An Integration Strategy Is Key to Future Well-Being of Nonprofits
By Eric Curtis
A rapidly changing operating environment is spurring leadership teams and boards at nonprofits of all sizes and missions to discuss the sustainability, relevance, and future viability of their organizations, with many of those talks centering on the issue of integration.
While integration can mean the forming of partnerships, collaborations, and shared services in order to survive, it also is a strategy that can enable organizations to thrive by ensuring the free flow of information through different departments within a single entity or across several organizations within one network.
As technology makes our world smaller, integration strategies must align, because fragmentation in strategy leads to fragmentation in communications, resource allocation, and operational structure. We can use integration strategies to break internal or external boarders to avoid creating silos and competition.
The following will help nonprofits think about issues surrounding network and information integration.
An affiliation is a strategic consolidation model used by nonprofit organizations to create a larger scale network of collaboration. Typically one of the agencies involved becomes the sole member or parent organization to the remaining agencies, referred to as members or subsidiaries.
As a member or subsidiary, each organization maintains its separate 501(c)(3) status, thus preserving its brand, board, and leadership autonomy while benefiting from cost savings and system unification through the consolidation of back office functions such as finance, human resources, technology services, and marketing. The cost savings achieved in an affiliation can then be invested in critical technology platforms or capacity to support the business models and talent needs of the future.
A critical component of accessing the potential of developing collaborations and building affiliated networks, is the strengthening of relationships. Finding affiliation partners is about compatibility, leadership style, balance, opportunity, and asking the right questions:
Are the cultures, methodologies, values, and beliefs of the organizations aligned?
Do the leaders of each organization have the ability to collaborate and work together, putting mission over ego?
Do the potential partners being assessed balance the strengths and weaknesses of each other?
As a network, will there be significant opportunities for growth through shared resources, expanded services, and competitive positioning?
The continuum of services, scalability, access to talent, continued autonomy, and sharing of information make this strategy very appealing to organizations seeking sustainably while better fulfill their missions and enhancing service delivery.
One core theme among the majority of organizations today that will play across all strategic plans is the utilization of technology. Technology allows us to interact, communicate, service, and work together in a new way. This concept may seem odd to organizations that consider themselves service providers, but we have entered a time of technological advancement that is disrupting the traditional ways we think about conducting business and providing service.
Today, more and more organizations are becoming “customer centric” and acquiring information or data management systems that add value to the “customer experience.” As we utilize advanced customer relationship management (CRM) systems to track data and centralize information, we create a hub for integrating information across departments within an organization. This helps break down silos, makes information more accessible, and allows for automation of communication.
Data and information can also be shared across different organizations to improve overall service to customers. The idea of sharing data across organizations comes back to the strategy above related to creating an integrated network of organizations using the affiliation model.
The lack of predictability in the days, weeks, and months ahead can easily become overwhelming. To increase the probability of sustainability and success, organizations should consider integrated networks and information as a strategy to transform and redefine themselves in this new reality.
Eric Curtis is president of Curtis Strategy, a transformational consulting firm focused on designing breakthrough strategy and innovative business models that lead to future growth, relevance, and sustainability. Call him at 617-283-8914 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
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