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The Difference Between Collaboration, Cooperation, and Coordination




I had a chance to read Do More Than Give, a new book just out by Leslie Crutchfield, John Kania, and Mark Kramer this past weekend. The book is a sequel, or as the dust-jacket says, “inspired” by Forces for Good, Leslie’s earlier book, and focuses on “the six practices of donors who change the world.”

It is a good read and worth taking a look. Although focused on making better donors, much of the book is helpful to building a better performing nonprofit organization. Of special interest to me was the chapter on “forging nonprofit peer networks.” Foundations are constantly urging nonprofits to “collaborate” but there is rarely a plan or purpose beyond the point of collaboration. At GuideStar, partnerships have been critical to our success. We use strategic partnerships to undertake tasks that others do better, to expand our reach into new markets, and to strengthen our services.

It hasn’t always been easy. To partner well takes time, effort, people, resources, and a determination to make it work, even giving up some independence and flexibility. If I had to say there is one key to success it would be a mutual benefit: each partner needs to benefit in some meaningful way and feel that the partnership is not only worth doing but worth working at when times get frustrating.

The book distinguishes between partnering, which it calls cooperation, and collaborating, which it defines as loose coordination. In either case, the book warns, “They imply being nice, rather than strategic, and lack the force of mutual accountability that exists when each participant is equally invested in a cause and equally shares the risk…. True collaboration requires a commitment to shared goals, a jointly developed structure and shared responsibility, mutual authority and accountability for success and sharing of resources, risks and rewards,” writes Carol Lukas and Rebecca Andrews.

In the end, an organization needs to be honest about its strengths and weaknesses. What do we do best? What do others do better than us? Are we better off not trying to build this ourselves? Can we achieve our goals faster or better working with others? True collaboration – rather than nice collaboration – is one of the pathways to success.

Bob.jpgThe preceding is a guest post by Bob Ottenhoff,  Chief Executive of the Center for Disaster Philanthropy. With an entrepreneurial spirit, strong technology focus, and a quest to make an impact in the world, Bob has the ability to take an organization and lead it into strong performance, sustainability, and industry leadership.

Topics: Just Because