Nov 20 2015 New report highlights how cross-sector collaboration can strengthen the non-profit sector
As an organization that explores the potential of intersector collaboration, we’re always interested to hear one sector’s thoughts on how partnerships across sectors can enhance their work. Independent Sector’s new report Threads: Insights from the Charitable Community delves into the current state of the non-profit sector, synthesizing feedback from a series of community conversations across the country and providing several insights on how cross-sector collaboration can strengthen the sector.
In its role as a leadership network for non-profits, foundations, and corporations on a local, national, and global level, Independent Sector has the reach to provide an overview of the trends, issues, and accomplishments that characterize the non-profit sector. Threads is the result of conversations with a cross-section of leaders from diverse organizations across the country: “The clear message as a result of the feedback was that sector organizations must adapt to the changing environment. We must retool our individual and collective approaches if we are to have the impact we seek.”
“There is general consensus especially in the non-profit and philanthropic sector that solving societal issues cannot happen within one sector alone.”
Threads participants generally reported dissatisfaction with the current state of non-profit collaboration with other sectors, referring to the transactional nature of partnerships with the public sector and a lack of communication with the private sector. “There is general consensus especially in the non-profit and philanthropic sector that solving societal issues cannot happen within one sector alone,” explained Erica Greeley, Vice President of Networks at Independent Sector. “Yet we hear from large and small organizations that we often lack the meaningful relationships necessary to support real progress.”
With regards to partnering with the public sector, the issues were varied, one being that many non-profits take an advocacy approach with government as opposed to a partnership approach. With the private sector, “non-profits often don’t know where to begin developing a relationship. … Faced with a lack of understanding and access, many non-profits don’t reach out,” Greeley told us. Several Threads participants also noted a growing competition between non-profits and businesses that have entered the “social good” space. But with the complicated, knotty problems facing American society, no one sector can work alone. “Understanding that we all have to be part of the solution is a first step to collaboration,” Greeley said. “If the corporate world doesn’t know about you, introduce yourself. Start with coalitions of the willing and work together to find common purpose, clarify roles, harness resources other than money (i.e., expertise and relationships), as well as coordinate gaps and overlap in proposed approaches.”
“A hallmark of the American experience has been our enduring belief that we get better solutions to our most pressing social problems when diverse groups of committed people come together to make a difference.”
One tactic from our Toolkit that is crucial in cross-sector collaboration is Communicate the Interdependency of Each Sector — the development of an understanding among partners of each sector’s unique contributions, and the recognition of their differing expertise, resources, and networks. One theme addressed in the Threads report is the non-profit sector’s frequent struggle to communicate its value to partners. But, as Greeley noted, “A hallmark of the American experience has been our enduring belief that we get better solutions to our most pressing social problems when diverse groups of committed people come together to make a difference. The non-profit and philanthropic sector is at the heart of making that happen.”
Non-profits can benefit from studying successful cross-sector collaborations to gain insight into the role they can play in partnerships, Greeley explained: “One great example is how the various sectors came together to save Detroit after the city’s bankruptcy.” For more examples of partnerships that brought together the business, non-profit, and public sectors to solve complicated issues, see The Intersector Project’s Case Library.
See the full report for more insights into the current state of the charitable sector.