Giving Compass’ Take:
• Alex Counts and Bala Venkatachalam explain how 11 organizations came together to form the India Philanthropy Alliance to strengthen Indian Americans’ giving and impact.
• Could collaboration help you advance your philanthropic goals? What are the advantages of formal partnerships like this one?
There occasionally comes a time when nonprofit organizations working toward similar ends decide that the costs of working in isolation outweigh its benefits, and that a collective approach can bring about greater change. Recently, 11 US-based organizations working toward humanitarian and development goals in India made that leap: the Akanksha Fund, American India Foundation (AIF), Arogya World, CRY America, Dasra, Ekal USA, Foundation for Excellence, Indiaspora, Magic Bus USA, Pratham USA, and VisionSpring. Together, they formally established a coalition called the India Philanthropy Alliance.
Core principles of the collective impact approach to social change—including setting a common agenda, engaging in mutually reinforcing activities, continuous communication, and establishing a lean “backbone” support team—heavily influenced our process. We also drew important lessons from the marriage equality movement’s success, particularly the benefits of recasting self-defeating messages and ensuring that multiple organizations consistently use them in their external communications.
These lessons became powerful filters through which to view the volunteer recruitment and fundraising stagnation many of our organizations were experiencing. Our monthly conference calls and semi-annual, day-long retreats sometimes meandered. At times, the larger organizations seemed to have little in common with the smaller ones and doubted whether the partnership was worth it. But over many months, we discovered three opportunities our collective action made possible:
1. Active learning and new potential partnerships. Simply building familiarity and rapport among leaders of competitor-peers has proven powerful. Leadership can be lonely, and first-time nonprofit CEOs in particular can benefit from comparing notes with others navigating similar terrain. Having a platform to facilitate such communication on a regular basis makes it more likely to happen. In a few cases, relationships we built up around the table are leading to active collaborations. There are emerging partnerships between an organization that has valuable content on topics such as diabetes prevention but lacks robust distribution channels, for example, and other organizations with well-developed distribution channels that are in need of compelling content. These on-the-ground collaborations are nascent but promising.
2. The power to influence public policy. The group identified a number of public policy changes that, if enacted in the United States or India, could have a galvanizing impact on the entire community’s ability to deliver value to marginalized populations. For example, Indian nonprofits are currently unable to establish even small endowments, include non-Indians (including Indian Americans) in their governing bodies, or bring their own social innovations to other developing countries. It became clear that researching and then making the case for changes to these laws would be much easier to do collectively than individually.
3. Clearer, more consistent messaging. We concluded that the cacophony of inconsistent, confusing, and ineffective messages, sometimes delivered at events scheduled in the same city on the same night due to lack of coordination, was a factor contributing to the lower levels of Indian American giving, especially to India-based causes. Antiquated approaches to fundraising and the inability to consistently articulate a narrative of philanthropic complementarity, for which our most sophisticated stakeholders have long advocated, were also important.
Read the full article about India Philanthropy Alliance by Alex Counts and Bala Venkatachalam at Stanford Social Innovation Review.
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