.”

Varley, P. 1996. Partners in Child Protection Services: The Department of Social Services and La Alianza Hispana (A). Abridged. Kennedy School of Government. Boston, MA

Yankey, J. A. & Willen, C. K. (2005). Strategic Alliances. In R. D. Herman (Ed.), The Jossey-Bass handbook of nonprofit leadership and management (pp. 254-273). San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.