Collaboration with no bitter aftertaste

“One is the loneliest number”  – song by Harry Nilsson


One really is the loneliest number. Why is it that we insist at going at things alone instead of finding some kindred spirits ready to share the journey with us? In honor of National Philanthropy Day on November 15th we are asking some existential questions to shake up stagnant ways of operating. 

Can we adopt an innovative model of collaboration and reinvent philanthropy – fast?

For years, those in the not-for-profit sector have been too busy protecting their slice of the pie. But as the pie seemingly gets smaller and smaller, they are forced to find different ways of working together. The “open-source” mindset has been the longtime secret sauce of tech companies and successful startups in the corporate world, and it is high time for the social sector to explore the new possibilities offered by looking at things differently.

Becoming the rule instead of the exception

It took a pandemic to see collaboration happen in a hurry as we continue to struggle through this collective nightmare. As we see more and more social movements and social responsibility initiatives (#MeToo, Black Lives Matter, Climate Action, GivingTuesday, etc.) across the world emerge, collaboration in the nonprofit sector will have to become part of this evolution. It is not a radical idea and it will become the rule instead of the exception.

There are over 170,000 charitable and nonprofit organizations in Canada and only 10,500 are funding bodies. This means a large pool of people are asking for money from very few sources (foundations, government, corporate, individual donors). Foundations have come to recognize that many organizations do similar work and that greater impact could be achieved by working together. Unfortunately, in the past, this collaboration wouldn’t happen if those holding the purse strings didn’t request it. 

Sweet outcomes

For collaboration to have sweet outcomes and not leave anyone with a bitter aftertaste it has to be a win-win situation for everyone involved. Transparency and trust are key to making that happen. 

Take the recent launch of a campaign on youth cyber-exploitation by one of our clients, Concertation des luttes contre l’exploitation sexuelle (CLES). When they first came to Phil looking to quickly pivot a campaign tied to the Grand Prix, which the pandemic cancelled for 2020, they were opened to brainstorming all kinds of ideas. Phil proposed shifting the campaign’s theme to online sexual exploitation and broached the idea of finding partners that are working on prevention and awareness for the same issue. The team at CLES was excited to try a new direction and trusted Phil because we work exclusively with not-for-profit organizations and businesses on a mission. Our client was presented with a list of potential partners that were aligned on larger goals even though their missions differed from CLES. Réseau Enfants Retour had been looking for a way to continue their Shine programming, which traditionally was presented in school auditoriums. Through a partnership with CLES, they saw an opportunity to reach young people online with the same overarching goal of bringing awareness to the dangers of sexual exploitation. The details of the costs involved and commitment needed were presented transparently in a meeting, and a new collaboration was born.

Another interesting client of ours offers a turnkey event that many different organizations can participate in without having to tackle such a big endevor alone and straining limited resources. The Bromont Ultra is a sporting event that showcases the superhuman efforts of elite athletes in an grueling 140km ultra marathon and it is an excellent fundraising framework for the 20 charities that sign on. Individuals choose to run for one of the 20 causes, encouraging their supporters to give generously, and 85% of the money goes directly to the participants’ charity of choice. Charities promote the event, create teams of participants who take turns running a leg of the 140km course if they choose, and have the option of creating awareness for their cause during the race weekend. In return, the race organizers ensure good visibility through their registration website and on social media, take care of preparing marketing material for the different causes, and even issue tax receipts to donors. It is in its 7th year already and the race attracts more than 2000 participants. Successful cooperation indeed!

Is it the future? You bet!

Having a skilled bridgemaker like Phil facilitate this kind of synergy requires working relationships with a strong foundation based on clear communication and an honest reflection on the needs of each individual organization. By tapping into its network of social sector contacts that has been carefully nurtured over the past 20 years, Phil wants to ensure that clients seize the right opportunities that are available by collaborating and never feel like they are alone.

The next generation of philanthropists will be more open to taking calculated risk. They are interested in innovation and focused on improving outcomes for those they support beyond just looking at things financially. Although most people view collaboration as a possible risky endeavour, with so many more variables thrown into the equation, the rewards can be long lasting. Diversifying our way of thinking means being open to working with people and organizations that might not have been on your radar. The changing role of business and growing number of social enterprises means that nonprofits are not the only ones doing good anymore. Being able to see others in the sector as an ally towards broader goals requires a firm commitment to your organization’s vision and the courage to take action and be brave.If you need to talk about these ideas with a trusted partner, Phil is just a phone call or email away. Let’s celebrate National Philanthropy Day by making a commitment to being open to change! It’s the way of the future.