If competition is stopping us from achieving amazing things for our communities, how can we encourage cooperation? Here are some easy (and cheap!) ways funders can inspire and nurture a community-wide collaborative spirit.
1- Food and Friends: Host a monthly lunch. Invite organizations regardless of specialty – invite arts AND human services AND historic preservation AND animal welfare – everyone. Feed them buffet style. Have no agenda except one activity: Each attendee introduce him/herself to at least one person they do not already know. (Bonus: Increase the number of attendees you can afford to host by collaborating with another funder.)
2- More Food and Friends: Host a monthly lunch, inviting all the organizations from a single discipline (poverty OR mental health OR environment OR education). Feed them buffet style. Have no agenda except one activity: Each attendee introduce him/herself to at least one person they do not already know.
3- Don’t Be a Control Freak: Do not overly facilitate / control these sessions. Let people get to know each other. If possible, leave the room and leave them alone. If you can’t bear to leave, mingle, introduce, match-make. Or sit quietly and say nothing in the back of the room. This is their party. You are there to provide the space and food, and to help conversation flow – a true host.
4- Speaker on Community Topic: Once every quarter, host a lunch for all organizations in your community. Feature a speaker on a community issue of interest to everyone. Provide plenty of time before and after the speaker for unstructured conversation. (Bonus: Increase the number of attendees you can afford to host by collaborating with another funder.)
5- NO Capacity Building: Much of capacity building is about competing. Make these convening sessions about the collective whole. Make it about the community. If you have a presenter, do NOT have that person talk about any aspect of capacity building.
6- Exception to #5: DO talk about Community Capacity Building. That doesn’t mean “better fundraising for all” (i.e. capacity building for all organizations). It means a healthy community; an educated community; an environmentally robust community; an equitable community; an artistically integrated community.
7- More Community Capacity: Convene all organizations, across all silos / disciplines. Have them address this question together: What would our community look like if ALL our missions were 100% successful? (Bonus: Consider funding an effort to achieve that.)
8- Funders Collaborate: Yes, you. Find a project all your community’s funders can collaborate on (perhaps the outcome of #7!). Do NOT do what you accuse your grantees of doing – do not just all chip in money and have one funder administer it. Make it a truly collaborative effort, with each funder giving their time and expertise, as well as their dollars. Work together for real!
9- The $50,000 Challenge: Once every quarter, offer a $50,000 challenge (or more!). The challenge: All organizations who are interested, work together to create a project that will involve every organization in the room. What could you accomplish together, that you could not accomplish separately? Provide the $50,000 to fund what the group designs. This is not $50,000 to be split among those groups present. It is $50,000 for everyone together, or no one at all. Try this with all groups from one discipline – all the arts groups, all the environmental groups, all the housing groups, etc. Or try it across all disciplines, and see what bubbles up! (Bonus: Increase the size of the pot by collaborating with another funder.)
10- Board Members: Provide education for board members of your community’s organizations, re: what collaboration / cooperation really looks like. Business people often do not collaborate in their businesses, and the mechanics can therefore seem foreign to them. Cooperative work takes time. It is inclusive. It is often non-linear and may look “messy” to someone who has never done it. The more Board Members are prepared for that, the more they can support and encourage truly cooperative efforts to build community.
11- Communities of Practice: As people become comfortable with each other, offer to facilitate (or find professional facilitation for) any group that wants to move beyond these informal sessions, to become more of an ongoing Community of Practice / Learning Community.
Ok, so maybe there is also a #12: Brainstorm other ways – as many as you can – to inspire, nurture and support cooperation and collaboration in your community. When you find ways to encourage collaboration, rather than requiring it, you will be taking steps to create an indomitable force for building a healthy, vibrant, resilient place to live.
For a more in-depth look at why organizations compete instead of collaborate, click here.