Alliances: A New Organizational Paradigm
By Josh Jacobson
It is prophetic, if also somewhat morbid, that PMA’s Seven Keys Series would focus on ‘seeking alliances’ just as the federal government shutdown approaches its 16th day and an important vote looms regarding the country’s debt ceiling. At a time when the future is so uncertain, we look to each other for support and comfort. “What does this mean for me?” becomes “What does this mean for us?” We remember that advocacy has always been on our to-do lists, and we resolve to revisit opportunities to collaborate as a means to more efficiently meet our charges.
But the challenges our nation faces are nothing new for nonprofit organizations. The polarizing discussion in Washington is played out in board rooms and the offices of 501c3 organizations across the country – as nonprofits, how can we shore up our fiscal health and ensure a future for our services while simultaneously driving our missions forward to meet the needs of our constituencies? It would be a challenge to meet at any time, but is particularly heightened by the state of financial support for the sector.
Federal funding for nonprofits is nearing an all-time low in inflation-adjusted spending. For more than a decade, government has been cutting social spending and pushing the responsibility to state/local governments and civic leaders who have not always been prepared for the role, particularly as the downturn shook the business infrastructure of cities and towns.
Nowhere is this adapting model of government cutting back on social spending more obvious than North Carolina, which is engaging in a kind of macro-experimentation with regional administration and spending cuts aimed at driving responsibility for social wellbeing from the state level to the local level. The business model that had largely supported the independent sector for decades, which had been slowly shifting since the turn of the century, is now suddenly a very changed landscape.
Collaboration is no longer a buzzword sought by foundations and creatively demonstrated in grant applications. It is a fundamental need of the sector, core to any nonprofit’s business plan and a necessity for the survivability of mission-critical programming.
This month, we will provide some ideas for you to consider for getting started, but the fact is most organizations already know the groups with whom they should be working. The rubber hits the road in actually doing it, and in embracing an end to the “us vs. them” mentality that permeates some organizations.
Two PMA clients, one recently completed and another on-going, are emblematic of not only accepting alliance building as a fact of life, but turning it into a true strategic strength:
- Crisis Assistance Ministry – A best practices organization in so many ways, Crisis Assistance Ministry has long been committed to non-duplicative service. Through collaboration with partner agencies, financial assistance and stability services are provided to an increased number of individuals in need, building upon the relationship already fostered between another agency’s caseworker and client.
- Read Out and Read – As highlighted recently by PMA Senior Consultant Ginny Amendum, breaking through programming silos is at the heart of collaboration. It isn’t enough for a child to be healthy, or literate, in the absence of a continuum of services. Through proactive collaboration-seeking, Reach Out and Read brings its evidence-based services to local communities almost entirely through collaboration.
We find ourselves as a community, as a nation, at a real turning point in the history of the nonprofit social sector. PMA encourages organizations to see it as an opportunity to make efficiency and effectiveness a hallmark through intentional alliance-building.