8 Tips for Radical Collaboration to Advance Your Mission and Help Strengthen the Social Economy

February 8, 2017 Rachel Hutchisson

This article was originally published on npENGAGE.

I celebrated a big anniversary recently (25 years as a professional serving at the same company). Besides the fact that people just don’t seem to do that anymore, it’s made me reflect on a lot of things.

Like the speed of change technology has brought. (My first computer was a 386 with a dial-up email connection and no access to the World Wide Web.  I actually called people on the phone to get information for my work.)

Like the shift from a world that thought about “charity” and “nonprofits” to one that is embracing the broader concept of “social good.”

And I keep getting stuck on one thing: How do we make more progress, faster, better? Working at a tech company means I am surrounded by innovation and the concept of “failing fast.”  Learning from mistakes. So how do we apply this to social good?

How do we accelerate positive change to advance the social economy?

This past November, I had the pleasure of being in the audience when my colleague, Catherine LaCour, gave a talk on the Social Economy and posed the question—“How will we build a better world?”  She described a road map for the future, with one of its superhighways being a focus on “radical collaboration.”

As I pondered the lessons I’ve learned in my career and how to drive social good to greater impact, I landed on eight recommendations for escalating collaboration to advance the social economy.  I’ll admit upfront that most of them seem pretty straightforward. I hope you find them helpful on your journey.

8 Collaboration Tips to Accelerate the Social Economy:

  1. Convene a variety of voices, even those who don’t agree with you, to ensure you get different perspectives. Whether I like to admit it or not, I—like everyone else—can sometimes live too much inside my own bubble, thinking I’m connected to varying ways of thinking about something. This recommendation is about remembering, always, to seek alternative points of view.
  2. Think beyond nonprofit borders, ensuring you have all the people at the table who can really help you accomplish your objectives. This means identifying the individual people, the companies, the foundations, the government officials who share in your vision. We call this cross-sector collaboration, and we could use more of it.
  3. Understand what you’re good at and what you’re not, ensuring you have the appropriate parties doing the right work so you achieve maximum effect. This means pushing stakeholders to deeply consider where they are the best voice to lead and where they should support. This leads to clarity, when we all meaningfully and objectively understand what our strengths are and can really work together.  Although it’s not always easy to admit, we don’t all have to be right about everything all the time.
  4. Align around goals, clearly enumerating what you are trying to accomplish so those around the table understand why they are there and have shared ownership. As a side note, within the social good sector, the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals offer both a framework for looking at your work and an opportunity to seek alignment in new ways. 
  5. Dig deep into what made past partnerships work, taking your lessons from successful models you can repurpose. Leverage these insights to develop a partnership model that maximizes your organization’s skill and personality. Failing to do this deep study can lead to collapse, breeding a situation where members don’t view the very model as an asset.
  6. Measure your outcomes and be transparent in how you report them, being honest along the way about what you have – and have not – achieved. Doing the work here puts you in a position to understand if the measures themselves are the right ones, if you are focused in the right areas or if you need to course correct.
  7. Be thoughtful about how to gauge the success of partnerships. Relationships don’t develop overnight, and if you want to have the kind of meaningful exchanges that create breakthroughs, think about starting small in how you evaluate progress.  Does every person on your staff have a target for new professional connections they are cultivating each year?  What are the near and long term goals?
  8. Cultivate a culture of open sharing and learning, embracing what Brian Eno refers to as “scenius,” a sharing of genius. To move forward productively, share what’s working and what’s not. Choose to be a part of the spaces where collaboration and conversation are emerging and, potentially, going into new territory that might just teach you something.

How will we grow the social economy?


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