Thursday, February 25, 2010

"Coopetitioning" for Volunteers

I have long been interested in how nonprofits, like companies can achieve more through strategic alliances, even if those alliances are with the 'competition'.

Thanks to @johnhaydon on Twitter, I read a great article (Nonprofit Collaboration: Doesn’t It Make the Pie Bigger? by Debra Askanase) on the topic that I want to recommend. You can read it at It inspired me to think about how it applies differently between the for-profit and nonprofit sectors and then (further down) how the concept can be directly applied to improve volunteer programs.

I have often found it unfortunate how some in the nonprofit sector have been more reluctant than the business sector to embrace coopetition. In the business sector coopetition must lead to a bigger pie being shared positively by ALL parties to call it a real cooptetition success. In the nonprofit sector however, coopetition ought to be considered a success if the pie gets larger even if some players lose some of the pie they had.

Consider the differences in following two basic scenarios.

1. Through coopetion the number of clients in a business sector went up. As a result, the number of clients at Business A went up by 75% but at Business B it went down by 10%. Business B is not likely going to call this a success.

2. Through coopetion the number of clients that were able to be served at foodbanks in a city went up. As a result of working together though, Foodbank A's clientele went up by 75% but Foodbank B's clientele went down by 10%. Foodbank B should still call this a success given that their mission is that "fewer people go hungry" and not that "fewer people go hungry because we fed them".

The point is that for nonprofits with a mission that is truly anchored on the greater good, the risk of coopetition is even less than it is the corporate world where it already embraced by a large number of successful organizations.

How can you apply this to your volunteer program?

How would you feel if a volunteer at your organization also volunteered at a competitive organization? Hopefully you would love it because they will acquire new experiences that can benefit your organization. Maybe you could even get in touch with a 'competitive' volunteer program and establish a volunteer exchange for that very purpose. Yes, you might lose volunteers to the other organization permanently but you might also gain some permanently. In the ends it sounds like a better alignment volunteer-organization and therefore a happier volunteer. A happier volunteer is usually a better performing volunteer and a volunteer willing to offer more hours.

A bigger pie is a tastier one too!

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