A “professional” needs to be engaged who has experience working on collaborative ventures with nonprofits and is seen by potential participating organizations as highly professional, empathetic to their needs and impartial.
Initially, a group of organizations, which have shared characteristics, should be identified by the facilitating organization with input from the “consultant”. Those similarities could be mission, size, location, relationship to facilitating group and/or type of service provided.
The “professional” initially meets with recommended organizational Executives individually, to float the general idea that the facilitating organization(s) have proposed to encourage collaboration. Examples of what has been done in other communities is shared and a request is made for them to attend an initial meeting with other agency execs to determine if such an effort makes sense and the best focus area(s) for such a collaboration. It is important that the top professional executive of each organization be the initial contact and participate in the collaborative process with his/her peers from the other organizations. During the initial private meeting, the “professional” answers basic questions about the process and assures the agency director that there will be no requests for commitments from agencies until or unless a plan has been developed by the group that has the approval of each of the participants and their leadership.
An initial group meeting of the organization Executives, who are willing to explore the idea, is convened by the facilitating organization(s) and led by the “professional” with no hidden agendas. Care must be taken that no one organization take over the process or become the “gorilla in the room”.
Patience and time is required to make sure that all questions, concerns and details are addressed and processed with each of the Executives and that they are given the time to review the ideas proposed with their own leadership.
Anything that is proposed must pass the test that it will benefit all participants, will be implemented in a fair manner, that all parties will have a say in the project and that there will be a large enough return on investment on time and resources to warrant going forward.It is critical that whatever is agreed upon also include the need for all of the participating organizations to have “skin in the game”, including financial and human resources commensurate with their size and abilities.
Ultimately, whatever is agreed to must be formalized in memorandum of understandings between the facilitating organization(s), participating organizations and each other. These agreements will need to be approved by each of the participant boards. The initial collaboration should be one that is not too complex/complicated and has a high degree of potential for success. Once organizations have participated in a successful collaboration they are more willing to consider ventures that may contain more risk but which also can provide greater reward.