The other day I attended a training on Results-Based Accountability, hosted by the county government which provides grants for my agency’s financial social work. Some of the exercises had participants think about their program work, determine the niche for our agency, and to also think in which areas could partners help support our work. I continually hear that competition for funding is tough and that partnering has historically been difficult in this particular county area. Yet, from my perspective, this is myopic thinking.
Last year, I worked for an organization in a nearby city and found that partnerships could in fact be quite easy to come by: if they were doing the same work as us, they joined our ongoing campaign and together we coordinated coverage of service provision in areas throughout the city. There’s plenty of poverty to go around for all the non-profits to have a role. If they were doing work that was different than ours, then we provided complementary services: they supplied referrals and clients, we provided services and then vice-versa.
One element of my training in social work was learning where my competency both begins and ends. I know what I can do and what I can’t. When we reach the limits of what I can provide, referring a customer to an organizational partner then helps the customer get the best service possible, and it helps the other organizations perform their work. Employers want to hire folks who can be team players – why can we as organizations be team players too? I am well aware that what we do best will only help address one portion of what an individual may need. Partnerships then can help address many more needs, and in an integrated manner.
To assume that organizations have to fight over limited scraps of grant money is to presume that there is a finite number of funds and sources. It is also to assume that there are limited populations of limited size with limited needs to be addressed. The truth is that there is A) plenty of money in this world and B) there is also plenty of need. Rather than assuming a zero-sum perspective on the needs and funds, we have to be creative in our resource development and be willing to collaborate. In the end, others will recognize these strengths and want to work with us: as funders, partners and customers.