Saturday, August 1, 2009

Collaborations, Part II

Since I’ve been working at Central Dallas CDC, I’ve been involved in quite a number of collaborations. When I think about how those collaborations got started, they seem to fall into one of three categories:

1. Collaborations by choice—collaborations we set up because we wanted to work with someone in particular;

2. Collaborations by necessity—cases where different organizations had to work together because no one had all the necessary skills and capacity to do the job; and

3. Collaborations by force—where some outside entity, usually a governmental organization or a foundation, puts together a group because that’s what they want.

The first type of collaboration usually works pretty well—after all everybody has volunteered to work with one another. Central Dallas CDC works all the time with Central Dallas Ministries (we’re part of the same family) and the buildingcommunityWORKSHOP, which we regard as part of the family as well. In fact, we work together enough that it doesn’t really seem like collaborations, we know each other so well that the process is seamless.

Central Dallas CDC also puts together collaborations with other partners as well. For example, Re:Vision Dallas had four partners: Urban Re:Vision; Central Dallas CDC; the City of Dallas; and the buildingcommunityWORKSHOP. I think that collaboration went very well, and in some ways we’re still expanding it. The Real Estate Council of Dallas is now working with as, as is the Dallas office of the Environmental Protection Agency. In that case we all had defined roles and a lot of enthusiasm for the idea.

Surprisingly enough, I have found that collaborations by necessity are usually more difficult than what I’ve called collaborations by force (of course the force is usually money). I think the reason is that you have a disinterested mediator in the latter category. Foundations are particularly skilled at this type of work.

I think, at least to begin with, I didn’t really understand the way in which foundations work in the community. I visualized foundations as passive, grant making organizations. In my imagination a group of people sit in a large, deeply appointed room, with leather chairs, reading the proposals that come in to them.

That isn’t the way it works, at least most of the time.

Foundations are deeply involved in the community and often know not only what everyone is doing in the nonprofit sector, but as well what the political and business leaders of the community are thinking about. Foundations possess an intellectual capital that is important to the community and if something needs to be done, and nobody is doing it, are not beyond suggesting a plan or a project.

On those occasions where an organization is approached by a foundation to work on a project, then you can probably count on an idea that’s been thought carefully through, that is important to the community, and that the foundation intends to see through to completions.

In other words, you should expect a successful project.

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