Friday, April 16, 2010


This is a guest post from Elaine Katz, Vice President of Grant Programs and Special Initiatives, Kessler Foundation

Ah springtime! Its arrival heralds everything new. But the promise of renewal is quickly tempered by the realities of our “new normal”, diminished federal and state budgets for July implementation and a scarcity of private funding.

Collaborations, agreements between two or more organizations to work together, are a solution for leveraging dollars within tight budgets. The real benefit is extending public or private dollars to capitalize on economies of scale and avoiding duplication of services. Typically used in projects that are ambitious, such as those serving a large geographic area and target population, collaborations can also be effective for smaller organizations, with proper planning.

Although simple in concept, forming a successful collaboration is difficult. Making sure it works is even harder. Picking a project and writing a detailed strategic game plan can be accomplished rather competently and quickly by most organizations. Choosing partners isn’t too difficult either. Most organizations can readily select partners from a known pool of agencies. Often it’s figuring out how to work effectively together that’s the tricky part.

As a first step, it’s best to opt for a formal “MOU”, a written memo of understanding among the partners, such as the formal agreement the National Organization on Disabilities (NOD) has with the US Army for their Army Wounded Warriors (AW2) Careers Demonstration Project. Partner cash commitments, in-kind contributions, organizational responsibilities, and/or identifying sources of additional funding, are just some of the details that must be clearly delineated. All project collaborators need to determine in advance their role in project outcomes and set rules on how to deal with non-performance. In this example, NOD began with the concept of linking soldiers with significant disabilities to employment and other related services upon returning to their local communities, following medical discharge. Recognizing the value of this one-to-one approach, the US Army signed a memo of understanding with NOD, enabling NOD’s Career Specialists to partner with the army’s AW2 advocates. Using seed funding from Kessler Foundation, NOD began reaching out to national and local funding partners in Texas, Colorado and North Carolina, sites for the initial pilot projects. A partnership was also initiated with the Economic Mobility Corporation to provide data and evaluation services.

Establishing new project collaborations based on verbal commitments can also be successful, especially if partners have previously worked together. Cornell University’s Disability and Employment Institute recently joined with the New Jersey Society of Human Resource Managers (NJSHRM) to create a new collaborative model for employers and social service providers aimed at increasing employment outcomes for individuals with disabilities, with funding from Kessler Foundation. Each organization held defined roles – NJSHRM organized the workshops for its members throughout New Jersey, while Cornell staff facilitated the program and designed online tutorials. Additional community partners helped coordinate meetings for job development professionals at local social service agencies. In this case, Cornell and NJSHRM successfully educated human resource managers and non-profit professionals. On the other hand, verbal agreements are the easiest to fall apart, especially when one partner does not complete or fulfill agreed upon tasks.

As reduced public and private funding continue to affect the organizational budgets, forming collaborations can be a valuable tool. With a little creativity and careful planning, collaboration can help your organization create new programs or sustain current projects.

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