Collaboration is an alternative to starting a nonprofit
Why don’t inspired and aspiring new entrepreneurs look for existing organizations and agencies with which they can collaborate? Everybody seems to like the idea of collaboration, but most don’t actually want to collaborate in practice.
Some 33,000 nonprofit organizations already exist in Massachusetts. By some estimates, there are between 750 and 1,000 nonprofits on the Cape and Islands. They range from well-known hospitals and educational institutions to small, very small, mission-driven organizations with no staff, no revenues and two or three board members.
When asked why people want to start their own nonprofit, they answer that they want to run an organization that will solve a problem or meet a need that no other organization is meeting.
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Why don’t new entrepreneurs begin by looking for existing organizations and agencies with which they can collaborate?
Finding, collaborating or partnering with an existing organization has many benefits. An existing nonprofit already has the 501 C (3) tax status that permits it to receive grants and tax-free donations. It already has an existing board, trained staff and hopefully a set of committed donors. Forming a new nonprofit sets up more competition in the community for resources, staff, and talented board members.
Some people think that the current array of nonprofits has become stale, staid, and bureaucratic. Many think that by forming a new one, it will be fresh, more diverse, and culturally relevant. It is likely to have a younger orientation and be more flexible with its problem-solving. Nonetheless, there is a case for collaboration, or at least to look first for collaborative ventures before launching a new venture.
As policies and problems have become more complex and stretch across traditional organizational boundaries and entities, boundary-spanning theories are being put into practice. Boundary-spanning occurs when members of one organization cross lines to push beyond perceived or real barriers in order to seek information, knowledge, understanding and support.
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Research has shown that organizations that coordinate their activities and communicate with others in their communities improve the efficiency and effectiveness of both organizations. Of course, this is done informally every day. However, recently there has been significant growth in the number of public-private sector partnerships, collaborations, and new entities called collaboratives that encourage groups to do this formally and intentionally.
A collaborative has been defined as a group made up of multiple stakeholders, organizations, and community representatives that is attempting to work as a common entity, with the goal of solving a problem that has not been solved with a single organization working alone. Facilitators are often hired to ensure that all members of the new collaborative are constructively exploring differences and searching for solutions beyond their own, limited vision of what is possible.
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Collaboration can be frustrating and is definitely time-consuming, very time-consuming. But it takes a lot of time, money, and energy to start a new nonprofit. Before launching take another look for a kindred organization with similarly aligned values and mission that might tuck you under their wing and be your fiscal agent. This type of partnership can be very efficient, effective and the new organization can build some autonomy over time. Working with an existing nonprofit organization may give you a clearer idea of what is needed in the community and whether the needs might be better met through a collaboration.
Contributed by Susan Chandler, Certified Mentor. SCORE Cape Cod & the Islands. www.capecod.score.org, firstname.lastname@example.org. Resource: “Making Collaboratives Work: How Complex Organizational Partnerships Succeed,” Susan Meyers Chandler (2019) Routledge