Non-Profit Collaboration for Added Benefits – Guest Article

In his article “Nonprofits: Do Not Be Afraid to Collaborate With One Another,” Tom Hanley shares his take on collaboration among nonprofits:

“When I mention ‘collaboration’ in meetings with other nonprofit directors, I can flip a coin on their reaction: will they cringe in disgust or light up like a light bulb…. The overlying response can be summarized as: ‘if I collaborate with another nonprofit, I risk losing a donor who learns about the work of another nonprofit. I’m not willing to help educate my donors and to help market other nonprofits to my donor base. It’s too great a risk to my organization.’”

This a competitive way of thinking and the outlook is rooted in scarcity. We hope you’re the nonprofit director Tom mentions above who lights up like a light bulb at the mention of collaboration. If you’re not, or if you’ve never explored the idea, we invite you to consider this new way of thinking.

The Case for Collaboration

There are 1.5 million nonprofits in the United States, according to the National Center of Charitable Statistics. We’re in the middle of a huge transfer of wealth as the Baby Boomers begin to hand off their wealth to the Gen Xers. Naturally, nonprofits are competing to receive some of those funds.

In my community alone, there are over 162 fundraising events each year. Most NPOs currently host a gala, with goals ranging from $40,000 to $250,000. The average net from a gala is 50% to 65% of revenue.

But what if these nonprofits pooled their resources to host one large multi-organization event to impact a social need? They’d be able to share the expenses for marketing, renting a venue, and third-party vendors. The event could prove more profitable and actually change the face of philanthropy. In fact, local and national family foundations are starting to push for nonprofits to work with other nonprofit partners in order to qualify for grant funding.

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Synergy: 2 + 2 = 10

Collaborative fundraising is an innovative way to garner support around a specific beneficiary target group. Bringing skill sets, volunteer enthusiasm, and passion for a cause together in one place exponentially increases the effectiveness of your results.

It’s the concept of synergy— the total equals more than the sum of the original parts.

As Jeffrey Walker states in his article, “Transitional Philanthropy: Leveraging Innovation to Build Sustainability,” it’s very rare that one nonprofit innovator will have the best model to scale. But if you integrate several great innovations from multiple sources into a collaborative network embedded in the larger social system, then you can really have an impact.

For example, a group of music lovers were sad to see music programs cut from public schools. Rather than start up a new nonprofit to bring music back to inner cities, they created the Quincy Jones Musiq Consortium to find ways to unify the 75 nonprofits from around the country who are already working on this issue.

This is synergy: combining the visions and resources of multiple organizations to execute a single mega-event benefiting a shared cause or population. The nonprofits bring together all their constituents, share the costs and split the proceeds.

Let’s face it: donors don’t want to go to multiple events and write multiple checks. We can make it easier for them to make an impact and feel good about it without having to go to event after event for the next number of weekends in a row.

Collaborative Fundraising at Every Level

Collaborative fundraising isn’t just for large NPOs who have the resources for a massive group event. It can also work extremely well for smaller nonprofits who don’t have a large pool of people and resources to pull from.

Take the example of our client who held two events per year: a fun run and a golf tournament hosted by a local realtor, where they were the beneficiary. At our initial meeting to discuss their development plan and evaluate their events, we quickly discovered a huge problem: they didn’t have a donor database. The organization hadn’t taken the time to capture contact information from past attendees or donors. There were no phone numbers, email addresses or donation records on file. Without that list of contacts to invite, planning a new event became exponentially more difficult.

We prompted them to start working with a like-minded organization in a neighboring community. The two organizations agreed to co-host a “walk for hunger” and pool their resources: time, money, volunteers and donors. By doing so, they were able to share the expenses and the money raised, which turned out to be an amount much greater than either nonprofit would have generated on their own. The event sponsors also saw this as a win: they wrote just one check and received double the benefit, since their company was promoted in two separate communities.

If you decide to give collaborative fundraising a try, look for other nonprofits where there is a connection and common ground, but not too much overlap. For instance, you don’t want to be serving the same community of people and sharing the same sponsors. It’s critical that each organization add new donors and new resources to the pool. Look at the big vision and who you want to serve with your event. Then reach out to other nonprofits that support that initiative through their own work.

As we continue to work with groups of nonprofit organizations, we see more results and greater impact. We believe wholeheartedly that this new way of thinking will truly change the landscape of event fundraising.


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