Building a Bigger Footprint (Part 2): The Strategic Alliance

The philanthropic marketplace is crowded.  In the US alone, we have in excess of 1.1 million not-for-profit organizations vying for support.  For some, standing out in the crowd is easy: a long history of excellence, great name/brand recognition, strong reputation, sheer size and magnitude.  For others, visibility is daunting: the start-up organization, the small college or hospital competing with a major university or medical system.

In this post, we will briefly explore the strategy of using strategic alliances to build visibility, brand and, hopefully, to leverage support.  This is not a new idea, but it is one that doesn’t get used as much as it should.

A few years back, I made a presentation at one of CASE’s fabulous Corporate and Foundation Fundraising conferences and was struck by the disparity in my audience.  Top CFR officers from schools such as MIT, the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, Texas A&M were sitting next to colleagues from much smaller schools including community colleges.  The disparity in leveraging power between these schools became readily apparent when I tried to engage the group in some dialogue about best practices.  The larger schools were negotiating and managing support at vastly different levels than the smaller schools (not surprising).

But listening carefully, it dawned on me that in some cases, both smaller school and larger university were bringing to the table similar levels of experience and expertise.  Same wine, different bottles.  It occurred to me that if several smaller schools could identify similar needs and opportunities, perhaps they could form a strategic alliance that would provide leveraged benefits to all partners.  In doing so, they could present a much larger “footprint” to a grantmaker, perhaps even comparable to a larger campus.

Take the same premise and apply it to other fields:

  • Small unaffiliated hospitals that, combining resources and expertise, could present a bigger footprint comparable to a larger medical system;
  • Community-based organizations serving a similar geographic area and constituency that could leverage staff experience and resources; or
  • A cluster of arts groups that could create cross-channel marketing, education and programming that could deepen their collective impact and footprint.

At a time when philanthropy is showing modest growth at best, leveraging resources to stand out to donors is an important strategy.  Alliances may be a cost and results-effective way for your organization to compete for support.

Building a Bigger Footprint is a multi-part series.  Stay tuned.



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