Ed Note: On February 16, I wrote a post entitled “Nonprofit Collaboration: Doesn’t It Make the Pie Bigger?” which elicited 27 comments, and started many discussions. Ed Nicholson, who manages corporate philanthropy for Tyson Foods, commented on the post. He wrote “I predict you’re going to see some experiments in collaboration among funders toward encouraging more non-profit cooperation (I love your term “coopetition”). There are already some larger hunger relief funders (some of us competitors in the marketplace) having informal discussions about how we can work together to influence more efficiency and collaborative work among the non-profits we fund.” After that comment, I had to ask Ed to submit a guest post for this blog on the idea of collaboration and coopetition, from the funder’s perspective. This is his guest post:
A couple of weeks ago, I was intrigued by the lively discussion here about non-profit collaboration and “coopetition” (I love that term).
As someone who helps manage a corporate philanthropy budget, I’ll tell you it can be frustrating and confusing to be approached by requests from multiple non-profit organizations with the same missions and areas of operations. Which one to fund? Who’s doing the best work? Where are the redundancies and inefficiencies that are surely there? There’s a temptation (rarely acted upon) to tell all of them, “When you guys get this sorted out, come back and we’ll consider it.” In other words: “Go collaborate, and make it easy for us decide who’s doing God’s work.”
Easy for us to say, right?
I’ll quickly grant that many in the for-profit sector probably have unrealistic expectations of non-profit organizations to be so mission-focused that all competitive activity is set aside. After all, whether we’re doing it for money or love, all of us have rent to pay and organizational objectives to achieve.
But the fact is funders do notice organizations that have a collaborative spirit. I believe those organizations will be rewarded. Because now more than ever, the question: “How are we going to solve this problem?” is taking priority over: “Which organization does best in this area?”
At Tyson Foods, we’re not a big funder in the grand scheme of things. We’ll never (to borrow a phrase from finance) “move the market” when it comes to influencing how grant recipients behave. However, we’re around some of the big guys on occasion, and I can tell you, there is talk about how influence—and funding—can be used to drive more collaboration and efficiency among non-profits. There’s even some discussion about how funders can collectively drive collaboration.
I’m going to suggest that your online community is a great place to start that collaboration. Online communities tend to tune out organizations that have an ego-centric approach. We could all benefit by spending less time talking about ourselves and more time talking amongst ourselves.
For whatever it’s worth, potential stakeholders who spend time in this space, especially those who “get it,” are going to be much more impressed by organizations that show a collaborative online presence than those who use social media channels as broadcast vehicles. As corporate and foundation funders themselves join online communities, they’ll take notice of organizations that add value and engage, rather than simply pump out their own messages. I know I take notice.
Would you ever retweet those who are competing for resources, or link to their blog posts? Do you engage with those who aren’t potential donors or sponsors? Do you link to good things those outside your own organization (and not just your sponsors) are doing or saying? How do you add value to the community?
I have a recurring event on my Outlook calendar for 5pm each day: “Do something good for the community.” It reminds me to put up some bit of online content that’s purely for the good of the cause. It’s not an easy resolution to follow, and one I often neglect. But I know if I can do it, it will benefit my company as much as it does the community. That spotlight, focused outwardly, invariably reflects back favorably on us.
Ed Nicholson is director of community and public relations for Tyson Foods, Inc. He helps manage corporate philanthropic activity, and has directed Tyson’s involvement in hunger relief since it became the company’s philanthropic focus in 2000.