Shared learning is a key benefit of collaboration

Collaboratives are nothing new, but in 2010 a group of funders formed the Catalyst Fund for Nonprofits (CFN), managed by the Nonprofit Finance Fund (NFF), a five-year collaborative to support the exploration, planning and implementation of voluntary strategic collaborations and mergers in the Boston area.

The CFN issued an interim report and representatives discussed the report’s main points during the recent AICPA Not-For-Profit Financial Executive Forum. The main lessons learned from the collaborative effort were:

  • Collaboration is valuable for funders and nonprofits. Members indicated shared learning as a top benefit from participation. Leaders appreciated exposure to funders.
  • Available funding sparks peer-to-peer action. More than half the grantees first considered collaboration because another nonprofit had approached them.
  • Good collaboration is best approached in phases. The work of exploring, planning and implementing a successful collaboration requires trust, in-depth analysis, due diligence and alignment around a shared vision, among other things.
  • Flexibility is key to success. Participants cited the ability to “do their own thing” as a major strength.
  • Technical assistance works. “We knew that we wanted to do this but had no idea how” was repeatedly heard from participants.
  • Collaboration takes time to establish. Collaborative ventures and mergers are often highly complex endeavors requiring a great deal of thought, planning, diligence and resources.