Silos and road blocks are common themes in nonprofit organizations. What may appear to be internal or external boundaries or limitations can often be potential opportunities for greater collaboration. Stepping back and intentionally identifying the synergies across departments within your organization and/or between your organization and its partners can produce significant, positive results.
Internal and external boundaries present both challenges and opportunities for nonprofit organizations.
Recognizing Internal Limitations
For organizations that have multiple departments and leaders, invisible but seemingly real boundaries often exist between them. The challenge is that often leadership doesn’t recognize those boundaries so neglects to address them. How many times has someone in another department failed to complete what you expected and set your efforts back or simply weren’t on your same page for whatever reason? Although they may support the same overall mission, they often have different functional goals. For smaller organizations, this may occur between staff, volunteers, committees and board members.
Recognizing External Limitations
Nonprofit organizations partner and engage with a multitude of external stakeholders – donors, sponsors, foundations, corporations, government entities and other nonprofit organizations to name a few. Partnerships and collaborations are wonderful, but if communication breaks down, bad things can happen. Although stakeholders may be supportive of your mission, they may have different goals and priorities.
One key group, your board of directors, finds itself at the intersection between organizational and community responsibilities. If they fully understand and are engaged in the organization, they will represent the organization to the community ensuring resources and outcomes. At the same time, they are accountable to the community ensuring that the organization adheres to its mission and legal responsibilities.
Possible actions to take advantage of the synergies and opportunities presented may include:
- Intentionally discuss this topic at the board and staff level to identify the potential barriers and opportunities.
- Ensure clear and consistent communications between the various groups.
- Express gratitude to those key internal and external partners where a hand off or partnership is going well. Recognize those in each organization to say thank you.
- Conversely, where things are stuck and need attention, get involved and understand why things are not going well and help identify solutions to remove barriers and obstacles in the path.
- Make sure your board is engaged in the community as advocates understanding key partnerships and that they are clear on where they can play a role. If your organization works with a lot of partners ensure that board members know who the organizations are and encourage them to get involved in expanding the relationship.
- Invite key members of partner organizations to attend staff or board meetings at times to keep them connected and to increase your organization’s understanding of the external environment. It will help them be more effective and engaged in representing your organization in the community.