In a recent strategic planning meeting, a former hospital president suggested to the committee, “We must collaborate, or we won’t survive.”

    Whoa. That’s a strong statement.

    The board member’s point was if non-profits don’t collaborate, they may not thrive in the future. Especially in game-changing contexts such as the one we are in now, organizations need to be more efficient, resilient and flexible than ever. To be well-resourced and more impactful, partnership is quickly becoming a necessity.

    There are 1.5 million non-profits in the U.S.—and that does not include faith-based organizations. With increasing needs and so many charitable organizations doing good work, why should we collaborate?


    The pandemic has brought new questions and challenges to public health, education, government, industry, agriculture, the social sector and more. A single brave and mighty nonprofit cannot battle issues such poverty, health inequity, substance abuse or chronic disease on its own. The social issues are more significant than ever—and joining forces can lead to greater impact and outcomes.

    Otto Scharmer, MIT senior lecturer and author of Presencing and Theory U, says organizations need not just one partner, but entire ecosystems around them to survive. Non-profits must have access to new resources, relationships, and economics to better serve our communities. We will need new interconnected brain trusts to optimize non-profit missions in this new context.


    An ecosystem is generally defined as a mix of living organisms, their environment, and the interrelationships among them. We are operating within complex, interconnected systems that require new thinking more than ever before. This pandemic has helped many non-profits think differently about their operating models to be more responsive to needs in their communities. What has changed in the environment in which your organization is operating? What might you have to let go of in service of a new partnership that might be needed? Who isn’t at your table that could be? What new initiatives are flowing through your community? And what may be needed to instill greater interrelationships between all these parts?

    Energy Sources

    Like any healthy ecosystem, collaborations need a reliable energy source. For non-profits, much of that energy comes from human capital—the passion and commitment of individuals and teams driving the vision and the work. But energy sources are also emerging in new, more flexible funding to support operations or new program initiatives.

    Donors and foundations continue to express great interest in funding collaborative work as these partnerships can lead to increased impact, greater efficiency and reduced duplication of services. There is also greater recognition of the importance of resiliency and sustainability of non-profits—and donors are interested in funding those opportunities.

    In these challenging times, we need to build greater capacity for co-creating and leading these emerging ecosystems. New competencies and skill sets will be required for organizations to convene critical dialogues and powerful relationships. Watch for some guidance about this process in Part II, “Collaboration in Your Organization’s Ecosystem,” coming soon.

    DBD helps non-profits facilitate partnerships, collaborations, and mergers. If you would like to learn more about how we can support your organization in such an effort, click here for a free consultation to learn more.


    Photo by Emma Gossett on Unsplash

    Posted by Kellie Wardman on Jul. 17, 2020
    Kellie Wardman

    Written by Kellie Wardman

    Kellie Wardman, CPCC, ACC, has worked in the non-profit sector for 20 years, serving as a consultant and executive coach for a wide range of innovative and impactful leaders and organizations. She has provided clients with comprehensive support in a wide range of disciplines, including strategic planning, board development and governance, facilitating partnerships and collaborations, capital development, and CEO searches and onboarding processes.

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