Brewer Direct

Nonprofit collaborations can make you stronger. Here’s why.

Plus 3 tips for a strong start when collaborating with others.

Nonprofit collaborations can make you stronger. Here’s why.

From Shellie Speer, Executive VP Client Strategic Development, Brewer Direct


“Do what you do best and partner for the rest.”

Wise words! When it comes to nonprofits – especially nonprofits with smaller budgets – there are limits to what can be accomplished alone. As Forbes notes, “Many nonprofits, especially those in the social services sector, face shrinking funding streams.”

But no matter what your nonprofit focus is, there’s often more vision than funding for your programs and services. That’s why I recommend our Brewer Direct clients to seriously consider developing strategic collaborations with other nonprofits.

Why collaborate? It’s a no-brainer really: Strategic collaborations benefit your individual goals while allowing you to take steps toward your larger, more visionary goals that just wouldn’t be possible with your current resources and expenses.

Resource and cost sharing is a huge benefit of collaborating – but there are even more!

  • Expands services & programs, geographically
  • Eliminates duplication of services (very important, I think!)
  • Improves efficiency
  • Allows additional marketing/branding – the media is keen to report on different organizations working together
  • Creates opportunities to win and/or engage more donors
  • Increases awareness of all nonprofits involved
  • Produces a greater overall impact in the community


In short, these strategic collaborations can strengthen your presence and visibility in your community. According to the National Council of Nonprofits, “High-impact nonprofits work with and through organizations and individuals outside themselves to create more impact than they ever could have achieved alone.”

I can practically hear you right now: “Shellie, this sounds great… in theory. But it’s too hard to collaborate with other organizations who have totally different ways of operating.”

It’s true. Barriers to strategic collaborations can include geographic distance, schedules and workloads. Sometimes working with another organization might require new or revised internal processes on your end. Your staff might be asked to try something new and feel resentful or resistant.

I have 3 tips that can help you as you begin to collaborate with other nonprofits.

1. BE POSITIVE.  It’s easy to see the potential issues of collaborating, but that doesn’t mean everyone in your organization will. It’s important to approach working together with a positive mindset.

It starts with leadership. If your leadership team chooses to celebrate the benefits of skills, resource sharing and efficiencies that this collaboration brings, the rest of your staff will likely follow. A positive attitude brings the whole team into a collaborative mindset of “yes” instead of “no.”

2. DEFINE YOUR “WHY.” Make sure your collaboration works by articulating your goals from the start. Be clear with what your partnership is meant to accomplish. It will definitely save you heartache and headache down the road.

Peter Kramer, Associate Director with the Nonprofit Finance Fund, recommends approaching goals with a simple question: “What are we trying to achieve together and why?”

He writes that candid conversations between partners can help collaborations from stalling or hitting roadblocks. To clarify your collaborative focus, ask questions like:

      • How will our partnership eliminate the duplication of services or events in our community?
      • Will we increase access to important services or programs by working together?
      • Is there a particular problem we can solve in our community by collaborating?

“The motivations and goals of the partners don’t have to be identical,” Kramer writes, “but articulating them clearly fosters transparency and helps manage expectations throughout the process.”

3. DEFINE YOUR “HOW.” Philanthropy News Digest recommends the following: “Be clear on the ‘why.’ Be agnostic on the ‘how.’” 

Every collaboration will be different – and require different approaches. Just because one particular partnership with an outside organization was successful, it doesn’t necessarily become the template for ALL other collaborations.

Make sure each “how” is appropriate for the specific goals and the specific partner whenever you choose to work together with other nonprofits.

Here’s a great collaboration I’ve seen in action. For many years, a Rescue Mission client of mine collaborated with other local shelter organizations on a project called, “Hotline for the Homeless.”

THE PROBLEM: When people called or came in for shelter, there were times that the Rescue Mission didn’t have enough beds OR couldn’t accommodate a unique situation (for instance, a father with a young daughter). When that happened, they didn’t know where to refer these guests. While there were multiple nonprofits offering overnight stays, it wasn’t clear which could help a particular client on a particular day.

THE SOLUTION: This client set up and maintained a database that listed all the shelters in their community, whom they served and how many beds were available. Each day, the shelters would call and report how many beds were open and this client would update their database. When local people called or came in for shelter services and this particular Rescue Mission couldn’t accommodate them, they knew exactly where to send them. And other local shelter agencies could call them to find out where to send people when they couldn’t help.

It became a one-stop shop for shelter. A brilliant collaboration! Instead of competing, the local shelters worked together for a common goal – getting as many people off the streets and into shelters as possible.

Strategic collaborations with other nonprofits are a powerful way to create change in your community. The benefits are numerous, but to summarize, collaborating can make the involved organizations stronger, more visible in the community, more effective at meeting similar needs and usually, more cost effective. So remember this guiding principle: Do what you do best and partner for the rest!


Going deeper for Rescue Missions: Why you should be partnering with other Rescue Missions on events. Read now! ►►




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