Building Collaborative Capacity, Provisio, 3 cartoon people building a building of puzzle pieces

Building Collaborative Capacity

Collaboration is a nice idea—but not “a given.” And in the nonprofit, public, and philanthropic sectors, the ability to collaborate is not born, but built—through coaching, patience, and shifting one’s natural tendencies to control. Similarly, it is falsely assumed that, just because more than one social sector actor wishes to work alongside and in true cooperation with others, that an innate set of skills and experiences will kick into gear to make this possible. 

Provisio’s Advisory Services team is exploring how to effectively collaborate at the organizational level to achieve a similar societal vision. We are questioning the ways organizations (not just nonprofits but also foundations, government agencies, corporations, media, etc.) can fully leverage their entire tool belts—especially their partnerships—to become sustainable and meet the challenges of the current moment. To do so requires re-envisioning our idea of HOW to work collaboratively. It also demands we support and invest in an organization’s leadership and institution-wide capacity to effectively build and leverage relationships, especially those engaged in network or coalition building.

Provisio is proposing a name and definition for this proficiency: Collaborative Capacity—otherwise defined as an organization’s ability to a) understand its positioning within its ecosystem; and b) build and activate relationships with others in and across sectors.

To assist organizations in assessing and building their collaborative capacity, we have identified eight areas critical for organizations looking to partner more effectively with others in their community:

Subcapacity AreaA Social Sector actor with this Subcapacity is an organization …  
Ecosystem Analysis: Analyzing and understanding one’s social sector ecosystem, including knowledge of all key actors (nonprofits, government agencies, funders, businesses, media, civic/religious groups, community leaders, clients/constituents, etc.), and dynamics that shape relationships amongst them.
  • aware of the various ecosystem actors that influence its work: resource providers, key allies and complementary movements, clients and beneficiaries, opponents, and influential bystanders, etc.
  • regularly engaging with ecosystem actors.
Organizational Awareness:  An organization’s ability to recognize its unique role and value within an ecosystem based on its distinct organizational and programmatic assets and resources.
  • with staff, Board and partners who understand and can clearly articulate their mission and unique niche in the ecosystem.
  • with staff, Board, and partners who understand their key organizational assets and resources and know how and when to activate them for greater impact.
Relational Skills: Leadership skills needed to build and maintain relationships with others, including engaging stakeholders, knowing when and how to cede control, addressing power dynamics, and building trust relationships.
  • with leaders actively engaging with partners on a consistent basis, addressing power dynamics between and among partners. 
  • with leaders who are comfortable ceding control to partners.
Relational Culture:  Leadership fostering an organizational culture that values and seeks out collaborative opportunities.
  • with leaders who encourage collaborative opportunities, even when it means investing additional effort, time, and expense. 
  • with leaders actively supporting staff interest and investment in collaborative opportunities, ensuring performance assessments take inter-organizational relationship building into account.  
Cultural Competency: An organization’s ability to understand and appropriately respond to the existing and changing cultural variables of others, including ability, age, beliefs, ethnicity, experience, gender, gender identity, linguistic background, national origin, race, religion, sexual orientation, and socioeconomic status.
  • where staff and Board members reflect the various cultures present within the community the organization serves.
  • with staff members trained to communicate and interact effectively and respectfully with individuals of diverse cultural, socioeconomic, and linguistic backgrounds.
Program Strategy Alignment:  An organization’s ability to set shared programmatic goals and coordinate strategies with other social sector actors.
  • continually assessing what others in its ecosystem are prioritizing as it aligns its programmatic strategies.  
  • stating and agreeing upon collective initiative outcomes at the onset of a collaboration.
  • engaging in joint budgeting or fundraising efforts with partners to support common programmatic goals.
Collaborative Infrastructure: The organizational structures and systems required for effective collaboration, including the management and coordination of personnel, technology, knowledge, and resources.
  • with the appropriate systems and resources to allocate personnel to building and nurturing relationships.
  • with financial systems able to manage collaborative financing.
  • with data and technology systems in place that enable knowledge sharing across organizations.
Outcomes Analysis: The ability and commitment to evaluate the impact of, learn from, and continuously improve collaborative relationships.
  • that measures progress toward collaborative outcomes regularly.
  • ensuring its staff, Board, and community partners appreciate the added value a collaborative approach offers. 
  • that continuously applies learning from past partnerships to new collaborations.

Social Sector actors that have strengthened each of the above areas will be better equipped to engage in more complex collaborative efforts to achieve increased impact with partners. 

At Provisio, we harness the power of information and knowledge towards greater social impact. We do this by guiding nonprofit, public, and philanthropic sector organizations at every stage of their innovation journeys – from mission planning to technical execution to ongoing proactive execution support. Only by building and nurturing collaborative capacity will we be able to achieve our individual and collective goals.

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