Friday, February 17, 2017

2017 PEOPLE: BIZ: New NonProfit Commons Community: a Collaborative Model. By WisdomSeeker

New NonProfit Commons Community (NPC): 
Collaborative Model. 
Invited article by WisdomSeeker for 
Nonprofit Commons
NonProfit Commons is a long-established community in virtual worlds.  It has served as a focal point for gathering nonprofit organizations and helping them to share information and experience.  It is now preparing to reorganize and is considering alternative organizations.

Possible collaborative models
LaPiana’s Collaborative Map
Click image to enlarge

What is a Collaborative Model? 

There are many ways we, as separate individuals and organizations, can join together under an umbrella that will benefit us all. Here I offer some ideas for the groundwork to consider as we move forward.
  • (More after the break, scroll down!)

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I am using information and ideas provided by La Piana Consulting primarily. 
This is a major company serving nonprofits.   La Piana “believes in the power of the social sector to transform lives and change the world. Our consulting services are designed to help nonprofits and foundations successfully leverage organizational strategy, structure, and culture to advance their missions and achieve their goals.”

Their Specialties are: 
  • Strategy, 
  • Leadership. 
  • Strategic Restructuring, 
  • Governance.


Their definition of Collaboration includes information sharing, program coordination, and joint planning. Organizations involved in collaboration remain independent with full decision-making power. 

La Piana’s first precept is to “start with your end in mind.”   That is, first be clear on what you want to achieve. 

[Editor note:  In my consulting days, I used ask clients "How will you know when you are finished?"]

Once you know that,  La Piana says, there will be a way to make what you want happen, whether you are two organizations or 22, looking to partner in one area or all.   “…today more than ever organizations must collaborate, both broadly and deeply, because that is what it will take to address the complex challenges we face. “

For example:  How will decisions be made?

  • What structures will we need to establish in order to operate well as a collaborative? 
  • What specific things will be key to maintaining our collaborative well-being?
  • What financial arrangements will support this?
These questions will help us determine what kind of collaborative organization we want to establish. 

LaPiana’s Collaborative Map  is used by many nonprofits to think these questions through.
Before we explore the map, here are a few suggestions on things that help collaborations work well.  These come from "Collaborations That Work", a meet-up and happy-hour devoted to partnerships at Foundation Center West on May 19, 2016, found on GrantSpace 


Focus on one step at a time. Decide how much you can handle and where you need to focus first.


A business partnership is first and foremost a relationship. And relationships benefit from a great deal of clear communication.  Collaborators should be as transparent with each other as possible. Sharing ideas, reservations, and successes makes for a healthy, long-lasting partnership. Additionally, reaching out and talking with the communities you serve is essential


Be clear in the roles members have – who does what - so they do not overlap or blur.


Everyone has resources to offer. When you’re working in collaboration with other organizations, share your assets. Working together can result in improvements in the quality of everyone’s work.


Inevitably, challenges will arise in every partnership. Stay steadfast in your collaborations, through thick and thin (if they work, of course). Partnerships are worth the occasional struggle.Collaborations involve strengthening relationships with organizations to build trust. Make a commitment to the journey with your partners.  This will benefit everyone.


If your partnership benefits your work, stick with it through all the ups and downs: it’s worth it!

Choices of collaborative models

What kind of Collaboration will work best for NPC going forward?

GrantSpace, a service of Foundation Center, points out that: “Understanding the types of STRATEGIC ALLIANCES is a good first step in determining a fit for your organization. There’s general agreement that the types of strategic alliances follow a continuum. At one end are informal arrangements. At the other end are those that require high levels of formality, shared decision-making, and organizational integration.”
The OUTER CIRCLE on the Collaborative Map – the most informal types of partnerships
At the most basic level, two or more “entities” (can be individuals or groups) may choose simply to coordinate their actions, activities, advocacy, or learning
You don’t need a formal agreement to do these things, or a long-term commitment, although you might choose to make your participation official in some way.
Here are brief descriptions of these ways of collaborating:


Organizations might coordinate their PLANNING or SERVICES, co-sponsor an EVENT,
POOL RESOURCES TO PURCHASE an asset both could use, or solicit better pricing on assets they will purchase and use independently. 
[Do we want to do any of these?]


