This second article in a series from LEAD Brevard deals with “capacity building” as it relates to the nonprofit community sector.

To protect, preserve and expand your mission in turbulent times, you must add collaboration to your tool box.  In the “new normal,” a return to business as we knew it is unlikely.  Too much change has already occurred and more is on the way as this community’s aerospace economy transitions in 2010-2011.  The wedge between crisis and opportunity is presenting our ‘community benefit’ (formerly referred to as ‘nonprofit’) sector with promising strategies for collaboration.  A note of clarity: a strategy of collaboration differs from a merger in that in a successful collaboration you can and should remain committed to maintaining your individual mission and identity.

What Is Collaboration?

For some us, when considering the phrase, it raises the question: What am I going to have to give up?  What if we started to look instead at the other side of the coin: While I may give up something (and that is negotiable) what am I going to gain?  Collaboration simply means the pooling of multiple resources, for the greater gain (capacity) of each participating individual or organization.

As a local example, in the early years of this decade the Brevard Tomorrow Preferred Future Strategic Plan was developed during an 18-month process.  Its steering committee included Delaware North Park Services, Brevard County Board of County Commissioners, FLORIDA TODAY, Crisafulli Enterprises, Hubbs-SeaWorld Research, Peninsula Title Services, United Way of Brevard County, Gatto’s Tires & Auto Service, Brevard Workforce Development, Brevard Community College, NUI/City Gas Company, Harris Corporation, School Board of Brevard County, Canaveral Port Authority, PREVENT! Of Brevard, 45th Space Wing, RZI Architects, NASA, Florida Institute of Technology and many others as collaborating partners.  Ultimately, this group focused on five areas of concentration that would move our community toward its preferred future – Civic Infrastructure; the Economy; Education and Workforce; Governance; and Land Use and Growth.  The goals in the plan require the participation and cooperation of individuals and leaders from all sectors of the community.

We can draw from an example outlined in the July/August2009 issue of Board Member® in which there is a sharing of lessons learned by three New York arts organizations that completed a three-year administrative collaboration pilot project that may serve as a model for community benefit (i.e. nonprofit) organizations.

Here were their key lessons:

  • Start with board support.  You will need the support of your board members as well as the more obvious relationships between two or more executives.
  • Engage a consultant to help facilitate communication between the [collaborating] groups and who can help create a memo of understanding and a work plan that includes baselines, benchmarks, timelines and value statements.
  • Share staff to build capacity.  Usually, individual organizations are challenged to recruit and retain the high performance staff they need.  A successful collaboration may allow for shared staff resources; a grant writer; an accounting expert; or a top-notch administrative assistant that holds all the pieces together.    Think about the model of “one brain” working for all.

So what else did the NY arts groups learn?  The good news is that board and staff development have been enhanced along with diversified revenue and increased visibility are touted as examples of success.

The challenges of this model include the time needed to coordinate and communicate to deal with three different cultures and work styles.  Also the need for a well developed sense of trust between all partners – from the start.

Next Steps

Identify your potential partners: Who do you have that level of trust with?  What do you need?  What do you have to bring to the partnership?  How can you adjust how you do business today to better serve your mission tomorrow with the help of a collaborative partner?  There are many opportunities as we build capacity in our community benefit organizations (nonprofits); this requires that we develop an entrepreneurial approach as we face the future.