Collaborations and Partnerships: My Non-profit Journey


Are you willing to collaborate with other non-profits?   If you aren’t, Sofia S. Crisp feels you may be missing the boat.  In this Series, My Non-profit Journey: What I Wish I Knew When I Started, eight leadership wishes shared by Sofia Crisp with Your Outcomes Well have been explored.  In this post she shares her thoughts on the profound potential of partnering.  ‘Going it alone’ isn’t the only way to go.

  • Crisp is the Executive Director/Founder of Housing Consultants Group, Greensboro NC.
  • This blog post will explore: Collaboration and Partnering


Sofia Crisp:

One of the sad truths about non-profit leaders is that we can get so busy working and multi-tasking that we forget about the vision!   For founding Executive Directors, like myself, it is particularly important to maintain the vision and build collaborative relationships with other non-profits too.  Each new stage of a non-profit organization’s growth requires, I feel, a strategic re-channeling of the organization’s energy.

Quite simply, the startup vision which allowed the non-profit to take root, and emerge as a viable venture, can lose its impact once the organization is up and running.  I’ve seen too many accomplished, visionary leaders taken ‘out of the game’ by underestimating the virtue of collaboration as they grow.  Much like Shakepeare’s Julius Caesar, they have a character flaw which holds them back.

As the funds for nonprofits continue to decrease, the need for partnering and collaborating has become a necessity.   Operating in a silo is now old school.   Many non-profits in my area are, I have observed, struggling because of their lack of fruitful collaborations and partner relationships.  In light of this new reality, what types of non-profits get the best results?   Clearly not those that always choose to ‘go it alone’ and avoid ever collaborating.

The best results occur, I’ve believe, when non-profit organizations do two things simultaneously, namely:

1. Operate within their Mission;
2. Expand how they seek to fulfill this mission, by being open to being a partner with another organization.  Being inclusive, be willing to embrace the distinct, complementary capabilities of other non-profits.  Be willing to share ideas, collaborate, and do mutually-beneficial work.

What is the result of such efforts?

  • A sustainable organization that, for lack of a better cliché, ‘plays well with others’.  Funders love this.   Why?  It’s a better use of their resources and addresses a larger need.  To not pursue these win-win synergies is a missed opportunity.  When such collaborations go well, 1 plus 1 equals 3.

For example, my organization (Housing Consultants Group) provides education to potential and current homeowners.  Another housing non-profit in the area excels in doing something my non-profit doesn’t: Rehabilitating homes, in traditionally low wealth areas, and then putting them on the market for sale.  Based on a collaborative relationship we have with this organization, we promote the homes in our classes.  Why?  Because the homes are in great shape, meet their needs, and are affordable.  It makes makes sense for both organizations and the class participants.

We are involved in a larger collaborative effort too.  In fact, it includes the same property-rehabbing organization I cited in the example above.  I facilitated this partnership between two organizations.

  • One of them picks a home for rehabilitation, a house owned by a family that is ineligible for traditional assistance.  The other, the local Board of Realtors, does the actual rehabilitation work.
  • Because of my affiliation with the Board, I knew of it’s desire to support affordable housing and do more than just sell houses.  Volunteers, from the Realtor’s Board, roll up their sleeves and provide the sweat equity -over 4 days each year- to transform and rehabilitate these houses. That is true partnering and collaboration! Everyone wins.


1. Your character, including your flaws, will show up in your non-profit. Do you want to be great OR do you want the Mission to be GREAT?  Every step, every move you make as a leader, should be grounded in what creates the greater good.  What benefits your own good should not be the linchpin in making sound leadership decisions.

2. You have to be connected. You have to network. You should thrive to be one of the “go to” leaders in your area, so you can forge the collaborations which allow you, your non-profit, allied organizations, and the community-at-large to win.  Crisp’s organization has benefited from the synergies which can arise from strategic partnerships – i.e. not going it alone as a solo player.

3. My Dad told me a long time ago, “Be careful of the folks you meet on the way up, because you will meet the same folks on the way down.”  In other words, in an environment where your money may get ‘funny’, having enough friends and allies to keep your mission alive is wise.


  1. What are you made of?   Do you have any character flaws which are inhibiting your success as a leader?   Julius Caesar’s fatal flaw: While he had boundless ambition, he allowed his love of power and his belief in his immortality to get the better of him.   Moving forward to today, the 2016 Elections (US President) reveals many accomplished, but flawed individuals in both parties.  Regardless of your political leanings, are either Hillary R. Clinton (slow “I’m sorry” to her email practices) or Donald Trump (his brash statements about immigrants and women) flaw-free people?

Be it a William Shakespeare character, an Oval Office seeker, or you, leaders typically embody both strengths and shortcomings, which can impact everything they touch.  Everything.

2.  What type of people forge collaborations and partnerships?  Jim Collins penned one of the best business books, Good to Great, that I’ve ever read.  He spent years doing surveys; he did detailed research, to isolate what he defined as a great company.   Moreover, Collins defines a top-level leader/executive, Level 5 Executive, as the following:

  • “Builds enduring greatness with a paradoxical blend of personal humility and professional will”.

He further goes on to state that the top-level Leader’s ambitions should reside in the company, and not in themselves.  And this is where the rubber meets the road!  How will you build and grow your non-profit?   It will require you to be the one without a character flaw, the one that is seeking to only operate in a silo.  This is what great leaders do.  They ambitiously seek greatness for the company, for the organization, and for the greater good.  And it is that ambition, married to ferocious resolve (professional will), that will encourage a Leader to build the alliances and partnerships which advance the Mission – and make the non-profit sustainable.


  • When is the last time you collaborated with another organization?

Successful non-profit leaders know that collaborating isn’t a luxury, but a necessity.   They avoid operating in a vacuum, where the merits of potential partnerships are automatically overlooked or ignored.

The journey of one non-profit leader, Sofia Crisp, continues next week.   Having shared with us what she wishes she knew when she started, and why she started her non-profit, next week she’ll tell us what she sees in HCG’s future.

Your Outcomes Well

(to be continued)

Photo credit: Scott Maxwell/flickr (CC BY-SA 2.0)



Your Outcomes Well

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