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Are Community Foundations Driving Radical Collaboration?

  • by Nicole McGougan
  • Oct 6, 2017, 14:36 PM

By Annie Rhodes, Director of Foundation Strategy at Blackbaud.

Let’s get right to it: community foundations are the center of the universe for philanthropy in their communities.

Who is better placed to enhance local vibrancy and alleviate social issues in our communities? Who is better positioned to align donor resources with community needs? Who is more intimately aware of the nuances and needs in our communities? Nobody. Community foundations truly hold a unique position to make a difference for the people and places they serve.

But with that unique position comes a responsibility to connect the dots across the various groups and individuals who can effectively collaborate to create change. Community foundations that can truly embrace collaboration may see the strongest results of their efforts.

What does it look like when a community foundation embraces collaboration?

1. You attract new donors and increase community engagement.

Collaboration is tough if you’re all alone. Collaborative community foundations recognize that it has to start with attracting donors and potential partners with the right first impression. Websites, landing pages, email communications – any part of your digital world – needs to convey the right message from the get-go to elicit a feeling of, ‘I trust that this organization can truly help my community.’ It’s important to pull people in with a sense that they’ve found the right partner for change. To truly embrace collaboration and see the benefits it can bring, you’ll need to make sure you have the systems and tools in place ahead of time.

2. You keep people engaged with knowledge and storytelling.

Once someone is engaged, how do you keep them engaged? Community foundations have an opportunity to use their unique position to share community insights with donors and other collaborators – insights that people won’t be able to get anywhere else in quite the same way. To build these insights, you’ll need to absorb data and perspectives from a variety of sources, and you’ll need to nurture relationships to keep those lines of communication open. When you embrace collaboration in building insights, you simultaneously cement your position as a knowledgeable resource and give people a sense that they are invested in the community impact story they are helping to build.

3. You know collaboration can take many forms.

The word “collaboration” gets thrown around so much, and the term can mean many things and take many forms. In one scenario, collaboration may look like a community foundation bringing key donors to a literal table to discuss community issues and the foundation’s vision for the future, with a dialog about how to co-create that future. In another scenario, like with the Community Foundation of Boone County in Indiana, collaboration could look like a multi-sector partnership with various viewpoints and sets of resources combining to enhance the vibrancy of places around the community. In another scenario, collaboration could mean investing in knowledge sharing with other organizations tackling similar community-based issues halfway across the country.

4. You start to rethink the idea of competition.

By nature, community foundations operate similar to a business – only instead of attracting and expanding a customer base, you’re focused on donors. So, it isn’t surprising that there is a sense of competition among community foundations for donor attention and dollars. But we are seeing some radically collaborative community foundations rethinking the idea of competition and viewing other community foundations as potential collaborators to create shared outcomes. As one example, we see the Silicon Valley Community Foundation trailblazing in this area, pulling together different community foundations as well as other types of organizations and individuals to achieve results.

With the magnitude and complexity of social issues facing our communities expanding and changing every day, collaborative community foundations may hold the key to making a major difference.


Article originally appeared on NonprofitInformation.com on October 4.


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