Friday, March 7, 2008

Collaboration Between Organizations - Why It Often Fails

Many grant funding sources now require collaboration between organizations for good reasons. Collaboration helps stretch scarce resources and it dramatically increases the likelihood of sustainability after the grant funding period.

Unfortunately, collaboration between organizations in a community is not easy. Collaboration between organizations with large bureaucracies is extremely difficult.

So, why does it often fail?

Changing personnel - Collaboration relies heavily on relationships and trust. In large organizations, it is not uncommon for people to move in and out of positions within the organization frequently. If the person who developed the collaborative relationship leaves the organization or changes positions within the organization, the relationship is at risk. Sometimes it falls apart completely.

Lack of experience and bureaucratic requirements - Face it, large bureaucracies are designed to be self-sufficient. They are not designed to work and play well with others. People within them are not trained or encourage to collaborate with others. Here's an example. There's a collaborative grant that requires representatives of the partner agencies to sign a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) to document their partnership and the commitments that each agency is making as part of the grant effort. The lead agency drafts the MOU and negotiates the details with the representatives from the other agencies attending the meeting. Agreement is reached. Then, as the MOU is being sent around for signatures, the business departments in the other organizations all start to object because they each have their own required template for MOUs that includes their own legalese. Even though the language in the MOU is very similar to the language in each of the different templates, an entirely new level of compromise and negotiation is required because the different agencies simply cannot just accept a template that is not their own.

Self-preservation - The tighter the budgets, the worse this is. Collaboration requires that partners look out for both the best interests of the group and the best interests of each of the partners. organizations that can't see passed their own needs often sabotage an entire collaborative effort.

So, what do organizations need to do to make it work?
  • Focus on the common good;

  • Ensure that there is something "in it" for every partner;

  • Send multiple representatives to represent the organization so personnel shifts will not alter the collaborative's progress;

  • Be willing to step aside and let others get a little more sometimes (a little more money, a little more publicity, a little more whatever); In short, be more of a giver than a getter--and you'll get more;

  • Negotiate a common MOU template when you are not facing a grant deadline - then you'll have it when you need it;

  • Learn more about your partner agencies so you know where they're coming from

You'll see more detail on these strategies in future posts.

"Seeing difference is ignorance. We are all one." - Sankara

"Doing nothing for others is the undoing of ourselves." - Horace Mann

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Creative Resources and Research is a consulting firm specializing in grant writing, grant seeking, program evaluation and professional development training. We have worked with hundreds of clients including public and private schools, school districts, universities, non-profit organizations, and social service agencies throughout California, securing over $155 million from federal, state and private foundation funding sources over the past decade. Our primary grant writers and program evaluators have over 50 years of combined experience in the education and social services fields. At CRR we prefer a personal approach to the clients we work with; by developing long term relationships, we are better suited to match client’s needs with available funding sources. We provide a variety of services to help assist you, including grant writing, evaluation consulting, professional development opportunities, and workshops.