Wednesday, March 29, 2017

Case Studies in Collaboration

            Organizations operating in the public, private and non-profit sectors have unique characteristics, resources and goals. This suggests that cross-sector (or intra-sector) collaboration can be an effective way to maximize output or impact, provided the organizations involved utilize best practices to deal with the challenges specific to collaboration.
            I’ll compare, and contrast, three case studies to discuss these opportunities and challenges. The first case involves the corporation, Timberland, and the non-profit organization, City Year. Timberland’s COO, Jeffrey Swartz, wanted to improve the company’s community involvement, and the partnership he formed with City Year was seen by many observers as a “new paradigm” in cooperation between private and nonprofit organizations. Under Swartz’s leadership, Timberland made significant financial contributions to City Year, helping to solidify City Year’s revenue stream and forming an inextricable link between the two organizations. Timberland even used its expertise in creating quality apparel to create a City Year product line, which helped both organizations achieve greater visibility. When Timberland’s sales began to level-off, and City Year’s government funding began to dry up, the collaboration encountered challenges. Among the nineteen factors influencing successful collaborations identified in the handbook, Collaboration: What Makes It Work is having sufficient funds (Mattessich, p. 138). City Year and Timberland understood that for this ‘new paradigm’ to work, both organizations would have to be financially stable, independent of what was happening in the others’ business. Ultimately, however, this collaboration was successful because the organizations shared a common passion, which enabled each party to reap benefits.
            We can contrast this case with the collaboration between two nonprofit organizations in Seattle: the Seattle Art Museum and the housing coalition, First Things First. John Yankey’s piece on the ‘Art and Science of the Deal’ for collaboration between nonprofits lists several criteria for identifying potential collaborators, including, “Similar mission and values” and  “consistent vision for the future” (Yankey, p. 19). In the Seattle case, the two organizations failed to check any of these boxes: their missions were drastically different, and some felt they were even diametrically opposed. Yet the organizations enjoyed a successful collaboration because they worked hard on the relationship, soothing over the wrinkles of mistrust by allocating the resources specific to each organization in an effective way. The Museum used its political clout to win over government officials wary of the First Things First coalition’s apparent un-readiness for a major project, and the housing coalition used its grassroots volunteers and strong public standing to help push a ballot initiative over the necessary threshold.
            However, a strong link in mission or values doesn’t always lead to a successful collaboration. The Massachusetts Department of Social Services (DSS), responsible for protecting the welfare of abused and neglected children, sought to partner with La Alianza, a nonprofit serving the Hispanic community, in order to add an element of ‘cultural sensitivity’ to the public organization’s work. La Alianza, whose mission was “focused on meeting basic needs to enable our constituents to take further steps up the social and economic ladder” (Varley, p. 4), clearly had goals similar those held by the public organization, and had been aware of cultural insensitivity on the part of DSS in some of its interactions with members of the Hispanic community. However, in a similar situation to that of the City Year/Timberland partnership, the funding model offered a significant complication. La Alianza’s leaders wondered if the ‘block grant’ they were to receive under the partnership would sufficiently cover its costs, while DSS was unsure of what it could realistically expect from La Alianza, and questioned its ability to step in and offer help post-merger.
            These examples demonstrate that there are both opportunities and challenges associated with collaboration. A clear takeaway from all three cases is the importance of strategic planning and communication: if the issues discussed above are thoroughly accounted, and planned, for before and during the collaboration, organizations can achieve greater impact by utilizing the unique resources possessed by differential organizations.


Elias, Jaan. Timberland and Community Involvement. Boston: Harvard Business School Publishing, 1996

Varley, Pamela. Partners in Child Protection Services: The Department of Social Services and La Alianza Hispana. Boston: President and Fellows of Harvard College, 1996.

Mattessich, Paul; Monsey, Barbara. Collaboration: What Makes It Work. St. Paul: Wilder
Publishing Center.

Yankey, John; Jacobus, Barbara Wester; Koney, Kelly McNally. Merging Nonprofit
Organizations: The Art and Science of the Deal. Cleveland: Mandel Center for Nonprofit Organizations

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

Thursday, March 23, 2017

Stop, COLLABORATE, and Listen!

The Jossey-Bass Handbook of Non-Profit Leadership and Management states that “greater value can be created for organization, individual, and society through collaboration (pg. 427). However, as we learned from the following case studies, collaboration comes with challenges, some that are unique between sectors.

Case 1: Timberland & City-Year - Profit & Non-Profit Sectors

Timberland developed a desire to give back to the community. When City Year reached out to them regarding a boot donation, Timberland happily agreed. Over the years their partnership evolved, with Timberland providing monetary donations, employee-service days and a complete City Year uniform and product line.

Benefits. Timberland was contributing to an organization they believed in while consumers viewed them as a benevolent company. City Year could provide quality uniforms to their volunteers, gain additional volunteer involvement without recruiting, and fund many of its operations through Timberland’s donations.

Opportunities. As the partnership was desired, not necessary, both organizations were able to select a partner aligned with their own mission. They were able to leverage the brand name of the other, strengthening their own brand.

Challenges. This relationship was highly dependent upon financial security: a for-profit organization giving financial and time resources to a non-profit. When Both organizations faced financial hardship in 1995, the relationship became strained.

Case 2: Seattle Art Museum & First Thing’s First - Non-Profit & Non-Profit Sectors

The partnership between the Seattle Art Museum and First Thing’s First emerged as a politically strategic move for the Museum. The organizations were competing for funding. As a compromise, they banded together, creating a new mission of “Citizens for a Better Seattle” and worked together to ensure that both organizations could thrive.

