SOURCE Nonprofit Summit Opening Panel: Promoting Collaboration in the Claremont Community

A 2014 study by Bridgespan that surveyed 237 nonprofit CEOs and 101 foundation officers found that over 91% of survey respondents have engaged in nonprofit collaboration, such as joint programming and shared administrative costs. In order to explore the issue of collaboration further, SOURCE hosted a lunch panel on February 27th at the CMC Marian Miner Cook Athenaeum to discuss the importance of collaboration and potential pitfalls. Over 140 community members, nonprofit leaders, and Claremont McKenna College students joined in on the conversation. This lunch panel was a part of SOURCE’s Nonprofit Summit, in celebration of our organization’s 10-year anniversary.

Panelists included Wendy Garen, the President and CEO of the Ralph M. Parsons Foundation, Paul Vandeventer, the President and CEO of Community Partners, and Chelina Odbert ‘99, the Executive Director of Konkouey Design Initiative. All three of these nonprofit leaders are well practiced in fostering, managing, and practicing community collaboration.

Here are a few key takeaways on developing a structured, collaborative network:

  • Identify the Right Partners. The partners within your network must share similar priorities and feel the same urgency on the issue as you do. Different partners should add value in diversified ways, so each partner at the table brings a different perspective or line of expertise. Do not use a “come ye all” methodology when selecting network partners. Furthermore, the different nonprofit leaders that come to the table should exhibit peer parity (ex. EDs with EDs, program directors with program directors). Collaborations can also occur across sectors and industries in public-private partnerships.
  • Clarify and Align on Goals. Building effective collaborative networks take a lot of resources. Before you form or enter a network, make sure to clarify expectations and define a common goal to work toward. A group can develop a network charter that outlines the purpose and priorities of the collaborative project. However, the network should remain flexible on priorities across time, in case the network learns more about the issue and decides to shift priorities.
  • Develop Collective Governance. Since there’s no natural hierarchy when organizations come together in a network, partners must develop a system of collective governance. These guidelines should help foster shared ownership over outcomes. Collaboration does not come free. Successful collaboration takes a lot of mentoring, investment, and supervision, which means these relationships take a lot of time and resource to create lasting impact.
  • Collaboration is the “new normal.” In a Post Recession environment with limited resources, nonprofits need to learn how to make 1 + 1 = 4. Many foundations, including the Ralph M Parsons Foundation, are pooling resources to fund collaborative projects in the community.

Here are some additional resources on nonprofit collaboration:

  • Making Sense of Nonprofit Collaborations, by Bridgespan
  • Networks That Work, by Paul Vandeventer
  • Collective Impact, by Jon Kania & Mark Kramer from the Stanford Social Innovation Review
  • High Stakes Donor Collaborations, by Milla Seldon, Thomas Tierney & Gihani Fernando from the Stanford Social Innovation Review
  • A Shared Purpose Drives Collaboration, by Vincet Nayar from Harvard Business Review

In order to continue promoting community collaboration, SOURCE hopes to host regular brown bag lunches for local nonprofit leaders. We are still confirming the details! If you already know you’re interested in participating in this brown bag lunch series, please contact us at SOURCE@cmc.edu.


If you’re interested in learning more about SOURCE and how we can collaborate in the future, please contact us at SOURCE@cmc.edu.

by alice chang