Talk, Speak and Listen!
Does your nonprofit have communication problems? Collaboration for not for profits often is often the reason things don’t get done. A fundraiser opportunity may be missed because board and committee members can’t agree.
Determining goals for the future may be placed on hold while board members argue the best route to take.
Users of the nonprofit may lose their trust when the charity stops delivering on promises.
If these situations sound familiar, they are common in the not-for-profit world. So, what can your nonprofit do to ensure effective collaboration?
Should You Agree to Disagree?
I’d love to tell you to implement an agree-to-disagree collaboration policy but that won’t help much. In an article on Nonprofit Online News, in “A Practical Approach to Collaboration” written by Michael Gilbert, he talks about collaboration and nonprofits, and Gilbert points out, “The great secret of successful collaboration is this: The only agreement you have to have is on what you are all going to do.”
This is so true when planning events, setting goals, monitoring the nonprofit policies and implementing new ones.
Getting Back to the Basics
Remember when the nonprofit was created and it had a vision, mission and a case statement (business case/plan) you all promised to review from time to time? When’s the last time you turned to these tools—they can help you collaborate more effectively, especially if your board members and committee members are arguing to the point where things aren’t accomplished.
A nonprofit K through 8 elementary school where I was a board member had many collaboration problems when the founders of the nonprofit stepped aside, allowing board members to seek out alternative funding, keeping the school alive and setting future goals.
Chaos ensued when the founders left, and while some board members blamed the nonprofit’s suffering through the loss of support of the founders, that wasn’t the case. The board in place was simply not prepared even though all were forewarned the founders would be stepping away. Instead of collaborating on how to continue the nonprofit, accusations and arguments ensued and the nonprofit finally had to file for bankruptcy protection.
This situation could easily happen to your nonprofit if you don’t get back to the basics and reinvent the not-for-profit.
The best way to get back to those basics is to start using some building blocks.
Retreats – These can be invaluable for nonprofit board members and committee leaders and are a great way to implement effective collaboration. My recommendation here is to hire an outside facilitator who specializes in holding retreats. A good facilitator will take the time to send out surveys and questionnaires in advance of the retreat to board and committee members and even users of the nonprofit.
Once the facilitator has time to review and analyze the data collected, the retreat can focus on its beginnings, what went sideways and what the nonprofit needs to do in the future. The facilitator can also lead the retreat and point out what’s wrong with your teams when collaborating. For example, does the not-for-profit have a communication plan in place that is interactive where board and committee members can access the plan?
Role-Playing – Once the retreat is over, the team can’t just drop the ball. When it’s time to decide on a budget for an event, re-writing the business plan or performing a feasibility study to determine if the nonprofit is going in the right direction, before you begin, is effective using some good role-playing scenarios to reveal where conflicts lie.
For example, if a nonprofit committee presents a fundraising idea to the board and the board disagrees, shoots it down and that’s the end of the idea, a great role-playing event may be to engage in a pretend fundraising idea from presentation to costs and budget to implementation. Role playing will reveal hidden stumbling blocks. A role-playing scenario in this case may reveal a majority of the board simply feels the idea is too expensive, when in reality the potential funds would cover the costs.
Collaboration Tools – Some nonprofits need tools to collaborate effectively. You can use free collaboration tools such as Google Docs; however, if you can afford it, invest in collaboration software such as Ubidesk or O3Spaces Workplace. Both offer free trials where users can see, feel and touch the product to see if it will work, for communication problems and collaboration for not-for-profits is key in order to be successful.
Having collaboration software forces communication, even more so than trying to implement an email thread or forum area on a nonprofit website—if you can invest in these types of tools.
Feedback – Does your nonprofit board allow feedback from users? In my example of a K through 8 elementary school, one way board members found out early on what would succeed and what would not was by surveying and obtaining feedback from both parents, students and teachers.
The same could be done for any sort of nonprofit as users of the nonprofit are your best avenues to find where issues or problems lie from the end users' point of view.
By learning to collaborate, your nonprofit will revisit its vision, mission, and original case statement and renew knowledge on why the nonprofit was started in the first place.
It is often hard to sway from the dreams of a nonprofit when board and committee members and even end users don’t take the time to study what’s going wrong (or right) and act on those issues.
Failing to communicate will put the not-for-profit in turmoil and may even dissolve the nonprofit, and that’s not the true goal of your charitable organization.
Gilbert, Michael – Nonprofit Online News – “A Practical Guide to Collaboration” (April 2005) retrieved at http://news.gilbert.org/PracticalCollaboration