Intra-Agency Relationships: Building Cooperation

No matter the size, scope or focus of a nonprofit organization, they all share one thing in common: the need for innovative solutions for staff to coordinate their efforts and work together.

I had the opportunity to consult with the staff of a department in a mid-size organization. They presented a number of issues that exemplified the challenges they encountered in trying to coordinate their efforts with their colleagues in other departments within the organization. One common occurrence is that people under pressure to complete tasks often perceive working with staff members from other departments as making it more complicated for them to complete their work

Often we feel that it is easier and more efficient to do the job ourselves rather than spending the time and effort to involve others. However, there are times when the other person is needed to complete the job. If an atmosphere of cooperation and coordination has not been an integral part of the culture of the organization then staff members working together may be perceived as an imposition.

For example, in a hospital the financial resource development staff is responsible for securing donations from individuals and foundations. The request for funds always needs to include details of the services to be provided as well as information about the people who will benefit from specific medical programs or the equipment they will receive through donations or grants. Most professional fundraisers and grant writers know how to market the needs and it is not their job to gather the medical information from the floors and wards of the hospital.

A professionally written grant proposal includes information about the use of the funds and the data is both quantitative and qualitative. The information tells us who the patients are who will benefit from the services and equipment. Someone has to provide the details of the service to the grant writer who then incorporates the appropriate information into the formal request to the funder/foundation.

The medical personnel providing the needed and valued services are more interested in developing new approaches to providing treatment. While they may intellectually understand the importance providing this data, in reality what often happens is the fundraising staff often has to “run after” them to get the specific information they need to complete the proposal for the funding.

Often the same dynamic occurs when the fundraisers have to report to the donors and foundations. The medical staff are focused on the provision of the services and regard the completing a schedule of questions and other forms as a burden that takes them away from their primary responsibility that is the delivery of the medical services.

Whether it is a hospital or any other organization, how do we respond to the disconnect between the person who deals with securing the funding and the person who delivers the services?

In my experience, the lack of cooperation occurs because there has not been an understanding created between these two key players in the organization as to their mutual interest. The medical staff often assumes that the development professionals know all they need to know about applying for funding in a hospital and they know how to access the information they need. Likewise the development staff assumes the medical staff is aware of their need for information both when applying for the grant and when reporting on the grant.

Instead of making these assumptions it would be best if the development professionals and the medical professionals including doctors, nurses, various therapists and others would discuss the fundraising process. The fundraising staff needs to understand the details of the program in need of support or the capital project that is being marketed to donors. The medical staff has to develop an understanding of the fundraising process so they can appreciate what the development staff needs to successfully raise the needed support and to maintain the relationship with the donors and the foundations.

The same is true for all nonprofits that have development professionals and program staff that are providing the services. While I used the medical setting or case in point, the principles raised certainly apply to any nonprofit agency. The success of the organization’s efforts to raise the necessary support to both continue to provide the ongoing services as well as increase donations for both needed physical expansion is dependent on the cooperation of both sets of professionals. The investment in working out their respective responsibilities and the reasons each is dependent on the other will allow them to work closely together and to achieve the goals of the organization.

Stephen G. Donshik, D.S.W., is a lecturer at Hebrew University’s International Nonprofit Management and Leadership Program and has a consulting firm focused on strengthening non-profit organizations and their leadership for tomorrow. Stephen is a regular contributor to eJewish Philanthropy.