Part three of a three-part series on private/public partnerships
Cathy Davis: Board members have to be willing to accept greater scrutiny and more responsibility for understanding the legal implications of the partnership(s). There are many changing parts, so board members have to be willing to utilize the legal consultants and move forward at critical stages. They also need to increase fundraising capacity and promote the agency.
Saad&Shaw: In your opinion, what types of nonprofits are more suited to such partnerships?
Cathy Davis: Non-profits that are willing to take well-calculated risks are most suited to such partnerships. You have to be willing to be flexible and grow as the partnership grows. Everything will not go your way, and you have to be willing to compromise. Political connections are important for public partnerships that involve governmental assistance. The agency has to be strong enough to stand up for what is needed. It also has to be able to compromise when it is in the best interest of the project moving forward.
Saad&Shaw: In your experience, are these partnerships designed to be short or long-term relationships?
Cathy Davis: Partnerships are long term relationships that develop over time. They are with agencies, not with personnel of any of the partners because individuals change jobs. You must get everything in writing, so when individuals leave, the commitments remain. For example, due to his passing, we lost our Executive Director in the middle of the process. Our agency was committed and I was selected as the new Executive Director. Having worked hand-in-hand with Dr. Davis, my husband, I was committed to expanding the long term partnerships. Partnerships are also about relationships and you have to continue to cultivate them. When personnel changes, you enroll the next person on the importance of the project and the previous promises made.
Saad&Shaw: What can a nonprofit expect to achieve through such a partnership?
Cathy Davis: A non-profit can take on bigger projects with partners than they could do otherwise. They are able to expand their knowledge base by adding partners with specific expertise that the nonprofit does not have. Each partner has access to resources that the non-profit does not have access to on their own. Some funders require expertise that a nonprofit doesn’t have or the non-profit has yet to experience.
Saad&Shaw: How does a nonprofit begin a conversation about a private/public partnership? Who initiates this conversation? Where do you go to find out information and opportunities? How did it begin for you?
Cathy Davis: The executive director needs to begin the conversation and enroll others in why the partnership is needed and who will benefit. In our case Dr. Davis decided on the vision and then found people who would help. He bypassed people who said it wouldn’t work and went to those who supported the idea. You find the help you need by following through on leads and making friends along the way. Political allies need to be cultivated and connected to your agency’s mission. The more we put it out there, the more opportunities came our way. It was important to us as a community-based organization that we solicit the partners we wanted to work with. We interviewed our development partners and ensured that we were considered their partner, not their charity.
Saad&Shaw: What have your learned from your experience that you want to share with others.
Cathy Davis: Don’t quit until the miracle happens! Many times along it way, it did not seem that it would happen. Never lose sight of why the partnership exists in the first place. There are people depending on you to come through. At some point the project becomes bigger than you and bigger than your agency. It takes a strong partnership with the community to make a big project happen. Insert yourself and ask questions. It is important not to sell out your principles for the easy way or for money that has too many strings attached. You have to believe it will happen before it happens. When all else fails, your faith and passion for the mission will carry you through.
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Mel and Pearl Shaw are the authors of “Prerequisites for Fundraising Success” and “The Fundraiser’s Guide to Soliciting Gifts.” They provide fundraising counsel to nonprofits. Visit them at www.saadandshaw.com. Follow them on Twitter: @saadshaw.