Supporting Outside the Box

It is often very tricky when an organization supports programs and projects in another organization, such as sponsoring or funding programs in schools and hospitals. An example is a nonprofit focused on excellence in education that allocates funds to strengthen education programs in schools. Another example is a nonprofit that supports reading programs and provides funds for the purchase of books for school libraries and for author visits to schools. The principle also applies to a nonprofit whose purpose is to raise and allocate funds to implement programs in another agency, for example a local United Way or the Jewish Federations in North America.

When an organization is hosting a funded program then it is necessary to clearly define who is receiving the service and who is providing the service. Is the school or are the students the direct recipient of the funded programs? Is the school or the Agency for Excellence in Education providing the program to the students?

These issues must be clarified before the program is implemented by the host organization for a number of reasons. To begin with, there should be agreement between the two organizations of how the program is going to be presented to the community and represented in its marketing materials. The two agencies must maintain consistency in the language they use to describe the program – for both the participants and other collaborating organizations and bodies.

The reasons for these precautions are especially evident during site visits. When the visitor is a supporter of the nonprofit providing the funding then the message has to be communicated directly that this is a visit to a program that is implemented in the school. The school is a “site” for the provision of the funded program and is “hosting” the nonprofit within its educational framework.

When visitors tours the school, it is important that the school personnel accompanying them are very clear that the school is collaborating with the nonprofit organization and benefiting from the additional resources earmarked to support the specific program, for example, programs that encourage students to read more.

It is similarly crucial that the message you impart to visitors is identified and crafted long before their visit. Whether we are discussing a school, a hospital or a community center, when the potential donors, current supporters or interested parties want to see the program then there should be a coordinated process for planning and executing the visit. It does not really matter whether the request comes through the funding organization or the host organization. In either case, there should be a “site visit committee” established that is composed of staff from both organizations to enable them to work together to review the request and arrange for the most appropriate impactful visit.

The site visit committee is a vehicle for allowing each nonprofit’s interest represented and providing a forum to ensure the visit is a collaborative effort. It is not unusual for the staff of a school to feel “put upon” as they continue to receive multiple requests to arrange programs for the funding agency. There must be an understanding of their mutual interest in arranging for a successful visit.

The host organization values the support it receives for either basic programming or for supplementary services. At the same time, there are limits as to the number and frequency of the site visits that can be accommodated during the course of a week or month. Each time an organization receives a request to arrange meetings for visitors the effort that is expended to plan and implement it successfully must be taken into consideration.

In addition to the time required for the actual visit, take into consideration the preparatory time that goes into meetings with professional staff and recipients or participants of the funded program. It is essential to brief all of those people who will meet the visitors and to check that the allocated time is appropriate for the site visit schedule. When the visits involve a number of organizations, as is the case with host agencies, it is advisable to arrange for a run through of the schedule and to ensure that the content and the message are in alignment with the parties’ multiple interests.

Collaborative relationships between nonprofit organizations are valued by funders and supporters and generally mean a more comprehensive service to the recipient. In the same way that the effort is made to provide a seamless service to the clients and participants, the successful site visit involving the nonprofit providing the funding and the agency implementing the service should communicate that there is an established collaborative relationship between the partnering agencies. Those on the site visit will not only grasp the message, but they will be more likely to support programs that demonstrate a strong capacity for cooperative and positive relationships between two or more entities.

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.