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The Power of Organizational Partnerships

“As iron sharpens iron, so one man sharpens another”. That’s Proverbs 27:17, and it’s every bit as true for organizations as it is for people. Every person, company or nonprofit is limited by their own experiences. By leaning on and learning from others, we become stronger, smarter, and make a bigger impact in the world than we ever could alone.

The Bible has a lot to say about collaboration. I’m sure you’re familiar with the verse that references the cord of three strands, which is not easily broken. This metaphor is often used in marriage ceremonies but is still every bit as true for organizations that share a common goal. The fact is, when we partner together our potential grows exponentially.

How nonprofits are working together.

The good news is, most nonprofits realize this. According to a recent study by the Bridgespan Group, 91% of nonprofits today are engaging in some form of collaboration.

Let’s take a closer look at how they are doing it. In the for-profit sector, you’ll often see the 3C Model used as a way to differentiate between different kinds of partnerships. In fact, this model still works well for seeing the different ways that nonprofits can work with each other as well. The three C’s are Cooperation, Coordination, and Collaboration.

Cooperation is mainly short-term exchanges of goods & services. For example, let’s say we want to host a big dinner for our homeless friends. A restaurant offers to cater while some of our talented local musicians volunteer to provide some entertainment. That’s cooperation.

Coordination is when multiple organizations coordinate their efforts in a shared goal. A good example of this is if some legislation came up that we thought would be beneficial for our homeless community. In this case, Nashville Rescue Mission might help coordinate the efforts of other homeless-focused nonprofits to help bring awareness to the measure.

Collaboration is about long term partnerships where both organizations are contributing resources and regularly working together. The best example of this is how the Nashville Rescue Mission is part of the Citygate Network. 

If you are part of an organization that is new to working with others, I highly recommend getting started with something in the Cooperation model. The stakes are lower and allow the people in your organizations to get to know each other better before making a larger commitment. It’s also a lot easier to get people to say yes when the barrier to entry is lower. As your organizations work together over a longer period of time, you can deepen the partnership if it makes sense.

How Nashville Rescue Mission collaborates

This week on Real Hope, I got the opportunity to talk with Citygate Network John Ashmen. With over 300 members, the Citygate Network is North America’s oldest and largest community of independent, faith-based crisis shelters and life-transformation centers. In most U.S. cities, a member of Citygate Network is the most comprehensive homeless services provider, and in some cities, it is the only homeless services provider. 

Citygate Network is an invaluable partner to Nashville Rescue Mission. In fact, there are over 70 different benefits to being a Citygate Network partner. Some of these include training events, professional consultation and mentoring, legal assistance and running publications that carry relevant information. I can personally attest that much of the work we have done wouldn’t be possible without our partners there.

We have several other partners that we work closely with as well. GivingMatters.com shares information about Middle Tennessee’s nonprofit community and we are also members of the Tennessee Christian Chamber of Commerce.

Pre-COVID, we also partnered with local businesses to put on benefits and events throughout the year. This not only gave us the opportunity to put on a better event, but it gave our local partners an opportunity to promote their business and help a local cause.

Some of the events we’ve had in the past you might have seen are our Memorial Day cookout, the Thanksgiving Turkey Fry with Tracy Lawrence, and concerts with the Nashville Symphony. 

Nonprofits and For-profits can work together

When many people think of nonprofits collaborating, they think of them working alongside other nonprofits. However, there are many for-profits companies out there that enjoy working with nonprofits and can bring a lot to the table — especially since they often have more financial freedom than your average nonprofit.

One of the most visible of these collaborations is the NFL working with the American Cancer Society to combat cancer through their Crucial Catch initiative. You’ll see hats, shirts and even cleats emblazoned with a rainbow of color meant to represent all the various colored ribbons that are used to identify different cancers.

Another common tactic you’ll see in the for-profit world is the idea that companies will round up your total to the nearest dollar to make a donation. In this instance, they aren’t making the donation themselves but are helping raise awareness and facilitating the donation process. This is especially popular in fast-food restaurants and retail giants like Target, where customers have a face-to-face interaction with an attendant who can ask them directly. And it works.

As long as a company is aligned with your values and vision, there really is no wrong way to collaborate together. Donations and awareness are always appreciated but don’t be afraid to get creative and think outside the box, either. Right now, there are over 1.5 million registered nonprofits in the U.S. alone. A smart partnership with an organization that wants to work alongside you is a great way to stand out from the crowd.

A call to our leaders — that means you

If you are the leader of a nonprofit, I want to encourage you to look at the ways your organization could be benefitting from partnering with others. No matter what you do, from running shoe drives to fighting against human trafficking, I promise there are opportunities around you if you look for them. There are plenty of ways to find them as well, from your own Chamber of Commerce to organizations like Nashville’s Center for Nonprofit Management.

Even if you don’t run a nonprofit, this message is still for you. We are all leaders in some capacity. For some of us, we are leaders at our jobs. Others are leaders in their churches. And many more are leaders in their homes and communities. Wherever you find your sphere of influence, it is just as important for you not to keep isolated. Whatever group you lead — be it church, business or something else — can be strengthened by collaborating with others.

Remember, God wants us to work together. The Bible reminds us that more work can get done when we don’t try to do everything ourselves: 

“Two are better than one, because they have a good reward for their toil. For if they fall, one will lift up his fellow. But woe to him who is alone when he falls and has not another to lift him up!” – Ecclesiastes 4:9-10

So go out, find someone to toil alongside. The work will be lighter and you’ll see even greater results. Perhaps best of all, you will have more people in your life that are running the same race that you are. 

Hear Glenn’s conversation with John Ashmen in this month’s episode of Real Hope. Listen on iTunes and Spotify.