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Nonprofit Collaboration and Allowing What Can Be

A look at the new Patterson Foundation.

The field of donors funding nonprofit collaboration is diverse and evolves every year. The Foellinger Foundation in Fort Wayne, Indiana, funded a management service organization through the county library; the Lodestar Foundation in Phoenix, Arizona, founded The Collaboration Prize, a national competition for nonprofit collaboration and also funds nonprofit collaborations in partnership with Sea Change Capital Partners in New York City; the Community Catalyst Fund underwrites collaborations between local governments and creates nonprofit networks in Charlotte, North Carolina. Each one of these funds has their own philosophy and approach to funding nonprofit collaboration that is based on:

• Their founder’s philosophies
• Community values
• Nonprofit needs
• Philanthropic best practices

And now there is the Patterson Foundation, which is also very unique. I spoke with Pam Truitt, an initiative consultant for The Patterson Foundation’s Collaborative Restructuring Initiative. Pam provides support to nonprofits exploring partnerships, collaborations, and mergers by providing an independent facilitator to shepherd the process. Agility and innovation are major themes for The Patterson Foundation. It believes it is important to remain flexible in terms of how to allocate resources to meet the changing needs of their partnerships. For this reason, it has a permanent staff of three and a contract with Initiative Consultants to lead various projects. This allows the foundation to adjust strategy as needs change and to increase bench-strength and learning, and find that “sweet spot.”

Pam explained that the foundation positions collaboration support to nonprofits like this: “If you are interested in changing or improving your business practices so that you can focus more on your programs, that’s what we are here for. We don’t say we have the answers, but what we want is for folks to have an authentic conversation in terms of what can be.”

I find that this is a common feature of all of the collaboration donor funds I have reviewed—the desire to help nonprofit leaders see what is possible if they would consider a collaboration strategy. Most of the people I spoke with emphasized how reluctant or sometimes afraid nonprofit leaders are to consider even a simple partnership. But rather than be angry or frustrated with their grantees, their reaction was to accept where people are at and not push them beyond what they think they are capable of at the time. I think that is really smart, and I sense that The Patterson Foundation is no different in this respect.

Patterson is really connected via social media and has a lot to say on the subject of collaboration, where it hopes to be an information source on the topic.

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