Why collaboration works
Are you facing competition for grants in a small city, with a small pool of local foundation opportunities?
1. Expand your field of vision
You might need to include funders that are not the "usual suspects" in your community. Think about growing the pie instead of focusing on slicing it thinner or fighting over crumbs.
For example, have you done thorough research to find small or little-known family foundations or local companies (or branch offices) with an interest in your issue? You will be surprised what thorough research can turn up!
Have you cast as wide a net as possible to see if your work has implications beyond your local area, and thus would appeal to funders in other regions or statewide?
2. Make your work stand out
What if you are convinced that you have identified all possibilities and still find only a small pool of funders? Then you will need to make sure your organization's work stands out as a unique solution that is in line with the specific needs and interests of the funder.
3. Consider collaboration
Having acknowledged the reality of competition, I strongly encourage you to explore collaboration. I am the first to agree that healthy competition keeps organizations on their toes. But I bemoan the frequent tendency to allow narrow organizational interests (such as maintaining the status quo or protecting fragile egos) to take precedence over larger community interests. We are often so passionate and concerned about our own sub-issues and services that we can neglect the potential allies out there.
I often feel frustrated when several community-benefit organizations try to do extremely similar work — in isolation. Clearly, if they worked together they could summon a whole new level of power. But fruitful collaboration requires attention and effort. Unfortunately, many organizations miss out on this valuable strategy.
No one — especially a foundation officer — likes to see duplication of effort among barely distinguishable parties. If you can show that you are not only aware of your potential collaborators, but also working with them to make an even bigger difference than you could make alone, you will be ahead of the game. Foundation officers will love it!
Emphasizing how you work collaboratively shows that you are strategically maximizing your precious resources. It also demonstrates that your organization is "in the know" about your field as a whole. Seriously consider writing collaborative grants.
Whenever you find a strong connection between your organization and another, in terms of work and target audience, you will also find a stellar opportunity to benefit mutually. By working together, you:
- Build on each other's strengths and complement each other's weaknesses
- Avoid duplicating services by coordinating and streamlining your work
- Learn from each other's experiences
- Begin to see relationships among the issues and approaches that you focus on
- Share information and resources instead of having to seek them out individually
- Begin to reap the benefits of an economy of scale
All of these benefits of collaboration should feature prominently in your grant proposals.
For more tips from Dalya Massachi, visit Writing to Make a Difference.