Jan 24 2022
Digital Workspace

The Power of Collaboration Between Nonprofits

Working with outside organizations can expand everyone’s reach, but breaking down technological and organizational silos presents a challenge.

Nonprofits may be mission-driven, but their resources sometimes limit how far the mission can go. Many will therefore look for opportunities to collaborate, stretching their resources further to expand their reach.

Collaboration can bring access to more resources, new technology and potentially new ways to gather and use data than a single nonprofit could achieve on its own.

Research from the Bridgespan Group notes that collaborative efforts are widespread, with 91 percent of nonprofits leveraging outside relationships. Peter Panepento, the co-founder of Turn Two Communications and a former executive at the Council on Foundations, explained that such partnerships can make the overall lift easier, even among organizations that otherwise don’t have much in common.

“There has been a recognition in a lot of cases that by working together, nonprofits can direct a lot more resources and share money in a much more effective way,” he says.

At a time when many nonprofits are looking to continue their missions amid a global pandemic, the power of working together — something collaborative digital tools enable — can’t be ignored.

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Different Types of Nonprofit Collaboration

In the nonprofit space, collaboration can take a variety of forms, as noted by a recent Blackbaud study. Among them are:

  • Peer-to-peer partnerships, which involve working with fellow nonprofits or foundations in the same community
  • Cross-community partnerships, in which nonprofits from outside communities team up
  • Partnerships with governmental organizations at the federal, state or local level
  • Business partnerships with for-profit organizations that offer resources that nonprofits might not be able to acquire otherwise

Perhaps a nonprofit collaborator has a broad reach on social media, making it a good fit for fundraising efforts. In the case of a business partnership, maybe a collaborator can offer access to people or technical infrastructure to get an initiative off the ground.

However, the potential for partnership doesn’t necessarily mean that every collaboration will be a good fit. Panepento noted the importance of looking for areas where an outside organization can complement existing skill sets.

“Partnerships work better when you have complementary missions and complementary skills, and you can figure out ways in which a partner organization can bring something new or different to the work that you’re doing and help elevate it,” Panepento says.

MORE FOR NONPROFITS: Explore the tech trends shaping the industry in 2022.

Nonprofit Integration Considerations When Collaborating 

Of course, every organization has its own technology stack and way of working, which can create hurdles for collaboration.

For example, Panepento cites differences in platforms and customer relationship management tools that can create back-end challenges for organizations when distributing and accessing data. Sharing data also comes with potential privacy, compliance and security issues, such as the General Data Protection Regulation.

With more than three-quarters of nonprofits lacking a data strategy, as recent Salesforce data notes, navigating these hurdles can be a challenge.

Technology integrations can help. In a recent blog post, Jessica Hood, Salesforce.org’s vice president of global innovation and digital transformation, notes that platforms with strong interoperability, even if they’re made by different vendors, can help ensure one platform can talk to another as necessary.

“Now the information that exists in different places can be securely shared and made usable,” she writes. “You can pull insights out of Tableau, unlock data to streamline business processes, and connect Salesforce to all your core business systems, so your programs can ‘speak’ to your operations from inventory management to finance.”

She adds that Salesforce, Google, Amazon Web Services and others take steps to ensure that their technologies can effectively integrate with one another.

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Collaboration Tools Open Doors for Nonprofits

Integration challenges aren’t always limited to technological issues. They can also be baked in at the organizational level — internal silos can hinder collaboration across departments, let alone with outside organizations.

Embracing multicloud strategies could be one solution to that problem.

Panepento also notes that collaboration technology such as Microsoft Teams and Zoom has significantly improved the way people within organizations communicate, presenting a path out of the silos.

“Technology is enabling communication to happen in a much more effective way, in most cases,” he says, “and there are a lot of tools that are being built that allow organizations to work across platforms.”

Nonprofits are well positioned to collaborate with one another, if they can navigate the silo challenges. Working with a provider such as CDW AmplifiedTM Services might help you figure out how to make the most of a good partnership.

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