April 25, 2017
 
Collaboration Offers Nonprofits a Response to Growing Demands

Antonio Oftelie
January 26, 2017 — Human services nonprofits can better prepare to meet increasing demands that will follow the disappearance of jobs due to automation by operating collaboratively with other nonprofits, leaders from dozens of Cambridge nonprofits were told today.

Citing projections that robotics and automation will take over 47% of today's jobs, the ability of nonprofits to respond will falter, said Antonio Oftelie, executive director of Leadership for a Networked World at Harvard University-based program that helps leaders improve outcomes, addressing the winter summit of the Cambridge Nonprofit Coalition (CNC).

"Organizations tend to be very good about dotting the i's and crossing the t's with regard to delivering their services, but they need to ask what to happens to their clients over the long term," Oftelie said.

Collaboration between nonprofits serving a common population offers an effective response to improve outcomes, and even revenue, he said, noting that many organizations today operate within silos, e.g., housing organizations often do not communicate and collaborate at deep levels with counterparts focused on workforce development or education.

Achieving greater collaboration will enable nonprofits to become predictive about the level of services likely to be needed in their local community. But getting there requires new practices, modes of governance, collaborative models, systems, and technology designs, Oftelie said.

Rigorous data collection and analysis will help nonprofits achieve greater cooperation, Oftelie told the 70 leaders gathered at the Royal Sonesta Hotel in Cambridge.

"Measures that leverage trend and root cause analysis to forecast future performance and expected effects of new interventions" are essential to achieving the level of cooperation that can "move the needle" on social problems, he said.

Fundamental to realizing greater cooperation between nonprofits is the need for organizations to ask themselves, 'What are we really achieving, and are we OK with that,' Oftelie said.

In a follow-up conversation with Massnonprofit News, he said nonprofits, even smaller ones that tend to do less long-term planning that larger organizations, increasingly are asking themselves if they are achieving their mission. This, he observed, is especially important to do in light of changing social conditions and interest in new funding mechanisms, such as pay-for-success programs.

Most nonprofits would say they want to reach more people, but have limited resources, and the place to start, Oftelie said, is by engaging in long-term planning.

Smaller Cambridge organizations that do not have the resources to address systemic issues which drive demand for their services, could, through the CNC decide what specific outcome they want to achieve across Cambridge, and perhaps approach the city for funding, Oftelie suggested.

"The coalition could start by asking, 'What are we not achieving now that we could achieve together?' That would enable individual agencies to address a larger problem," he said.

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