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Partner or perish

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For any partnership, the goal is to achieve more together than could be done alone. Every collaboration, partnership or consolidation should ultimately be considered a means to an end.

For non-profits across Australia, the objective should be the sustainable and effective delivery of services and social change. This should not come as a surprise to anyone, yet with the changes to government funding models and seismic shifts in community needs, it is an objective that is increasingly complex to achieve.

Historically, the third sector has struggled with collaboration. In the Innovation Index of the Australian Not-For-Profit Sector last year, 58 per cent of interviewees agreed that ideas, programs and innovations are being shared with other non-profits. But both the smallest and largest organisations particularly struggled to co-operate.

With grant cutbacks, service fee competition heating up and for-profits moving into traditional NFP space, it is time for charities across Australia to embrace collaboration. It is a case of partner or perish, as strategic partnerships could be the defence against sector challenges.

Looking at the long term

In an increasingly competitive market, where the changes in funding models risk further aggravating discord among organisations, we must work toward long-term sustainability—for our sector, for our clients and for ourselves.

With 54,000 active charities in Australia, or one for every 445 citizens, there is a glut of non-profits. We compete for the same donated dollar, scramble for the same clients and fight over the ever-dwindling pool of government grants. Put simply, there are too many of us doing the same thing.

Partnering with like-minded organisations is a chance to conserve costs and energy, and bridge the “charitable inefficiencies” that commentators point to. When we create a partnership with a common goal, we can grow together, create real change and deliver better outcomes for all involved.

If your objective is to deliver positive impact, then you should be focusing on collaboration and consolidation.

Makes sound sense

From defending your organisation from the financial challenges posed by the government and for-profit competition, to providing services that meet the diverse needs of Australia’s populace, collaboration makes sound economic sense.

With a highly diverse population comes the need for highly individualised services. We must consider partnerships as key to providing specialised services at an affordable delivery price. From working together at a service or advocacy level, to sharing tenancy costs or administrative burdens, we must find ways to ensure we deliver a satisfactory model of specialised services without crumbling under the pressure to “do it all”.

Of course, collaboration does involve risk. This is why charities must be clear about the outcomes they expect before deciding to partner up. But what do we risk if we stay stagnant?

Collaboration is a means to an end. If your goal is to engender social change on a larger scale than your organisation can provide, perhaps it is time to ask: “Who can help me do the very best I can for those in need?”

Joanne Toohey is the CEO of The Benevolent Society.

This article originally appeared in the June edition of Third Sector print magazine, subscribe here. 

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