July 17, 2013

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Leaders Discuss Collaboration as Viable Resource in Nonprofit Sector

Rachel Madison

July 17, 2013

A group of more than 20 leaders from nonprofit organizations across the state joined together Tuesday at a Utah Business roundtable event, which was facilitated by Fraser Nelson, executive director of the Community Foundation of Utah. During the event, nonprofit executives discussed trends and challenges facing their sector.  At the forefront of the discussion was one word: collaboration.

Nonprofit organization leaders are oftentimes pitted against each other in the business world. They have to compete for funding to support their causes, but many agree that competing with each other—instead of working together—is counterproductive.

Agnes Chiao, vice president of collective impact at United Way, said it’s important for nonprofit organizations to understand competitive funding and rethink what’s behind that idea.

“When nonprofits compete, they don’t end up with better products,” she said.

That’s why many nonprofit leaders champion collaborating with each other, as well as businesses, as one way to keep their organizations successful and their causes heard.

Tony Milner, executive director of Family Promise, said if all of Utah’s nonprofit organizations would collaborate, they could work as a conduit for the high amounts of people and businesses in Utah who volunteer. Some of this collaboration can come in the form of in-kind donations or donated services, said Christi Wedig, executive director of Glen Canyon Institute.

“We can partner with businesses to facilitate meetings, get financial advice, accounting services and so on. Those things can go a long way,” she said. “Another thing employers can do is offer match programs to employees and provide board service. We are constantly looking for valuable board members who can serve on our boards and volunteer their time.”

Jose Lazaro, marketing director for Catholic Community Services, said sometimes the need for collaboration can be difficult to show to businesses, because many may not see the lasting effects that something as simple as a meal can do for a homeless person. But Chris Bray, executive director of the Utah Nonprofits Association, said businesses need to recognize the economic impact nonprofits have on Utah.

“We are 5 percent of Utah’s gross state product revenue,” she said. “We generate $7.6 billion in revenue alone and we have more impact than the private defense and aerospace community in Utah.”

Brandie Balken, executive director of Equality Utah, said nonprofits are viable to businesses because they can demonstrate the quality of life in Utah to potential new businesses.

“Businesses are looking for economic stability and quality of life,” she said. “We [as nonprofits] can play an important role in speaking to those needs by creating partnerships with businesses here. A lot of times we don’t see ourselves as playing a crucial role in showing the advantages of our state, but we’re able to speak to that.”

Jeremy Christensen, CEO of Valley Services, said in addition to this, understanding what businesses want and need is very important for nonprofit organizations.

“Everything else follows in the relationship if you can figure that out and you can build a collaboration,” he said. “We need to help business leaders understand that we want to understand them in a way that benefits their organization [and ours too].”

Christensen said nonprofit organizations aren’t ever looking for handouts, but instead are looking for ways to improve Utah’s communities in the future.

“Every dollar we get isn’t about today. It’s about the long-term future,” he said.

Overall, constructive collaborations with businesses and other organizations are what will keep communities in Utah functioning, said Terry Haven, deputy director of Voices for Utah Children.

“We play an integral part in keeping our communities healthy,” she said. “We’re the collaborators. We are the kings and queens of working together and making things happen.”

The nonprofit roundtable will appear in the September issue of Utah Business.

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