Over the last decade or two, the word collaboration has become pretty buzzy. Funders have looked with increasing favor (if not insistence) on proposals that represent partnership between two or more organizations. Public-private partnerships have become commonplace. Playing well with others has become an expectation—perhaps because of savvier donors wanting to ensure their investments have the most meaningful impact, and perhaps because we’ve simply embraced the idea that we can bring about more change together than we can alone. When you apply for a grant at the ASPCA, we ask right on the application for contact info for the animal groups with whom you work regularly. We ask because we buy that latter argument—bringing our individual organization’s particular strengths to bear in collaboration with complementary partners Just. Makes. Sense.
Easy enough, right? Well…maybe not so much. Partnership and collaboration just might be all we suggest they are—keys to increased impact, efficient use of resources and ensuring we avoid wasteful duplication of efforts. But that doesn’t mean it’s a walk in the park (well, not a quiet, meandering lazy Sunday afternoon stroll, anyway).
It’s pretty likely we’ve all experienced a partnership or collaboration (personal or professional) that’s taken a turn for the worse and bottomed out. In our better moments, we’re able to pull up and think objectively about what we could have done differently; how we might have worked to extinguish instead of feeding the fire. Perhaps more often, we walk away all worked up and convinced that if only THE OTHER PARTY had [fill in the blank], then things would have gone differently.
“Bringing an individual organization’s particular strengths to bear in collaboration with complementary partners Just. Makes. Sense.”
Collaborations need these key elements to work
At its heart, successful collaboration relies on strong relationships. And relationships—almost no matter the context—require a few key components to work, namely, an understanding of shared goals and key values, honest dialogue between parties and effective strategies to tackle conflict. If we put those elements front and center at the very start of a partnership (perhaps right in the preamble of a memorandum of understanding, for example), we’re setting the rules and simultaneously buying some insurance for that moment in the future when things get rocky (‘cause let’s be honest, things almost ALWAYS get rocky!).
Of course, there’s also that pesky little obligation of personal responsibility. By taking charge of your own approach and behavior—how you listen and speak and the way you ask questions, and exercising leadership in the truest way—you just might have more influence than you’d expect and, ultimately, the type of success you’d hoped for in the first place.
My ASPCA colleague, Karen Medicus, is fond of a saying that speaks to the heart of this philosophy. At least one iteration goes:
“If you want to go fast, go alone. If you want to go far, go together.”
Of course, that’s not to say we can’t go fast AND go together. But the wisdom holds, there’s something special—if not always simple—about the power of “together.”
What’re the key ingredients in your magic potion when it comes to making a partnership perform well or a collaboration create meaningful change?
B.J. Rogers, CAWA
ASPCA Vice President, ProLearning
With nearly 20 years of experience in the nonprofit sector—and more than a decade of leadership in animal welfare—Rogers oversees the team responsible for the ASPCA’s field-facing communication, including ASPCApro.org, field-facing social media and online learning. As a former shelter chief executive whose experiences working in politics, higher education, LGBTQ youth advocacy and animal welfare have convinced him that people are the solution, not the problem.
What We’ve Got Here Is Failure To Communicate (Not)
Dave Betournay gets strategic on how to best put a dry erase board to work at your agency.
Let’s Get Happy
Bert Troughton has discovered the secret to excellent customer service—and is happy to share.
The President’s Blog: Are Animal Shelter Outcomes Improving?
Matt Bershadker CEO, shares recent trends in nationwide shelter data that show how far we’ve come as a field—and what we need to do next.