By Thao Lam
Thao Lam is the Executive Director at LIN Center for Community Development, a local nonprofit organization with the mission to strengthen the community philanthropy ecosystem by advocating, connecting and providing resources for local nonprofit organizations, donors and volunteers to contribute towards sustainable development in Vietnam.
The Power For Trust Based Collaborations In Community Philanthropy
“If you want to go fast, go alone; if you want to go far, go together.”
So goes a favourite African proverb for many of us involved in community development and social impact works. It reflects our philosophy of community philanthropy – in promoting sustainable development through promoting collaboration across sectors. Dealing with social, economic and environmental issues that are often complex and multi-dimensional should not depend solely on any singular force. In fact, it requires involvement and collaborations from various sectors including business, nonprofit and academic experts working together towards a common goal.
Cross-sector partnerships can benefit everybody – both nonprofits and corporations: On the surface, nonprofits receive funding or supplies for social innovation, as well as valuable networking opportunities. If they collaborate with a for-profit company, they will have the opportunity to develop a nonprofit marketing strategy and build their reputation. Involving business-minded groups can also assist nonprofits in becoming more organized and actionable in their mission. On the other hand, the greatest benefit for corporations is that nonprofit partnerships significantly increase employee engagement and morale. Employees are happier and more motivated when they believe they are working toward a meaningful goal. employees are generally happier and more efficient at work. partnerships also boost brand loyalty for similar reasons, as customers feel as if they are supporting a worthy cause. executives are frequently pressed to participate in social ventures, and collaborative philanthropy can make this obligation both profitable and fulfilling.
We need to find more effective ways to collaborate and develop responses to social issues in close collaboration with communities in order to enable shared knowledge, better outcomes, and an empowered sense of progress that can be sustained in the future. The days of top-down approaches are over. These methods are not assisting the communities that require them the most, and there are far too many examples of things not changing, not changing as quickly as people require, or worsening. We should engage more effectively with communities and individuals who are directly affected by social challenges. We should learn with these communities and people in a respectful manner, determine which of the numerous approaches to enabling social change will work best, and build the capacity for local empowerment to sustain the measured progress we make along the way.
“Change happens at the speed of trust.”
The origin of the phrase is unknown to most of us. While a quick Google search yielded no results, the similar expression could be found in a book written by Stephen Convey called “The Speed Of Trust” in 2006, so maybe he could be given some credit to the term itself. Nevertheless, the universal agreement is that trust plays a crucial role in any successful and impactful relationship. More than that, we could also see the need for trust based collaborations have become even more essential especially in the moments of uncertainty and changes, or when our society is in crisis mode posed by pandemic outbreak or natural disasters.
For instance, the Covid-19 pandemic, according to the United Nations, is more than just a health crisis; it is affecting communities and economies at their core. While the impact varies by country, the pandemic will almost certainly increase poverty and inequalities on a global scale. When the onset of a global pandemic forced many in philanthropy to recognize the importance of trusting nonprofit organizations and community leaders. In fact, 800 foundations globally signed a pledge to use more trust-based practices to move money more quickly and with fewer constraints (source: Council on Foundations). Local nonprofits and communities need more freedom to act accordingly upon specific circumstances without being confined within boundaries of terms and conditions in budgeted action plans, in order for them to adapt to the New Normality while still being able to serve the marginalized groups in need.
Or when the floods hit the Central provinces and caused long term damage to lives and livelihoods, we witnessed thousands of local socioeconomic missions initiated by local communities in response to the crisis, with heart-warming stories of neighbours helping neighbours and a resurgence of compassion and solidarity abounding. Those small-scale local groups mobilized quickly to provide immediate assistance and ensure that basic needs for food, medicine, and information were met. Informal local networks sprung up quickly, using social media to coordinate activities and stay in touch with the most vulnerable. Local groups and networks were frequently the first line of response, prior to the development of more formal schemes and while high-profile national volunteering initiatives failed. Their local knowledge proved invaluable. Their local knowledge was crucial in identifying service gaps and combating social isolation. New connections have been formed within communities, which may well outlast the current crisis, allowing for the emergence of new forms of self-organized collective action. And online social interaction platforms like Facebook and Zalo groups have provided a lifeline in situations where face-to-face meetings are no longer possible. These are now well-known and will be used for community organizing as we move into the next phase.
