NGOs: Collaboration and Partnership is Key

South Africa has over 200 000 registered NGOs, many of whom are doing incredible work to meet the needs and address the multiple challenges that our country faces. However, all these NGOs are fighting for the same piece of the pie to stay financially afloat.  It is mind-boggling that we do not address the need for these NGOs to be working with each other – both formal and informal organisations. If we want to have a chance of addressing the bigger challenges facing our country, then we must work out how to work together more effectively.

The reality is that often NGOs are competing for the same pool of funding and corporate social investment (CSI) partnerships. There are NGOs facing financial crisis and we have seen wonderful organisations close over the years. This is not only sad, but it also concerning as NGOs address many of the social ills that government cannot.  In order to seek financial sustainability, we need to collaborate, strengthen our services and be innovative in our partnerships; evaluating the possibility of an alliance or even merging where appropriate.

So why are we not working together to address the needs of the people we want to serve? The main reason for this is trust, or a lack thereof.  Research reveals that NGOS report that they do not trust each other in addition to which values might not be aligned.  The challenge of power dynamics, with the bigger and more resourced organisation dominating the relationship result in a disparate partnership dynamic. An additional challenge is one where there is toxic leadership, too often than not ego, that hinders the discovery of common ground, shared values and vision in order to achieve the partnership goal. 

Collaboration is key – now more than ever due to the pandemic.  It is a necessary to strengthen the efficiencies and effectiveness to address the social ills in our country and generate better outcomes for the people we serve.  Should NGOs collaborate and partner together, organisations will inevitably be able to ensure financial sustainability, strengthened programmes and services to those they serve, improve organisational efficiency and effectiveness as well as improve awareness about the issue one is trying to address.

To have successful partnerships and to collaborate well with other organisations, relationship is critical. Leaders need to trust each other; communities need to trust the organisations involved and values need to be aligned. These relationships take work, time and flexibility.  Research has shown that the strongest NGO partnerships are those who have strong personal relationships.

What does a successful partnership or collaboration look like? It is one where the purpose of working together is understood.  There is clarity regarding the outcomes desired: Is it to improve and build capacity? Is it to grow awareness? Is it to address a specific social problem? It is one with clear communication regarding roles and responsibilities within the partnership. This is vital for to trust be kept, ensure smooth communication as well as maintain the boundaries needed for a healthy relationship and so that your organisation does not suffer.  Successful partnerships also know when and how to exit a relationship and collaboration, and how to do this well.

If NGOs want to survive in this environment where the complexity and magnitude of the social, political and economic challenges facing our country are at an unprecedented level, we need to understand that we cannot tackle these issues alone. NGOs need to focus on how best to work together so that we can create real, significant social impact. When NGOs can combine their passions, services and resources, then we are able to see strengthened individuals, thriving families and thriving communities.

Written by Danielle Moosajie, Director of Arise