Why Not A Real Referral Group For Nonprofits?

Why Not A Real Referral Group For Nonprofits?This is my submission for the Nonprofit Blog Carnival under this month’s theme and deadline: Your Big Dream for 2013

My big dream for nonprofits in 2013 can be summed up in one word – collaboration.

Now I know what you’re thinking. Yawn, snore.

Collaboration is an over-used buzzword thrown around often by donors and funders that have no idea of what it means or the implications on the ground.

Yes, I know. Nonprofit workers do not have time to collaborate with anyone else. In this tough economy, resources are drying up as it is.

Nonprofits would rather stick their heads in the sand and focus on putting out the daily fires than actively work on effective ways to collaborate with other organizations.

Well, I think collaboration has gotten a bad rap.

What I envision in 2013 is this: Real, genuine, referral-based networking groups for nonprofit professionals and Board members.

Kind of like BNI, but for nonprofits.

Before you scoff at this idea, think about why people join BNI groups.

They are highly structured and often gain a very high ROI for members. You are required to attend and you are strongly encouraged to make quality referrals to members.

It’s not just cheese and wine here. Results are required.

In BNI groups, each group can accept only one member from each field (insurance, real estate, marketing, etc.) to maximize the referrals and eliminate competition.

As nonprofits, we should not have this problem of competition (but we think we do).

In each locality, there should not be another nonprofit that does exactly what you do in the same way. (If so, why haven’t you already explored collaboration?)

I envision a nonprofit resource-sharing and referral group that really breaks down the sector silos, forgoes the notion of “competition” and encourages organizations to truly share resources, knowledge and capacity.

The nonprofit referral groups that I envision would not be formed for individuals to switch jobs (we all know how much turnover and attrition there is in the development field, for example).

They would not be a place for nonprofit consultants or companies that serve the field to shill their services (although pro bono seminars and informational meetings would be encouraged).

Each meeting would start with two questions.

  1. What is the top challenge you are facing this week?
  2. What resource can you offer to the group?

The challenge can be something that the group can help with – an event space that doesn’t cost an arm or a leg, a great website designer, a place to post jobs. Challenges could be service or program related – a need for office furniture, a difficult HR problem, an evaluation problem.

The group would present a safe, confidential space to discuss the challenges, no matter how large or small, and come up with actionable solutions.

The resource offered can be a fantastic training that you and your Board attended, a local business willing to give out small grants to nonprofits in the area, a fantastic Board member looking for a change.

Get the idea?

For these groups to succeed, a culture shift would need to take place.

Nonprofits are too often holed up within their own walls, guarding their secrets and hoarding helpful information.

We can all benefit if we all work together. Who’s with me?

Have you joined any nonprofit networking and referral groups that you would like to mention? Please let me know in the Comments section or on my Facebook Page. Thanks so much for reading! 

photo credit: woodleywonderworks via photopin cc

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