With limited resources, groups must join forces


May 02, 1994|By LESTER A PICKER

First of two parts Several years ago, I walked into the office of Bill Adams, former head of corporate contributions for my client, ICI Americas in Wilmington, Del.

He tossed five rubber-banded piles of paper across his desk at me. "Look at these," he remarked with a good deal of frustration. "Five proposals from five different youth agencies in the same area of town." Each wanted money to do similar programs targeted at identical groups of kids.

Adams was bothered by the duplication of effort and its subsequent duplication of overhead costs. "Why can't we get these agencies to cooperate?," he asked.

Adams' reaction is not atypical of corporate and foundation funders. Faced with finite resources, corporations and foundations are pressing charities more than ever to work together to better serve client needs.

A critical barrier to developing effective partnerships is turfdom, that nasty secret of the nonprofit world that most funders recognize, but which has been ignored for too long. Over the past few years, as more attention has been devoted to the issue of cooperative agreements, nonprofits are recognizing that partnerships offer distinct benefits.

First, partnerships offer strong opportunities to advance an agency's mission -- at a discount. An agency and its potential partner can join forces to combat a single issue through a joint program, and save many of the individual overhead expenses. Both agencies are advancing their mission, while keeping costs down.

Partnerships also build relationships with other providers, often resulting in new ideas and approaches. When these relationships work, it allows each entity to further strengthen their capacity and it means they do not have to run hard to create excellence in areas where others already excel. In today's highly specialized society, building excellence in one or a few areas is a full-time job. Scarce resources do not have to be spent in keeping up with the Joneses.

Partnerships also expose your operations to other people and institutions, potentially increasing your resource base of funders, volunteers and supporters.

Working together builds on itself, many nonprofits have found. Initially forced into cooperative arrangements, they soon actively seek joint ventures to address client problems. In this manner, greater resources are brought to bear more quickly on client issues that the organization holds dear. The literature supports the notion that such organizations are then identified as team players and are rarely left out when funders look toward comprehensive solutions to community problems.

The biggest problem I have in advocating partnerships to nonprofits is a desire to protect their turf. It is a mixture of fear and reality that permeates the thinking of many nonprofit executives. They fear the partnering agency will "steal" funding sources, programs and volunteers. Worse yet, they will wedge themselves into their public awareness turf and suddenly be recognized for their competing work on the problems that are being jointly addressed.

Reality is actually far different. Team players generally get both more funding and volunteers from a wider net of providers. The commitment here must be to position the organization to take the high road, to be focused always on solutions to client concerns. This is a behavior of leaders, and one that is invariably respected by funders.

Next week I'll look at how one develops nonprofit partnerships that endure.

Les Picker is a philanthropy consultant. Write to him at Th Brokerage, 34 Market Place, Suite 331, Baltimore, Md. 21202. 783-5100

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