Friend or Foe?

5th Dec, 2022

Collaboration rather than competition is usually considered the optimum strategy when relating to other organisations in the ecosystem of non-profits. However, is it that straightforward? Should non-profit organisations look to be more competitive?

An article by Louise Gorringe (in the photo), Director of Association Management at Kenes

In the non-profit sector, it has never been more apparent that collaboration is important. The magnitude and complexity of current social, political, and economic issues are unprecedented, and these challenges cannot be overcome by working in silos. Therefore, non-profits quite rightly focus on how to best work together to further their individual and collective missions. Merger, alliance, coalition, partnership, collab, collective efforts, all terms used to signify a relationship with presumably beneficial results for all parties to leverage efforts and achieve greater impact.

And as non-profits continue to seek new sources of revenue, the sphere of collaboration has also increased, with the for-profit world an obvious go-to, particularly as for-profit organisations themselves pivot to invest resources sustainably in cause-related activities. Some are still hesitant as such partnerships are perceived to carry risks, but this shouldn’t deter associations from investigating potential collaborations within the private sector.

Whilst for-profit partners can offer critical resources to a non-profit, non-profits offer companies a great deal in return, including the opportunity to enhance their image, access to information and specialists and their target audience. Due diligence is required to identify those companies that have similar aims and are not contradicting the values of the organisation, along with clear guidelines for a partnership to ensure the image of the association is not undermined. It is also important that non-profits take an active role in shaping the partnership, monitoring, and evaluating the relationship through each stage.

Given the above, collaboration is the natural choice for non-profit organisations, but is it the only choice? No! Competition is critical to the performance and survival of a non-profit organisation and so should be considered in the gamut of operating strategies alongside collaboration.

Non-proft managers and those working in the sector must accept that organisations compete for resources, including members, funds, staff, media, projects, etc. In the for-profit arena, organisations faced with competition exhibit a fight response with the aim of creating better products and services. In the non-profit world, when faced with competition anxiety sets in − with the unfounded concern that supporters will withdraw resources and programmes will not be able to continue − and so non-profits try to avoid.

Recognising competition forces non-profits to look inwards and understand the ecosystem they operate within and where they fit in, ultimately understanding what makes them different from other players and how to set the organisation apart. This insight then allows non-profits to navigate that ecosystem, make a clearer assessment of the opportunities for collaboration, decide who to partner with, and, most importantly, why. Taking a more competitive outlook ultimately leads to more effective collaboration. So yes, non-profits should look to be more competitive, starting internally by reviewing the organisation’s strengths and competitive advantage, which in turn will allow them to determine when they are strong enough to go at it alone or when they should look to collaborate with the right partner.

A B O U T  K E N E S  G R O U P

For over fifty years, Kenes Group has been creating success stories with associations around the world. They're experts in helping associations reach their true potential by strategically building awareness, loyalty and satisfaction among current and potential members, as well as stakeholders. They harness the power of community, strengthening their association’s brand through unforgettable experiences - fostering change, inspiring members, educating, and improving your association’s business performance.

Other Articles

About Us

Supported by the Union of International Associations (UIA), the International Association of Professional Congress Organisers (IAPCO) and the Interel Group, the global public affairs and association management consultancy, Headquarters Magazines serve the needs of international associations organising worldwide congresses.