17 May
  • By Carrie Leaver
  • Cause in

How to be Strategic about Collaboration

For many NPOs, ‘collaboration’ is often synonymous with ‘donation’, ‘funding’ or ‘sponsorship’. Many organisations in the social sector still struggle with a strict charity mindset and limit themselves to the true opportunities collaboration may bring.


Collaboration is in fact about partnerships, alliances and working together, and there are endless opportunities for what this could look like. However, the real impact of strong and meaningful collaboration lies in thinking strategically and analytically. Here are some points to guide you in revising your current relationships, or building new ones:


1. Asset audit: count your riches

Before preparing a collaboration proposal to present, write down everything your

organisation has to offer. This is where the charity mindset starts to shift as we see ourselves as contributors rather than beneficiaries. Your organisation’s assets could range from physical resources, to space or people (skills). Think about what makes you valuable – why your organisation is important. When you are ready to present, showcase your value and what you have to offer before asking for anything.


2. Release the ego: know your neighbour

There are over 100 000 registered NPOs in South Africa and one’s neighbour is too often one’s competition. But this doesn’t have to be the case. Create a list of the organisations that are working in the same industry as you; locally, provincially and nationally. Just as any business does with their competition, take the time to truly understand what the other organisations do and how they do it. Once you understand how they work, you’ll see where their gaps are and assess if and how you could fill them (add value in the process). We’ve got to see other groups as potential allies and partners rather than competitors. Combining our resources, funding, skill-sets and interventions doesn’t only allow us to operate better, but it could greatly enhance our impact too!


3. Acknowledging your beneficiary group differently

NPOs often see their beneficiaries as, well, beneficiaries, rather than partners and allies. Rather, we should be collaborating with those we’re helping instead of merely providing. Collaboration here looks different for every NPO and group. Could your beneficiaries volunteer like they do at The Clothing Bank? Could they develop into facilitators or even staff? Is there potential for them to be service providers? Understanding this group properly will help you discover what collaboration could look like.


4. The private sector: add value

Although many businesses and corporates may be willing to fund or sponsor through their CSR programmes, it still means you’ll be competing with other NPOs for this attention. Stand out from the rest by offering something no one else does. Go back to your asset list and evaluate your value. Could you offer corporate gifts produced through your skills development programme? Could you offer a platform of trained and reliable staff from your beneficiary group? What about facilitating team building or a more holistic offering with management teams? Think like a business.


5. Analysing and mapping stakeholders

Once you’ve got a list of all your stakeholders (beneficiaries, other NPOs, the private sector, maybe government, individuals, partners – everyone!) it’s helpful to analyse and map their role in your organisation and what the collaboration and relationship looks (and will look) like with each of them. I found this guide from BSR (Business for Social Responsibility) very useful. Download and print this. I recommend doing this exercise once or twice a year.


The key to successful collaboration is seeing yourself and your beneficiary group with plenty of value to offer rather than just as a charity needing to receive. Think outside the box, turn your competitors into allies, develop a business-like attitude and create innovative ways to partner with those around you. In the end, we can’t do this alone.

The key to successful collaboration is choosing the right partners. Here at Brownie Points we specialise in helping South African NPO’s gain access to the network and resources they need to succeed. Sign up today let’s make a difference together. 


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Carrie Leaver
A strong advocate for social entrepreneurship and a hustler for South African dreams; I enjoy the challenge and reward of working with young South Africans who are determined to make a change in their lives and in their community.

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