A common and stress-inducing concern experienced by most nonprofit organizations is the issue of financial sustainability. The weight of providing high performing programs, effective advocacy, comprehensive support, and efficient management can often leave staff, budgets, and morale depleted. This strain is then further exacerbated when one shifts their focus to include the well-being of not only an organization’s clients, but their staff as well.
Keeping these stressors in mind, how do we create organizational sustainability while simultaneously providing comprehensive care for our clients and staff? The answer may sound more exhausting than the issue itself, but done strategically, can be a benefit to all involved. That answer? Strategic partnerships.
While the concept of partnerships may sound daunting, time consuming, and costly, there are strategies that can, in turn, make these collaborations cost-effective, resulting in increased capacity, program output, and well-being of both clients, and your organization’s staff. The most important step when establishing a (read: collaborative) partnership is ensuring that the alliance is mission driven. Neither participating organization should compromise their values or mission to achieve the intended outputs of the partnership. Additionally, partnerships should be complementary and strengths-based. Assessing the capacity of each organization allows the best work to be provided and built upon, rather than straining existing resources beyond their capabilities. Coordinated community responses, whether formal or otherwise, addressing the issues faced by those you exist to serve, can provide the most comprehensive form of support and care.
So how do we create this collaborative security? Methods for establishing mutually beneficial, mission-driven partnerships vary. Similar to a coordinated community response, the most productive and cost-efficient partnerships often focus on the strengths of individual agencies, in order to supplement for a lack of capacity or expertise in another. Consider the skills sets within the current makeup of your organization, and the needs of the communities that you serve. If your current capacity is more apt to innovate programming or curriculum, why not partner with local agencies that can implement the product on a larger scale? This type of partnership draws benefit from multiple experts contributing to the program development, a wider breadth of implementation, and a larger capacity to evaluate the program overall. This project also streamlines funding for the creation of one curriculum with a larger base for implementation, rather than budgeting for twice the amount of administration, content development, field implementation and assessment within an overlap in the community served.
Perhaps instead, you notice a growing need within the communities that you serve, that can’t be filled by your agency. More troubling, this need may actually be inhibiting the success of the programs you have in place. Consider reaching out to specialists that meet these communities’ needs – perhaps psychologists, food banks, child care facilities or job placement agencies – to create complementary programming. Imagine that you are forced to make budgetary cuts that require a severe scaling down of your counseling program. Is there a local college or university that has a psychology program with graduate students in need of clinic hours? Conversely, are the demographics shifting in your service area? Is there an organization that can collaborate to provide culturally competent services through consultation or technical assistance? Better yet, can you collaborate together under a grant? These collaborations can help maximize program outputs (consider the impact achieved when clients can attend 100% of programming if they do not need to worry about child care) in addition to increasing the overall wellbeing of clients. Often times, these types of partnerships can either serve as an addition to existing programming, or a supplemental option to clients that might further enhance the work your organization does.
It should be noted, that while organizations that primarily serve marginalized communities can be a promising resources for enhancing cultural competency, it is important to structure these approaches, and partnerships, with care and respect. Too often, organizations are contacted as cultural competency experts, as if this knowledge exists within a vacuum. Rather, each organization should be recognized for its multitudes of skill sets, and how those intersect with knowledge including that of cultural competency. Strength recognition and capacity assessments should not be exclusive of intersectional knowledge and the manner in which that knowledge can be applied throughout various spaces. Essentially, it is imperative to recognize everyone at the table as an expert in the field, while interrogating the ways in which our specializations can interact to best serve our communities.
Partnerships also have the opportunity to be mutually beneficial, both for clients and staff. If you are constantly struggling to find or afford event space, connect with larger organizations or companies who may have the space, and offer to provide their staff with professional development training in your agency’s field of expertise in lieu of the facility cost. If you want to further diminish the cost of staff time, and travel, consider creating a standing partnership where your already scheduled training keeps one or two slots open for interested employees from the host organization or company.
While the concerns over sustainable funding may never fully be cast away, the opportunity to quell those concerns may lie as close as your neighbor’s doorstep (or inbox). Rather than spending time competing with each other for funding to provide similar, if not replicated services to the same communities, isn’t it time, when possible and mission-driven, to build upon our strengths? Imagine the possibilities that exist if we collectively brought together our best and brightest to shift from a culture of violence, to a culture of consent! Sometimes, all it takes is sending the first email.

Sarah Colomé, MS, is the Training and TA Program Manager at Break the Cycle, the leading national nonprofit break_cycle_logoorganization exclusively providing comprehensive programs on dating abuse among young people. With a background in education and advocacy, Sarah oversees Break the Cycle’s development and facilitation of trainings, in addition to providing capacity building support for organizations nationwide. As a previous Sexual Assault Crisis Counselor, Sarah views all oppression as intersectional; her goal is to build strategic collaborations to achieve a safer and more equitable society.