What Does True Collaboration Look Like?

Collaboration is one of those words that gets thrown around a lot, especially in the grant world. We all like to think we collaborate with our fellow nonprofits, local governments, and other neighbors, but do we really?


True collaboration, simply put, is so much more than support. It brings knowledge, money, staff, and resources to bear for the mutual benefit of two or more organizations. Sometimes, the other organization gets more out of the arrangement than your own. And that is okay. Collaboration is not tit for tat but rather the sharing of resources to better your community or a specific group of individuals.


The point of collaboration is to serve those who need it, not come together with an equal sharing of stuff. So, what does that look like? Here are a few examples I’ve been fortunate to witness firsthand.


A city donated space within a local park for the construction of an adaptive baseball field and playground. The local nonprofit raised the funds for the infrastructure and manages the programming at the site. The city spearheaded a grant application to help fund an adjacent building which includes adaptive bathroom facilities and a concession stand. Individuals with special needs, including those who require the aid of wheelchairs and walkers, now have a facility for activities. The nonprofit can deliver exceptional services, and the city is inclusive in its sports and outdoor offerings.


A group of doctors formed a nonprofit to provide free primary care for area residents without access to health insurance. The local health department (whose offices close at 5 pm daily) provides free space for the clinic for twice weekly evening clinics. The nonprofit does not have to pay rent, utilities, or other bills associated with facility expenses. The local hospital provides diagnostic lab work at no cost to the clinic. Doctors donate their time.  Because of the many in-kind contributions, the nonprofit can provide primary care clinic on a limited budget that serves hundreds of individuals annually. They diagnose and care for patients with diabetes, high cholesterol, and other health complications. Their services reduce the strain on the hospital emergency room and health department, and area residents receive the healthcare they need. This is collaboration at its finest.


On the latest episode of the Fundraising HayDay podcast, Kimberly and I interviewed Art Serna, CEO of City on a Hill Milwaukee. This nonprofit is on a mission to end generational poverty, and they are making great strides thanks in part to their collaborative efforts. City on a Hill received an old hospital facility as their own, and they quickly invited other nonprofits to set up shop on their campus. This way, when a family visits City on a Hill for after-school assistance with their school-aged children, the parents have access to GED completion, healthcare, housing assistance, and more. Together, nonprofits across the City of Milwaukee ensure residents receive a holistic approach to care. It’s a beautiful model. You can learn more by listening to our interview with Art: https://haydayservices.com/city-on-a-hill-m…rational-poverty/.


Collaboration is never easy, especially when egos and thoughts of “what’s in it for us” get in the way of getting the job done. If your organization exists to serve a certain population, whether an entire city, veterans, families who have a loved one with ALS, or preschool children, your job is to serve that population. Collaboration is often the best way to ensure spectacular services are available, which often means doing what is best for the end user. So don’t look at your partnerships as equal give and take, but rather a joint effort where the most important tidbit is the end goal.


What collaborative efforts are you most proud of?


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