Churches are the backbone of a many a community. Historically we founded hospitals, schools, food programs, Welfare, nonprofits, and raising a couple hundred thousand dollars was a drop in the bucket. Historically the idea of partners wasn’t necessary as we could do everything by ourselves, and we did. There was a charity model approach that the churches were gathering resources to serve the marginalized. It was a “for” rather than a “with.”
But partnerships are the future. Throughout the early 2000s, entire industries were forced to think collaboratively. Think about the car industry where entire supply chains were formed. Think about large infrastructure industries like railroads and telecommunications, where high fixed costs were shared. Think about healthcare with the emergence of the shared service organizations. Collaboration is now being used by private businesses as a competitive advantage.
As usual, the social sector is following this lead. Nonprofit organizations are now focused on partnerships and collaborations. It is a hot topic at many conferences and grantmakers are making partnerships a prerequisite for funding.
If this is a societal trend, why can’t this be a focus for communities of faith as well? In fact, there have been some interesting and successful models of partnerships.
For example, interfaith congregations are increasingly popular in rural communities where there might not be enough of a population to justify two communities of faith that are so similar. We have seen Anglican and United Church congregation worshipping together to maintain a presence in these neighbourhoods.
Communities of faith are also partnering with nonprofits. Nonprofits have often sought out churches for their programming space as they are rooted in community. But now there is a focus on the relationships that are happening between the community of faith and the people in the building.
The government is getting involved. The relationship between state and religion is significantly different than it was historically. But the relationship is not gone! The emergence of community economic development in small and large communities alike is again including conversations with communities of faith. Anti-poverty coalitions are springing up, and non-secular partners are being invited to the table. We are on the radar once again.
Finally, communities of faith are also partnering with for-profits. Operation Sharing is a great example of a community of faith that has launched a food poverty strategy in partnership with the grocery stores in the county. A portion of every grocery bill is donated to the food banks and soup kitchens throughout the county, and has created a financially sustainable program as part of the food ecosystem.
With all of these examples and opportunities to partner, you would think that this is a natural next step for all communities of faith to explore. But sometimes partnerships still seem difficult. Why?
Goals. The goals of another organization are different or at least appear different than your own. You will be surprised when you speak with an organization about what they are trying to do. For instance, universities and colleges are often about creating and supporting leaders rather than just educating people. When you start to understand other organizations’ “whys,” you might be surprised how aligned they are with communities of faith.
Values. The values might be the hindrance in working with others. But speaking with others and sharing your own values is often the beginning of a great conversation. It is not that you might get them to change their mind overnight, but it could mean that your values begin to influence each other or you have offered them a new perspective through a discussion. A great example is coworking spaces where both forprofit and non-profit organizations work in the same space. The nonprofits start understanding the value of some of the for-profit business practices, while the for-profit businesses might incorporate a way to create a social impact through their businesses.
Control. Often this is the underlying reason why organizations find it hard to partner. The need for control of a project or the situation. But you know what they say, “two heads are better than one”.
So hopefully this has convinced you that partnership is a great idea. So how do you get started?
Get out there! Start networking and talking to unusual suspects. Show up to a BIA meeting or a workshop or an event you normally wouldn’t. And talk to people. You might be surprised who has common goals with you.
Know yourself. What are your own goals and values? What is your core ‘why’? Is it about church on Sunday? Or is there more to your vision and mission that you could share?
Look for reasons to partner than reasons not to. Stop using the word “but” when talking to other organizations. Start using “yes, and”.
Be awesome to work with yourself. Nobody wants to partner with someone who is difficult to work with. You need to be flexible and adaptive enough to make decisions on the fly. And you need to be able to do what you say you will in a timely fashion.
Now get out there with your open mind. You will be amazed at how many people will want to work with you.