What started off as curiosity about creating a supportive environment for social innovators soon gave way to skepticism as the conversation turned to how to move this idea forward.  A prospective partner posed a critical question that the meeting organizers hadn’t previously considered: How will you develop a new organization without cannibalizing funding for organizations, like mine, that are working in underserved communities?

Earlier this year I interviewed over a dozen nonprofit and business leaders to better understand the challenges they face in collaborating with other organizations. It’s no surprise that funding topped this list. In addition to convincing funders to support collaborative efforts, interviewees’ also spoke about the difficulty in making a similar case to collaboration partners.

In listening to the experiences that were shared, it became clear that an unresolved tension existed among partners who wanted to collaborate to achieve greater impact and avoid losing funding for their own work. This prompted me to recall the meeting I attended where concerns about “more money for you means less money for me” were raised.



What makes this tension particularly difficult to resolve is that it centers upon a lack of trust. Without trust it’s unlikely that partners will commit to collaborate on fundraising or anything else. It’s not uncommon to experience lack of trust in situations where members don’t know each other well or have limited experience working together.

The following steps can help you enlist partners’ support in obtaining funding for collaboration:


1. Build trust by developing shared values and setting clear expectations.

A starting point for collaboration, in addition to aligning around a powerful goal, is determining the values that will guide collaborative efforts.  A values statement, or a set of guiding principles, can be used to clarify how collaboration members will work together that includes participation in fundraising.

Examples of values that foster collaboration:

  • Relationships matter as much as results
  • Securing resources goes hand-in-hand with pursuing impact
  • Consistently and proactively support each other in following through on commitments

A values statement is only effective if it’s put into practice.  For this to happen members have to commit to adopting values that are agreed upon.  In addition to leading by example, values are reinforced when members are acknowledge each other for using them and are willing to hold each other accountable, such as by calling out behaviors that are detrimental to the group.     


2. Incorporate relationship building into getting work done.

An important part of building trust is making time for people to get to know each other. As much as we may like to think otherwise, focusing only on tasks doesn’t lead to better results. Relationships are the glue that holds collaboration together and keeps it moving forward. This doesn’t necessarily mean that partners have to spend a lot more time together, but it does require making the best use of everyone’s time so that meetings result in specific accomplishments and greater connection.

Ideas for building relationships that can be integrated with tasks:

  • Take a few minutes at the start of a meeting to ask participants to briefly share how they are doing or something meaningful that has happened.
  • Create shared experiences by doing a field visit to learn about a partner’s work first-hand that could also include having a meal together.
  • Use check-ins between meetings as an opportunity to find out how members are generally doing in addition to making sure that they have the support needed to follow through on their commitments.


3. Acknowledge and address tensions related to fundraising.

Take time, especially early on, to find out what motivations partners have for participating in collaboration. It’s common for collaboration members to represent the organization they work for.  When a partner’s primary loyalty is to her employer, it’s not surprising when tensions emerge around fundraising.  Trust and relationship building makes it easier to openly discuss situations that can lead to conflict, such as a partner’s reluctance to facilitate an introduction to a major donor or members who are competing for the same grant.

In such instances it’s important to acknowledge that these tensions exist, discuss their impact on the group, and come up with solutions that work for everyone.  One approach is to identify common values underneath seemingly opposing positions to come up with a mutually satisfactory solution, such as asking a donor to increase their commitment by funding both the partner and the collaboration.


4. Develop a culture of philanthropy for collaboration.

This is the belief that fundraising is a priority, and everyone has a role to play in ensuring that the collaboration has the resources needed to accomplish its goals. Developing a culture of philanthropy begins with recruiting partners who are willing to help with fundraising. To expand collective resources beyond what is already available members can discuss ways to leverage their social, human, and financial capital to attract additional funding.

In addition to participating in creative brainstorming, partners can also support efforts to raise funds by making small-scale, short-term commitments, like informing their contacts about the collaboration as part of cultivating potential donors.  Fundraising commitments can be increased as trust and collaborative relationships grow.

Collaboration, like fundraising, is only successful when we make a conscious effort to build and maintain high-quality relationships.

Kimberley Jutze is a social activist and founder of Shifting Patterns Consulting, a Certified B Corporation that helps changemaker leaders get their team members on the same page and put collaborative processes in place to achieve greater impact.  You can follow her on Twitter at @ShiftPatConsult and LinkedIn.

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