The Power of the Partnership

I came across an African proverb recently that says “if you want to go fast, go alone. If you want to go far, go together”. This way of thinking has always resonated with me because we are all working in the not for profit sector for the greater good, and to make a difference in this world. Forming partnerships are the key to achieving success in life, especially in the case of the nonprofit world. The amount of time that an organization can spend trying to think of unique strategies or “reinventing the wheel” could be much better used in setting up partnerships. The partnership can be a perfect vehicle through which organizations can learn from one another. This approach to solving problems through collaboration is not a new idea, also known as the collective impact, this approach has created success stories time and time again.

I think about my own personal story – my grandmother in her day was part of the “sou-sou” network, which is a form of savings agreement where a group of people each pool an equal amount of money for a period of time and after that time is up, one person in the group gets all that money. They keep doing this until everyone gets their turn and received that full lump sum at least once(1). Much of the discussions and agreements among participants were informal or familial. This network was integral for my grandmother to raise her family and finance her private textile business. These partnerships at the community level were what fueled the economy, and believe it or not, these networks still exist today and these practices have been imported from immigrants around the world.

At the local level, my grandmother and her community knew the importance of partnerships because they all had the same issues, but could not resolve them alone. There were 59,605 registered not for profit corporations in Canada back in 2014, and these were created with the intention to serve their community in some way or another(2). These efforts should not go unrecognized, but looking at the list, it makes one wonder how many may be duplicating their efforts. Unlike the for profit world where merging companies is seen as a positive thing and a way to maximize economies of scale, the not for profit world does not see the urgency in merging. I agree it is not always a negative thing to have multiple organizations because depending on their ties to the community, their impact may look different at the ground level. Multiple groups can also feed an echo chamber that helps move an issue or mobilize different donors(3).

In all parts of the world there are already organizations that are partnering to have a greater impact in their community. I came across a great example of a success story in the case of a nonprofit in Cincinnati called Strive. This nonprofit was born out of the persistence of local leaders who wanted to increase the education system in greater Cincinnati and northern Kentucky. After decades of isolated efforts by nonprofits, teachers and administrators with no improvements in sight, the local leaders decided they needed a collective effort. They realized that to resolve the system itself they had “to coordinate improvements at every stage of a young person’s life, from “cradle to career”(4). Within five years years the organization has demonstrated success by an 11 percent increase in high school graduation and a 10 percent increase in college enrollment(5). Another example that is closer to home is Tropicana Community Services which is a multi service non-profit community organization founded to serve disadvantaged youth and their families, particularly those from the Black and Caribbean communities in Toronto. Achieving over 40 programs since conception they have seen the importance of not working alone and have been able to jointly partner with other organizations such as Kids Up Front and Toronto Catholic District School Board, just to name a few(6). I am confident there are many more successful stories out there that we won’t have to search far to find. There is also clear evidence that there is more to gain by having a strategic partnership, such as brand exposure, increasing the range of services offered, saving on administrative costs and increasing brand credibility(7).

It is a bit intimidating for an organization tackling diversity and inclusion practices, especially in fundraising. Most have never been down this road to engage with diverse demographics because they lack the expertise and resources. This is where the power of partnerships can come in whether it is at the local or national level. However, it is important to keep in mind that success can only be achieved if there are conditions in place to fuel a successful outcome. In the case of the Strive Partnership, researchers found that five conditions were crucial to their success; a common agenda, shared measurement systems, mutually reinforcing activities, continuous communication, and backbone support organizations(8).

One of the reasons I was so keen to join the Fellowship in Inclusion and Philanthropy program was to meet other individuals like me, who are passionate about making a difference and learning from each other. This experience has allowed me to not only have the opportunity to network, but also to learn from my peers. I can confidently say that I have developed relationships and “allies” that I can count on as I pursue my career in fundraising. Among these fellows some have great experience and are in positions where they can influence change more effectively than others. We have all forged partnerships on an individual basis and I am truly grateful.

This types of partnerships can be extended to not for profit giants who have the funding and organizational capacities that smaller organizations may not have. Instead of these giants trying to expand within their four walls alone because of the fear that their competitors will gain a share of their profits, they have much to gain by widening their strategic outlook and look to partnering with like minded smaller entities that have already established relationships and credibility at the ground level. So to go back to the African proverb in my opening sentence, the nonprofit world can go far by working together and supporting each other.