Early in my career, I had the privilege of working on a mayor’s task force on homelessness in a city in the South. In the community where I served, the number of people experiencing homelessness was growing, and with it, the need for shelters and housing. Of the many solutions that were explored, one area of focus was streamlining shelter food services. All shelters in the city were located within a short distance and had overlapping meal service times, leading many clients to “shop around” for the best meal at breakfast, lunch and dinner.

While it was wonderful to see the commitment to help, it wasn’t the most efficient use of resources. As a result of this structure and depending on the meal offerings on a given day, there could be food waste and personnel inefficiency in some shelters or strains on supply and server resources in others.

The task force recommended that each nonprofit work together to streamline services, each focusing on what they did best. The win was two-fold: first for the clients who were served without interruption, and second for the donors and volunteers whose money and time could be redirected to more pressing areas.

I’ve thought about that lesson a lot recently: As national nonprofits have seen a decline in both charitable giving and volunteerism, it’s important for organizations to collaborate to fulfill their mission and complement their strengths. For example, emergency disaster response organizations work collaboratively together through the National Voluntary Organizations Active in Disaster (National VOAD) to make sure there is no duplication of service and to holistically help survivors recover. In my experience with The Salvation Army, organizations should consider five critical areas for successful partnerships:

  • Mission-alignment: It’s important to partner with an organization that aligns with your organization’s mission and values. While it does not necessarily have to be 100% aligned, the partnership should add value for both organizations.
  • Unique niche: Leaning into one another's strengths—whether it be resources, infrastructure, volunteers or information—is a great way to structure a partnership where all parties win.
  • Impact: Would their clients and yours be better served if you partnered together? If the answer is yes, there is natural common ground to begin a partnership.
  • Teamwork: Make sure their team (and yours) is willing to put in the work to make it a success. In the beginning, it may feel like more work to set up a system, but in the long run, collaborating should alleviate some overlap or holes and elevate each organization.
  • Spread awareness: This is a chance to be courageous and make a larger impact in the community while providing better service.

Read the full article about collaboration by Dale Bannon at Forbes.