Stop. Collaborate and Listen.

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You would think that competition would be a huge issue at the Chicago Literacy Alliance (CLA). We’re comprised of nonprofits that have a literacy program or component, and we often work in the same schools and neighborhoods. Surprisingly, it isn’t. Collaboration is at the core of the CLA , and we’ve found that when people work  together, even if they have similar missions and constituents , they benefit more from learning and helping each other than they feel threatened by competition. We’ve learned a lot about the power of collaboration, especially over the last year as we built our shared workspace in the West Loop.

You can be more impactful when everyone is on the same page. Your nonprofit competitors might contend for the same funders, but remember that you’re on the same team and have the same goals. You’re both working to better the lives of the people you serve, so you should be working together. The CLA was founded because 19 organizations realized that they were working in the same school and struggling with similar issues. After forming the CLA, this group began working on increased communication and small collaborative projects to be more impactful.

There’s always someone out there who has done what you’ve done and can teach you how to do it better. You don’t have to start from scratch. When one of our members was creating a tutor training program, she reached out to someone from another member organization within the CLA who she knew had a successful tutor training program. They’re now working together to build a training program to share with other members. By working together, they created something greater than the sum of their parts.

26171199313_479725fe4d_oCollaborations are mutually beneficial. They can lead to partnerships that help all involved parties. At our monthly networking meeting, two of our members were looking for partners. One connects programs and organizations with schools and the other has great curriculum for parents. After an initial conversation, they connected again and will be conducting high-quality  programs and workshops for parents in several schools..

The nonprofit world can be very under-resourced. Nonprofit employees sometimes wear several different hats and become focused on checking items off of a to-do list. We all forget to take time to ask for help or offer to help others. We can operate in silos — not seeking advice, feedback or help, ultimately underutilizing our greatest resource — each other.

When you’re creating the social media strategy for your organization, ask someone who has built their own strategy and campaign for their advice, pain points, and experience. If you’re trying to build your annual giving program, talk to other development staff within similar organizations to find out how they started and what they’ve learned. If you see another organization struggling with something you do well, lend them a hand. In a world of collaboration, everyone wins.

 About the Author


26822864626_4ef20f8dd5_oHeather Bronson is the Communications Manager at the Chicago Literacy Alliance, a member association of organizations that help meet literacy needs for people in Chicago. Her passion for service and literacy is a large part of her life, and she spends her time outside of work also serving the community and promoting literacy as the co-chair of the Mad Hatters, an interactive children’s story time group that is a project of the Junior League of Chicago. Connect with her on Twitter at @wrdsfrmaheather.