What's Mine is Yours

Take a deep breath. I'm about to use a word that may set your teeth on edge. You might start having flashbacks to long meetings and unproductive conversations. You might feel instant frustration, but stick with me. This blog post is about collaboration.

There, I said it. The C-word. For a lot of people in the nonprofit sector, the word "collaboration" is akin to corporate-speak words like "synergy." We hear the word all the time, and it sounds great in theory! But what's it really even mean?

The truth is, collaboration, at least in the nonprofit world, means a lot of things. It means finding a way to blend or merge duplicated services. It means integrated services. It means partnerships. Sometimes collaboration means shared services.


Shared services, also called network alliances, are a way for nonprofit organizations to leverage and maximize existing resources. The best thing about this type of collaboration is that organizations with totally different missions can join forces.

Eos Nonprofit Consulting is working with a group of nonprofits right now that is exploring shared services, and we're thinking of this initiative as collective bargaining. The goal is to find better rates on essential contract services like maintenance, IT, healthcare, janitorial services, insurance and more. Not only will each organization save money, but also an amazing amount of staff time that's spent with quote comparisons and reference checks.

To learn more about how to implement shared services, I can't recommend highly enough that you check out what the Foundation Center has to say. Not only is there great original content there, but several links to more resources. You can learn about whether shared services might be right for your organization. If you need help putting the idea into action, Eos Nonprofit Consulting is here for you!

Leading from within: Why power and influence don’t have to go hand and hand

One of my good friends and colleagues in the nonprofit community works for a pretty broken organization. Even though they do good work and receive a lot of community support, the inner workings of the organization are a hot mess. The executive director is completely checked out, and the staff are all looking for new jobs. And yet, they meet their financial goals and have great programmatic successes. Even though the organizational culture is extremely dysfunctional, the organization itself is still high functioning. What accounts for this? How can a broken organization still be doing so much good?

I think part of the success is because even though the staff members are unhappy, they believe in the cause and mission of the organization.  But the other part of the success is credited to one of my friend’s coworkers, who consistently guides the staff in the absence of an engaged leader. He’s become the de facto executive director and is hugely influential in the organization. Does he have any real power? Absolutely not. But he does have huge influence. My friend tells me that the entire staff goes to him for advice and approval on projects. If he doesn’t think something is a good idea, it doesn’t get done. If he champions a cause, it goes through. More importantly, he’s able to keep the staff from crumbling or combusting. Even though he has no real power, he leads the organization from within the ranks of the staff. Whether he does it intentionally or naturally, I don’t know. All I know is that he does it successfully.

In 2012, I went through a program with Shafer Leadership Academy called Emergence. It’s a leadership seminar that teaches you how to harness your own skills and abilities to be a leader in any setting (work, home, volunteering) from any position. Of all the many takeaways I got from the session, what I’ve used most since is that it’s my responsibility to be influential and to be a leader regardless of my rank in an organization. As a full-time graduate student and part-time staff member in my office, I don’t have a ton of clout. But I’ve found that I can help steer conversations and affect the course of action of using the influence that I have, even though it comes with an absence of power.

Can you think of a time when you led a team with influence instead of power? Or perhaps you’ve been on a team that’s been led just by the power of the authority of the position. I’d love to hear about it in the comment section below.