This is Part 3 of my six-part weekly series on achieving fundraising success for your nonprofit agency. In this third installment, we discuss how vital it is to develop partnerships with other community organizations.
Developing Strategic Partnerships with Other Community Organizations
Taking the time to meet and develop partnerships with other community organizations not only furthers the mission of my organization, it betters the lives of my organization’s clients in ways that I can’t as a solo organization. With all the operational and staff issues nonprofit professionals must deal with, it is not easy to find the time to develop and maintain external relationships. There is more than enough to do just to maintain organizational operations and financial viability.
But it is crucial that I find the time to build relationship with other organizations in my community. At the very least, just by interacting with other people, I can spread awareness of my agency’s mission. But I want to do more than just spread awareness. I want to leverage my agency’s resources and impact. I want to further greater mission fulfillment. By getting to know other organizations and partnering with them, nonprofit professionals can achieve much more than they can on their own. In today’s world of limited resources, to maximize an agency’s impact it is crucial to develop partnerships with other organizations.
Just as you can’t implement organizational objectives on your own, your organization can’t implement its vision and mission alone. While individuals need help from organizational teams—board, staff, and volunteers—the organization needs help from other nonprofits and community partners. Your agency’s vision tells the world what you hope to achieve. No matter how focused your mission, or small your target group, you must partner with other organizations to succeed. Teamwork must extend beyond organizational walls into the community.
Organizations that have strong partnerships with all of their constituencies have an easier time weathering the storms of a bad economy than those that don’t. An organization with many strong partnerships has many more resources on which to rely when times get tough than an agency with fewer or weaker partnerships. This is true no matter what size the agency.
For most executive directors—caught up in day-to-day operations, dealing with major donors, keeping the board happy, motivating staff, worrying about finances, and addressing crises—it’s not easy to even think about their duty to the public. However, it’s crucial to find the time and energy to carry out community-focused responsibilities. In Moving Up to Executive Director: Lessons Learned from My First 365 Days, I find that successful executive directors appreciate the roles their organizations play in the larger community. They see partnerships with other agencies as crucial to their organizations’ missions, bettering their clients’ lives, and improving the community. They see themselves, and their organizations, as part of a greater context: community agencies working together as a cohesive whole.
Whether you are an executive director or other nonprofit professional, interact with the outside world so people know who you are and why you exist. That means researching which community people and groups you want to interact with. In other words, you need to form strategic partnerships in the community.
As I delve into in my book Power Your Organization’s Fundraising: How the Partnership Paradigm Will Change Everything, showing strong collaborations does not necessarily mean partnering with similar organizations or merging in some way. For example, two very different nonprofits can share space. Or many nonprofits can join together as a group to purchase health care benefits. Or a nonprofit can receive in-kind services from a for-profit for business planning or marketing support. Or a nonprofit might increase its productivity through the use of unpaid staff. All of these partnerships allow an agency to reduce its expenses or increase its organizational capacity. All of these types of partnerships should be highlighted in your organization’s requests for funding, especially foundation and governmental funding.
Fundraising is all about partnerships: partnerships between your organization and its community, your organization and its clients, and your organization and its donors. Your message, then, is not to focus on the needs of your organization, but on the capacity of your organization to meet its end of the partnership bargain.
Fundraising is not about you getting money. Giving money might be the donor’s transaction, but the partnership is not about the money. It is about the relationship. It is about what you have promised to them for interacting with your organization. It is about promoting your organization’s mission. It is about your organization living up to its promises to the community. It is about you entering into an exchange relationship with a donor: I will help you to feel good about helping your community if you donate to my organization. It is a mutual exchange based on a trusting relationship. Your organization might measure your effectiveness by the dollars you raise, but your job is NOT about the money. It is about coming to agreement on the exchange of mutual benefits and then delivering on your end of the bargain. It is about the relationship you foster. It is about the partnerships you develop.
In creating a partnership, how each party will fulfill its obligations is defined. Some are more formal than others. Really formal partnerships might be spelled out in a written contract and involve attorneys. Most of your organization’s donor partnerships will not involve attorney-reviewed written contracts. But no matter how formal or informal, you and your organization will still need to live up to your end of the partnership.
The first step in fulfilling your part of the partnership is to define what you bring to the table. You must bring something the donor values to the table. Chances are the donor does not value you needing money. Donors value mission fulfillment and being a successful part of something bigger than themselves. So when you define what your organization brings to the table, talk about it in terms the mission your organization accomplishes and the benefits your organization brings to the community instead of the benefits it brings to your organization.
You need donors. You need their time, talent and treasure. To get that, you need to meet the donors’ needs. To meet their needs, you need to understand them. You need to know where they’re coming from—their perspectives and motivations. So where do you start? With THEM. Get to know them as thoroughly as you can.
What is compelling to potential donors? You must understand their needs and motivations to know. You must ask questions and listen. The fundraising partnership begins with finding out the myriad of needs individuals have and then meeting those needs in ways that are important and meaningful to them. You are establishing an exchange relationship where both parties receive something of value: you donate to me and I will… (fill in the blank). To fill in the blank, you must offer something the donor values. And to continue the relationship, you must deliver on what you promise. And your promise is based on fulfilling your mission, not meeting organizational needs.
You must also to keep your donors informed of your progress in meeting your end of the bargain. Foundations and government usually do that through mandatory reporting requirements. But you need to inform all your donors, not just those requiring it. Let all your donors what their donations are doing on a continuous basis. Tell your donors how important their involvement is in how much mission you are meeting and how many lives you are changing. Let them see the bigger picture and how they fit in.
Fundraising is not about donors giving money – although money is the vehicle. It is about engaging people in helping to meet mission. It is about tapping into their needs to be a part of something bigger than themselves and knowing their contribution make a difference. It is about letting people know how they can be a part and contribute to successful mission fulfillment. And then, once they have contributed, letting them know how their contributions helped fulfill the social contract they support. By giving you money, you promise that donors will be part of something wonderful in the community. Let them know how they are a part of that.
Fundraising is all about relationship. It is about how you describe how well your organization is meeting its end of the social bargain it has with donors, e.g., they give your organization money and your organization gives them mission fulfillment. It is about how well you describe what your organization does as part of that social contract. And then it is about how well your organization lives up to its end of the bargain. Fundraising is not about money – it is about you describing your organization’s relationship with its surrounding community.
Partnerships between all types of community organizations better not only my agency as well as my client, it betters the community as a whole. By partnering, every organization in the partnership expands fulfillment of mission. Partnering betters us as a group. And as a group of community organizations, we are all able to better meet the needs the needs of the community as a whole. Partnering with other organizations is crucial to maximizing my organizational success.