Updated: Oct 9, 2019
Anyone that has been applying for grants lately may have noticed a theme- collaboration. I know what you're thinking- pain! Stay with me for a moment.
Funders want to stretch limited dollars and have a greater impact in the community by funding projects that include one or more nonprofit, for-profit or government entities coming together to solve a problem in the community.
Know that not all collaborations are created equal. How do you know if you should collaborate to apply for a grant? The question is not "if", it is "when", "how" and with "whom" should you collaborate with. Collaboration is a necessity.
Timing is tough to assess. It really depends on where you are in the growth cycle of your organization. Are you just starting out, are you in a state of growth, or have you been around for a while and are knee-deep in advocacy efforts.
If you are a newer nonprofit, you may be tempted to collaborate to get your feet wet but only consider this option if you already have an established name and brand. Otherwise, you risk losing the opportunity to establish yourself as an independent and viable entity and diminishing your brand in the collaboration.
If you have a pending grant application that requires collaboration, now is NOT the time to go out and form a collaboration. I know, most of us do this but truth be told, the weakness of the collaboration will be obvious in the proposal.
Take time to strategically develop an idea for a program and identify collaborations that can help you execute. Start talking to potential collaborators 6 months-1 year out before the due date and create a framework of the program in collaboration with your partner organization. Your proposal will come across much stronger with a well-thought-out and collaborative program.
An MOU (memorandum of understanding) is an agreement between two or more entries outlining different aspects of a collaboration including marketing, outreach, execution, how to divide funding, etc. Be sure to have an MOU in place that was created with input from and signed by both parties. If you are applying for a grant to execute a program through collaboration, submitting an MOU may be a required document to apply for the grant.
Each organization should contribute equally to the collaboration or partnership and bring something to the table. For a successful collaboration, it's never about one exploiting another and equal respect should be shown to both organizations regardless of strengths and weaknesses.
There are larger organizations with vast experience and programs that partner with smaller and inexperienced organizations. A smaller organization shouldn't be made to feel like they are less than or don't bring anything to the table- all parties should bring something to the table. If you didn't bring anything to the table, then why would a larger more established organization want to collaborate? You obviously possess something they value ...more on this in my next point.
Be strategic with who you collaborate with and don't just collaborate for collaboration's sake.
Be careful of larger organizations wanting to collaborate to take over, control or limit your impact in the community. Some areas of the nonprofit world are very competitive and you would be surprised to know that some larger organizations may want to partner to advance the cause but also to control the impact of up and coming organizations. This sounds truly strange, but trust me- I've learned through personal experience and countless stories from other nonprofit leaders of this "we are the big kahuna" mentality.
Also, examine the mission and capabilities of each partner. Is there a lot of overlap in your programs and mission? I would think heavily and with caution about partnering with competing organizations or organizations with similar program offerings. Think through partners that offer complementary or opposing programs, possess capacity, resources and access that you may not have, and are equally vested in the success of the project.
Overall, collaborating is good and is the wave of the future. Being smart about when, how and who to collaborate with will save a lot of stress and headache for you and your organization.
Shavonn Richardson is Founder of Think and Ink Grant Consulting™ www.thinkandinkgrants.com. She is a grant writer, nonprofit consultant, speaker and an active member of the Grant Professionals Association.