Q: How would you facilitate a meeting-of-the-minds between two competitive nonprofits?
A: Very carefully.
That was my challenge when I was asked to facilitate a special meeting of two organizations striving to enhance their impact in their community: one was a local affiliate of an established nonprofit and the other was a grass-roots start-up. Both groups were dedicated to helping people with cancer.
Concerned with competing for limited donor and volunteer resources, the established nonprofit felt threatened and candidly admitted they wanted the new organization to just “go away.” Fortunately, they accepted the new group’s invitation to sit down together and explore how they could co-exist to serve the community.
Focusing on what matters
I remember my feelings of trepidation as I prepared for the joint meeting – I was a facilitator, not a peace-keeper! But my fears dissolved after interviewing several volunteers from each organization. Their message was clear and consistent: “We don’t care who we work for as volunteers, we just want to eradicate cancer. So find a way to work out your differences.“
These volunteers provided the critical reinforcement and reminder both nonprofits needed to hear: purpose supersedes politics. It also proved to be the perfect framework for a dynamic and fruitful dialogue.
I’m happy to share both organizations took the volunteers’ message to heart as they continue to successfully co-exist and collaborate in their efforts to help people with cancer.