By Luz Mairym López-Rodríguez, PhD
In 2015, the coalition One Voice Movement (OVM) was created by over 140 nonprofit organizations (NPOs) in Puerto Rico, in response to the possible reduction of 98% of legislative funds assigned to them. OVM conducted many press communications and conferences, meetings with government leaders, public demonstrations, and educational campaigns about the basic social needs they fulfill and the lower costs it represents compared with government aid. After all these activities, they achieved their goal and continue receiving funds to fulfill social needs in Puerto Rico. One Voice Movement demonstrated that keeping the distribution of funds policy to NPOs is a benefit to society and not an economical problem to the government funds.
Collaborative work in the nonprofit sector is one of many strategies used to promote public policy changes for societal benefit. Collaboration is not new, but despite years of being a common practice, it is still a challenge. These days, it is normal to find organizations increasing their collaborative work and engaging with partners. Grantors seek NPO projects with partners, rather than NPOs that work alone. NPOs also understand that results can be better by joining forces. Whether it is for these or other reasons, collaborative work is here to stay. Here are some recommendations for a better collaborative experience in your nonprofit work:
- Leadership: Leaders from NPOs creating collaborative work have to support the new initiative and promote it with the employees. They have to define clear communication channels in order to keep information running in the organization and reduce speculations. Also, get involved in the creation of goals and objectives and its subsequent implementation and evaluation. In this case, is recommended to have a democratic leader who makes decisions together with subordinates, delegates, and participates in activities as part of the team.
- Goals, objectives, and outcomes: Follow Peter Drucker’s objectives for effective management by using SMART goals.
- Establish goals: Define the purpose of the collaborative work. Is it realistic and achievable? If not, brainstorm with representatives of all organizations in the project until realistic goals emerge.
- Establish measurable objectives: Develop SMART objectives – Specific, Measurable, Ambitious, Realistic, and Time-based. These five elements will serve to measure outcomes, outputs, efficiency, and service, among others, at the end of the project.
- Conduct an objectives compliance assessment: Define from the beginning periods and frequency of evaluations. They could be monthly, quarterly, biannual, and annual. More than consolidating data to determine if objectives were met, an in-depth analysis is fundamental to identify areas of improvement or adjustment, successful strategies, and new strategies as necessary.
- Processes and structures: Two or more NPOs with diverse organizational cultures work together on a project to design a process for achieving their goal and objectives. In this stage, organizations must work together to create a functional structure with a clear chain of command. The creation of a procedure manual can serve as a guide to each entity involved in the project, but it can also easily inform new people joining the process on the roles and responsibilities of each person or organization.
- Integration of human resources: Develop training and integration dynamics between organizations’ staff to get to know and motivate each other. Promote teamwork to reduce conflicts and increase work productivity. Make sure that all the people involved in the project know the goals and objectives, and that all are working towards them. For this step, leaders are fundamental to the wellbeing of the project, as they are in a position to organize and promote these teambuilding events.
- Report compliance: Donors, boards of directors, or any other stakeholder demand timely reports. The evaluations established in the “Goals, objectives, and outcomes” recommendation above may not necessarily comply with stakeholders’ requirements. If that is the case, make sure that you meet this obligation in a timely manner. If objectives are not completely met, make sure those details are shared properly, using the required communication method to increase transparency, to strength credibility, and to develop confidence among all stakeholders.
Is it possible to work collaboratively? Yes, no matter if it is for a specific short period, as in the OVM case, or for a long-term project as the ones developed through grant funds. Achieving societal benefit is easiest if more NPOs join forces for a common purpose.
Luz Mairym López-Rodríguez, PhD, is an Assistant Professor in the Graduate School of Public Administration at the University of Puerto Rico, Río Piedras Campus.