Those prompt rescue efforts could not be done and accomplished solely by the local nonprofits without receiving the financial and moral support and empowerment of the business sector and the public. Needless to say, we could agree that trust based partnerships have helped to build resiliency for those local communities through difficulties and continued to strive for better impacts.
The approach to trust based partnerships and collaborations for social impacts
When talking about trust-based collaboration and partnership we do not and will never mean “blind trust”; it is a rigorous practice rooted in relationship-building, learning, and mutual accountability. Underlying all of that is a commitment to recognizing and redistributing power. This requires a constant self-reckoning with your own power and privilege: both in your role as a funder, and in your position in a society that has systematically vulnerable and marginalized groups.
At the interpersonal level, it is impossible to deny the inherent power imbalance that exists between donors/ sponsors or we often call “funders” and “grantees”. Funders get to decide how resources are allocated and disseminated, and nonprofits need those resources to do their work. Despite its best intentions, traditional philanthropy has inhibited its grantee relationships by perpetuating structures and practices that treat grantees as supplicants rather than partners. In fact, a recent study from the Open Road Alliance found that funder-created obstacles account for nearly half of the roadblocks that prevent nonprofits from achieving their intended impact.
Many experts have suggested some principles for Trust-based Partnerships as follows:
- Navigate with the Right Mindset: Building trust-based relationships requires starting from a place of trust rather than suspicion, and redefining traditional notions of risk.
- Embrace Transparency and Open Communication: Prioritizing healthy, open, honest relationships can help us navigate the complexity of our work and our world with greater confidence and effectiveness.
- Collaborate with humility and curiosity: We acknowledge that no one person has all the answers and that we can’t achieve our goals without listening to and collaborating with others.
- Redistribute power: In order to be successful in advancing our work, we must actively work to share power with grantee partners and communities who are closer to the issues we seek to address.
- Work for systemic equity: We recognize the wider context of racial, economic, and political inequities in which we operate, and work to change practices and behaviours that perpetuate harm.
LIN’s Annual Cross-sector Conference and its mission of promoting the Trust-based Partnerships
From our observations, the challenges that hinder the progress of trust based partnerships in community philanthropy have revolved around three focal points:
- Social impact (examples: setting shared purpose, metrics, systems for delivery and monitoring, evaluation, and learning, and sustainability)
- Balance of power between parties (examples: negotiating value of parties’ contributions, various approaches/systems for decision-making and implementation)
- Transparency (financial, human resources, conflict resolution, impact reporting and communications)
Understanding the importance of the Trust-based Partnerships in Community Philanthropy and the challenging factors posed upon the matter, LIN has set out to hold annually a Cross-sector Conference on the topic of partnerships for social impact in Vietnam.
This one of a kind conference aims to provide an in-depth look into the philanthropic and community development efforts in Vietnam through the lens of cross-sector collaborations. First and foremost, it provides both high level knowledge sharing and practical skill training via workshops & keynote speeches from community and business leaders on how to build trust based cross-sector partnerships. The conference also features inspiring trust-based partnership stories in the formats of panel discussions with representatives come from all ends of partnerships, who will then share their own challenges, questions, the aha moments along their power sharing journeys, and what it takes to build an collaborative culture of trust for your organizations, to how corporates should approach in order to search for social impact partner as well as how to conduct talks of budgeting to reporting without damaging the relationships
One of the best ways to learn is to hear practitioners share their experiences, the insights into the subject matter and offer practical steps for getting started. Don’t miss an opportunity to join LIN’s Annual Conference: Impacts beyond Boundaries and meet like-minded philanthropists and nonprofit organizations in our community.
– THE END –