Organizations can aim at CHANGING POLICIES locally, regionally, or nationally
[Is this at all applicable to us?]


Collaborative and cross-organizational learning can happen in community convenings, through the coordination and sharing of TRAINING OPPORTUNITIES, or through learning communities


Learning communities are often intentionally designed and convened by FUNDERS interested in supporting both leadership development and field building in a range of content areas. [We already do this. Could this be a source of funding for NPC?]


Networks are collections of individuals and organizations —often self-organizing—working together to create SOCIAL CHANGE. Some networks do ask members to make a formal commitment to participate or share DATA.

Many of the “COLLECTIVE IMPACT” examples that have been highlighted in recent literature do this.  [Do we want to move in this direction?]
The SECOND CIRCLE on the Map:  These are more formal, structured kinds of partnerships. They fall into two categories: 

The TOP HALF of the purple circle.

This includes administrative consolidation, fiscal sponsorship, joint programming, and joint earned income ventures.

The BOTTOM HALF of the purple circle

This includes affinity groups, associations, consortiums, and coalitions. In both cases decision-making power is shared or transferred, but the organizations involved are NOT called upon to make changes to their individual corporate structure. 


This is typically aimed at increasing efficiency. It includes FORMAL agreements for contracting, exchanging, or sharing services. Organizations involved in administrative consolidations SHARE decision-making powers.
[How formally do we want to set up the administration of NPC?  What structure do we want to establish for this?]


This refers to the practice of a nonprofit organization OFFERING ITS LEGAL AND TAX-EXEMPT STATUS to unincorporated groups engaged in activities related to the organization’s mission.  It typically involves a FEE-BASED CONTRACTUAL  AGREEMENT between the fiscal sponsor and the unincorporated group, or project.  The fiscal sponsor often provides some amount of ADMINISTRATIVE SUPPORT to the project. 

[This role was taken by TechSoup. What sort of fiscal and administrative responsibility does 
each of us want to have now? How do we want to delegate those responsibilities?  What would be the advantages of being able to offer this to new groups that join NPC?]


A restructuring where organizations share the launch and management of one or more programs. Organizations involved in joint programming share decision-making powers for the programs while maintaining their INDEPENDENCE in managing their own programs.
[Do we want to focus on this aspect at all?]


This activity occurs when two or more organizations come together to launch or manage a REVENUE-GENERATING activity that benefits all partners (e.g., a combined capital campaign or social entrepreneurial venture). [Or fundraising as a group?]


This brings together professionals in the nonprofit sector for networking, peer support, and 
PROFESSIONAL GROWTH. Affinity groups may be organized by issue, identity , role, function,  or some combination of these.   Affinity groups may be less formal, or may be formalized through the creation of a separate organization. [Do we want to develop any subgroups for this purpose?]


These are groups of organizations or individuals that choose to pool their resources and work toward achievement of a COMMON GOAL.  They range in their official formality.
All these kinds of Alliances can evolve over time. Some start less formally and over time move toward establishment of a formal, legal connection between organizations or even the formation of a new entity.  Sometimes, the best option for two or more organizations seeking to come together in pursuit of a shared goal might be a structural change or the creation of a new entity.  These are in the CENTERMOST CIRCLE on the Map. Since they involve actually merging separate nonprofit organizations , we won’t cover them 

So, knowing how we want to re-organize ourselves is the first step. Hopefully the survey NPC has sent out will help us assess that.  Survey by NPC

Then we will want to develop a process for implementing that re-organization effectively and efficiently, based on the way we conceptualize the new NPC. 

News and Notes


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