A rising tide really does lift all boats

The power of collaboration

Organizations can improve their volunteer programs by harnessing the power of collaboration.

Have you ever heard the phrase “anything you can do, I can do better”? I want to switch that around. “Anything I can do, we can do better.” I’m a big advocate of collaboration in the volunteer space. When we share skills, resources and knowledge, we all get better.

Another saying is: “A rising tide lifts all boats”. Unfortunately, there is a scarcity mindset that is common amongst organizations with volunteers. They try to hoard their volunteers, and they hide away their ideas and resources so others won’t steal them. That is a shame. It limits everyone’s ability to make a positive impact in our world.

Instead, look at the benefits to sharing our ideas, our procedures and our resources – including volunteers. It’s easy to feel overwhelmed by the magnitude of the challenges we face. No matter whether you are trying to tackle poverty, environmental issues, or social injustices, you simply can’t do it alone. The point of collaborating, though, is that we aren’t alone. If we share our ideas and resources with others, they will share theirs with us. We all win. And so do our causes.

One of the most significant benefits of collaboration is the ability to pool our skills and resources.

As individuals, we all have unique talents and expertise, but we also all have specific biases and weaknesses. By working together, we leverage our strengths and minimize our weaknesses. One person might be a fantastic project manager, but is uncomfortable networking. Another might excel at networking, but be too disorganized to effectively manage a project.

This is fairly obvious at an individual level, but it’s less understood, though just as true, at the organizational level.

When we extend collaboration beyond our own group, we forge partnerships and alliances that benefit everyone. Consider getting together to arrange a community-wide volunteer fair. Or if you have a superstar volunteer fundraiser in your organization, and another organization has a volunteer who’s fantastic at social media, share them! By pooling resources in this way, everyone can have a greater impact.

Also, this type of collaboration strengthens advocacy efforts.

One lone organization fighting for government support for a cause has little power. Fifty of them, all clamouring for the same thing, will get attention. If your organization is focused on the challenges of addiction, for example, and you team up with similar organizations in the same jurisdiction, you can sway public opinion, and the public will start demanding change. It’s what the environmental lobby did. You can do the same. If you work together.

Working with a consultant is another way to exercise the power of collaboration.

Professionals bring a wide range of experience and expertise, and often can suggest ways of doing things that you may not have considered. While they do take some financial outlay, they can save you significant resources in the future. Consultants can provide insights and innovative ideas that can allow you to maximize your impact and ensure long-term sustainability.

They also often have skills that are challenging to find in the general population. People with a gift for strategic planning, program assessment, or conflict mediation & resolution aren’t easy to find, especially in a small organization. A good consultant, though, will bring some or all of these skills with them.

Add to this the opportunity to learn from each other’s mistakes and successes.

When we openly share our challenges and triumphs, we can decrease the first and increase the second. By sharing when things go wrong, we can hear from others how they dealt with similar challenges and find a solution. Or at least the seed of a solution. When we share what worked well for us, we can help others grow. And someone might take your good idea, expand on it, and make it even better.

So there are four different ways you can channel the power of collaboration.

On an individual level, you can support each other’s different skill sets and experiences to improve the volunteer program. On an organizational level, you can do that, plus work together to raise awareness for advocacy efforts. With a consultant, you can tap into hard-to-find expertise to improve long-term sustainability. By sharing challenges and successes, we can all learn best practices.

Collaboration is the key to unlocking our collective potential.

I have a hard time seeing why more organizations don’t collaborate. By hoarding their resources and knowledge, they stifle innovation and actually harm their cause. Through collaboration, we expand our horizons and become better-rounded individuals and organizations. We magnify our impact, pool our skills and resources, and foster a sense of abundance rather than scarcity.

So, here’s to our new mantra: “Anything I can do, we can do better.”

This article is written by or on behalf of an outsourced columnist and does not necessarily reflect the views of Castanet.

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About the Author

Karen Knight has provided volunteer recruitment, engagement and training for not-for-profit organizations for more than 25 years.

Her professional life has spanned many industries, working in both the private and public sectors in various leadership positions.

Through her passion for making a difference in the world, she has gained decades of experience in not-for-profits as a leader and a board member.

Karen served in Toastmasters International for more than 25 years, in various roles up to district director, where she was responsible for one of the largest Toastmasters districts in the world.

She oversaw a budget of $250,000 and 300 individual clubs with more than 5,000 members. She had 20 leaders reporting directly to her and another 80 reporting to them—all volunteers.

Karen currently serves as vice-president of the board of directors for the Kamloops Therapeutic Riding Association.

After many years working and volunteering with not-for-profits, she found many leaders in the sector have difficulty with aspects of volunteer programs, whether in recruiting the right people, assigning those people to roles that both support the organization’s mission and in keeping volunteers enthusiastic.

Using hands-on experience, combined with extensive study and research, she helps solve challenges such as volunteer recruitment, engagement and training for not-for-profit organizations.

Karen Knight can be contacted at [email protected], or through her website at https://karenknight.ca/.

The views expressed are strictly those of the author and not necessarily those of Castanet. Castanet does not warrant the contents.

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