Working together pays off

Sandra Richardson is CEO of the Victoria Foundation.
This column originally appeared in the Times Colonist Islander on August 31, 2015.

There has been a renewed interest in collaboration lately, with the term “collective impact” coming up more often. This is good news for local organizations and the people who support them.

Collaboration has long been a vital strategy of charities and non-profits everywhere. Resources are always at a premium, whether people, money, time or materials. Working together for a common goal is crucial to making the biggest impact with what’s available.

The benefits of charities working together are nothing new or surprising either. Duplication can be eliminated, resources shared, economies of scale enjoyed, strategic directions aligned … the list goes on.

What is surprising, however, are the unforeseen “nuggets of collaboration gold” that often seem to shake loose when these like-minded organizations get together.

I’m talking about the “ah-ha” moments that occur outside of the formal agenda, usually as part of casual conversation or friendly banter. Someone once described this to me as the difference between the meeting you come for and the meeting you leave with. I’d like to share with you a couple of recent examples.

As part of the work the Victoria Foundation is doing on food security, we’ve helped to create the Food Share Network, an innovative umbrella group that enhances food distribution in the capital region through collaboration and co-operation among food banks, community centres, donors and other participating organizations.

At one of the first meetings of the network, representatives from two of the region’s food banks met for the first time and, separate from the task at hand, got to talking about their respective food-collection systems.

One was lamenting that they didn’t have enough capacity with their collection truck to gather donated food in a timely manner. Immediately, the other one mentioned that they had excess capacity.

Needless to say, a plan was hatched, then and there, to cooperate for their mutual benefit. Not at some undetermined date in the distant future, but right then, right there. That was collaboration gold.

Another example happened when dozens of local organizations serving seniors got together this year to strategize a way to collectively access a federal funding program to support seniors’ isolation issues.

A plan was struck, and the funding applied for. But a great side-benefit of the gathering was the realization among several of the attendees that they needed to connect more. And more often.

What the people and organizations in both these examples experienced was the unexpected value that comes from meeting one another, face to face.

Yes, we all know that collaboration is good. But sometimes it can also be golden.