by Lisa Sisley on July 19, 2013

I just got back from an amazing conference in Jackson Hole, Wyo. I met people there from lots of professions, from all over the country. I felt smarter just by osmosis, so time well spent, right?

I was on a panel to discuss how nonprofit organizations can breathe new life into their efforts. Lots of passionate insights on this topic—social media, fundraising, volunteer management, crowdsourcing, dollars donated vs. time volunteered, and so on.

I introduced a topic that I’ve been thinking about a lot lately—partnering between nonprofits. I think that too often, nonprofits think of themselves as competing with other nonprofits. And if they share the same mission, then they probably are. But there’s a lot of untapped potential for a bigger win if two organizations have the same constituent base, but want different things from that base. Let me explain.

New Boston had a client who was a statewide provider of foster care and adoption services. One of their prime goals was to recruit more foster and adoptive families in rural Kansas. I also had a contact at Kansas Farm Bureau, an organization that actively cultivates (heh, heh) rural agricultural producers as members and advocates. These two groups needed to both reach and engage the same folks, but for very different purposes.

I arranged a meeting between our client and KFB to discuss how they could each advance their respective missions. The result: I wrote a story, and KFB shot the photos, of a wonderful farming and ranching family in Northwest Kansas that is both an adoptive family and a member of KFB. The story ran in Kansas Living, KFB’s flagship publication.

The story served two purposes, and met both organizations’ needs. New Boston’s client reached its exact target market with a call to action (“Contact us to talk about becoming a foster or adoptive family”) and KFB got a piece that emphasized its traditional, “farmers are good people” message, reinforcing the values its members also hold. Readers felt good about belonging to an organization whose members do good things for kids in need. And our client started getting calls from prospective foster and adoptive families immediately!

Lesson: Maybe your competitor isn’t always your competitor. Think about what you really need, think about what the other guy really needs, and think about whether you could both get what you need by helping each other. Time well spent.