Collaboration Over Competition: Escaping the Nonprofit Hunger Games

Do you feel like you are living through the Nonprofit Hunger Games? Do you feel you have to compete with other nonprofits for funders? Are you making decisions based on a scarcity mentality where it feels like there is not going to be enough funding? If so, you are not alone. Many nonprofit professionals feel like they need to hunker down and prepare to compete for their specific issues and needs to successfully garner funding.

I recently had the pleasure of hearing Vu Le, writer of the NonprofitAF blog and Executive Director of Rainer Valley Corps, speak at the Nonprofit Center of Northeast Florida’s Nonprofit Works! Conference. During his keynote, Vu shared his perspective on how nonprofit executives can break out of the Nonprofit Hunger Games mentality to a mindset of plentiful resources. The secret is to seek collaboration and alliance building in an effort to support a larger vision throughout a cross-section of other nonprofits. Reaching out and supporting one another, partnering to achieve greater impact, and/or creating change together are all ways to rise above the Hunger Games challenges. Becoming community-centric enables a new, fresh way to engage other nonprofits and funders in tackling larger issues. Rather than focusing solely on your own organization and your specific mission area, look for natural opportunities to partner with and/or connect others to share resources for the greater good.

Being open to such collaborative efforts can, and typically does, help to increase your funding. How? Let’s say that a youth sports program is looking to secure funding to increase the number of children they serve. They plan to raise $3 million through a capital campaign, and in addition to paying for new fields, better equipment, and additional staff, they want to use campaign funding to launch a brand new initiative providing program participants from low-income households with healthy meals to take home during the summer. During the funding feasibility study, they discover that their investors are reluctant to fund this element of the strategic plan, citing that the organization has no history or experience in meal delivery or nutrition education and no facility available for food collection, packaging, or distribution.

In the past, this type of funder push back meant either removing the initiative from your plan completely or scaling it back significantly until you could demonstrate your capability and the program’s impact to your funders. But what if you were willing to collaborate with another organization to overcome these concerns? In this scenario, the youth sports organization could partner with a local food bank. By partnering with an organization with the necessary expertise, they can address their funders’ concerns, making a stronger case for support and increasing the likelihood of securing the funding needed. The partnership is also beneficial to the food bank, who is given the chance to connect with new funders, increase awareness of their organization, and secure a new outlet for their mission delivery.

Collaborative nonprofit efforts that lead to both higher quality mission delivery and increased fundraising capacity aren’t just hypothetical. In fact, we have helped to successfully fund joint initiatives in several communities throughout the country. They require lots of careful planning, open communication, and thoughtful execution, but the rewards are worth it. The first step is to leave the Hunger Games mentality behind. Allow yourself to have soaring aspirations for your organization, a bold vision for your community, and open yourself up to the collaborative opportunities that present themselves.