            Benefits. Both organizations could secure funding.
Opportunities. The organizations could leverage each other’s resources and gain support from new networks.

Challenges. They created a common-ground rather than recognizing one that organically existed. With non-profit organizations, securing funding is always a challenge. Partnering with a competing organization may cause internal conflicts and confusion regarding how to optimize the partnership in a way that benefits the organizations’ clients.  

Case 3: The Department of Social Services & La Alianza Hispana - Public & Non-Profit Sectors

This partnership was proposed by DSS to La Alianza in an effort to improve their services. DSS wanted La Alianza to take over social service cases in the Hispanic community, services that they had not historically delivered and which were not consistent with the organization’s mission.

Benefits. DSS believed organizations with strong community ties would be in a better position to understand and interpret family dynamics and troubles, gain trust of families and appropriately intervene, therefore having Hispanic social service cases handled in a more culturally sensitive and appropriate manner. If La Alianza accepted the proposal they would keep their funding from DSS.

Opportunities. La Alianza could use its community ties to help DSS provide better services, strengthening the community La Alianza serviced.

Challenges. There was no trust between the organizations because the partnership was a one-sided proposal. There was poor communication between the key stakeholders of each organization, leading to unclear roles and expectations.

A common theme among these cases is that strategic planning is necessary to maximize the value that can be gained from such partnerships. Doing a SWOT analysis can help organizations realize their full potential and be proactive in facing crises. Partnerships that rely on financial transactions should create a worst-case scenario action plan in case funds become limited. It is clear that partnerships that emerge organically, with the organizations’ mission and values in mind will be more successful. However, no partnership can be successful if there is no trust and/or poor communication.

Collaboration means to work with another. Regardless of which sectors the partnership crosses, it is important to consider “…what might be accomplished as a single entity that would not be possible for either organization to achieve alone” (Yankey, Jacobus, Koney, pg. 38-41).


Austin, James E. and M. May Seitanidi. “Value Creation through Collaboration.” In Renz, David (eds.), Jossey-Bass Handbook of Nonprofit Leadership and Management. Hoboken: John Wiley & Sons, 2016.

Varley, Pamela and Christine Lettis. “Partners in Child Protection Services: The Department of Social Services and La Alianza Hispana.” Cambridge: Kennedy School of Government. 1996.

Yankey, John A., Barbara Wester Jacobus, and Kelly McNally Koney. “Merging Nonprofit Organizations: The Art and Science of the Deal.” Cleveland: Mandel Center for Nonprofit Organizations. 2001.

Thursday, March 16, 2017

Strategic Planning: The World's Most Valuable List

Everyone loves lists! I think it's human nature. Just look at the rise of PowerPoint or Buzzfeed. With something as complex and fluctuating as strategic planning, the easiest way to express it would be a list. The Jossey-Bass Handbook of Nonprofit Leadership and Management provides John M. Bryson's Strategy Change Cycle, so lets examine it and see what value is being created:

1. Initiate and agree on a strategic planning process

2.  Identify organizational mandates

3. Clarify organizational mission and values

4. Assess the external and internal environments to identify strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats

5. Identify the strategic issues facing the organization

6. Formulate strategies to manage the issues

7. Review and adopt the strategic plan

8. Establish an effective organizational vision

9. Develop an effective implementation process

10. Reassess strategies and the strategic planning process

When engaging in any planning work, it's important to ask: What value is being created by this process? Well, in examining the list above, we can see that strategic planning manages assets and thus creates value by making assets more effective and efficient. Here are just a few ways strategic planning is creating this value by streamlining resources -- and yes, it's another list!
  • Reducing redundancy -- Unlike engineering, program development should not have redundancy. Our steps forward should be focused and achievable as to not burden our limited systems more than once to achieve some good. This is reflected in every step, but particularly in steps 6 and 9. By formulating strategies to manage issues, we assure that when problems occur, we won't have to cyclically resolve them, thus taxing our resources and producign redundancy. And when we develop implementation strategies, we assure that in practice, we can achieve some good without over-allocating our resources and creating redundancy.
  • Streamlining our assets and resources -- Similar to reducing redundancy, when we strategically plan, we assure that our available resources are adequate and efficient in developing some good. This prevents us from wasting precious resources and is primarily the target of steps 2 and 4, though streamlining occurs at every point. In step 2, we identify the requirement guidelines of the organization which could be limiting. This prevents us from mission creep and ensures that the approaches developed tie into the mandate parameters. In step 4, by assessing our SWOT analysis (strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and strengths), we find programmatic overlap that could help us consolidate our resources to achieve a single focus more efficiently. Further, by anticipating weaknesses and threats, we are better able to set goals and direction for our resource utilization.
Even though we love lists, the most important part of strategic planning is that it is non-terminal. The constant evaluations and reassessments means that the process fold in on itself and moves in new directions all the time. Much like this closing, strategic planning is a process that one should implement at all times ad in all areas of their work.

[Former GE CEO John Welch's response to the question 'What makes a good manager'] 
"Good business leaders create a vision, articulate the vision, passionately own the vision, and relentlessly drive it to completion. Above all else, though, good leaders are open. They go up, down, and around their organization to reach people. They don't stick to the established channels."

Bryson, John & Renz, David. The Jossey-Bass handbook of nonprofit leadership and management, Chapter 8.
Tichy, . Charan, R. (1989) Speed, Simplicity, Self-Confidence: An Interview with Jack Welch. Harvard Business Review.