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Kicking Off Collaboration: Lessons Learned

January 25, 2016 by Katie Edwards0


Did you know that 98% of the nonprofit center have a goal of increasing collaboration among their resident partners? The opportunities presented by working together with your neighbors in shared space are incalculable, but often managers don’t feel like their community is living up to their expectations.  To help get groups moving in the right direction, we’ve developed a half-day session called a “Collaboration Kick-Off” to help clarify a group’s goals around collaboration and spark ideas of potential connections.

The Collaboration Kick-Off is one of my favorite projects to work on. Most recently we took this event just up the road to the Life Center in Loveland, CO. I love learning about the work of the nonprofits within the center and helping them make connections.  Since I started facilitating these sessions, here are some of the lessons I’ve learned.

  • Just because you know everyone in the building doesn’t mean that they know each other. We have one executive director and one junior staff member attend the Collaboration Kick-off, and often this is the first time that people really get a chance to put a face to a name. Hosting this one-time event also gives staff that may only work in the building on evenings or weekends an excuse to change up their schedule and connect with people they didn’t know.
  • Shift the conversation by bringing in an outsider. Using an outside facilitator changes the group dynamic. People become much more willing to step outside of their comfort zone.
  • People are willing to share if you ask them to. Recently we asked people to share their organization’s strategic goals and challenges with their partners in the building. By sharing this one piece of information, patterns began to emerge among the partners.
  • Collaboration isn’t just about information-sharing, it’s about relationship building. One of our most recent participants observed that if she wanted to refer a client to another organization in the building, she needed to know a specific person and a name. If she didn’t, her clients wouldn’t follow through. Relationships signal trust and convey a better connection.
  • Stark with small commitments. At the end of sessions I facilitate, I’ve begun a practice of asking the participants to commit to one thing that would help foster collaboration in their center. Small commitments and clear next steps are important. Some of my favorite commitments from the group I most recently worked with were “finding 15 minutes to get to know the other Executive Directors in the building” and “making an effort to match names with faces at every organization.”

Collaboration doesn’t happen unless you and your partners make it a priority. Taking half a day to work through what working together might look like is an important investment in the future of your center.

Interested in bringing a Collaboration Kick-Off to your center? E-mail Katie at to learn more!


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About Our Blogger:

Katie Edwards

Katie connects NCN members with the resources they need to make their projects a success. She holds an M.P.A. in Nonprofit Management from Indiana University, where she studied nonprofit co-location as part of her coursework. Katie’s research background and her first-hand experience with the Co-location Task Force for the Indianapolis’ Early Intervention and Prevention Initiative give her a unique perspective on shared spaces and nonprofit centers.

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