The power of collaboration in the nonprofit sector working on migration

Six hands holding each over a table on which lies a laptop and notes

In the ever-evolving landscape of the nonprofit sector, collaboration has become more than just a tool for growth – it’s an indispensable force that propels the organization’s mission forward. Salam Lab co-founder on pooling resources, knowledge and strengths with other organizations

Collaborations, when navigated well, offer numerous benefits, enabling nonprofit organizations to extend their reach, amplify their impact, and better serve their clients and constituents. This trend, which involves pooling resources, expertise, and strengths with other nonprofits, businesses, or government entities, has emerged as a transformative force in the sector.

The value of collaboration: shifting the nonprofit landscape

The scope of issues NGOs aim to address has expanded dramatically, with challenges often transcending geographical and political boundaries. Traditional operational modes are giving way to innovative collaborative approaches that can address these issues holistically. A collaborative approach can dramatically augment the organization’s capacity to address its cause. While individual efforts can drive substantial progress, it is through collective action that we can overcome more significant challenges. The collaborations I am referring to cover collaborations among NGOs, government entities and businesses. This has been proven by research but it is also our organization’s first-hand experience that I want to draw on.

Tangible benefits of nonprofit collaboration

Nonprofit collaboration carries a multitude of benefits, both for the organizations involved and for the communities they serve. These partnerships can result in significant cost savings, an expanded range of services, fresh ideas, new leadership opportunities, increased brand exposure, and strengthened advocacy voices.

1. Cost savings

One of the most immediate benefits of collaboration is cost savings. Administrative costs such as office supplies, transportation, facility rental, and staff training can often be shared between collaborating organizations. This financial advantage allows nonprofits to redirect resources towards their mission, improving their ability to serve their constituents.

2. Expanded range of services

Collaboration also offers nonprofits the opportunity to expand their range of services. By partnering with an organization that focuses on a similar mission but different aspects, nonprofits can access new tools and resources, offering a more comprehensive suite of services to their clients.

3. New ideas and leadership

With different individuals, experiences, and backgrounds coming together, collaborations become breeding grounds for innovation. These new ideas can lead to novel solutions and strategies, helping nonprofits advance their missions more effectively. Additionally, collaborations open the door to new leadership opportunities, bringing in fresh perspectives that can steer the organization in novel and productive directions.

4. Increased brand exposure

Collaboration can significantly enhance an organization’s visibility. Partner organizations can cross-promote each other, doubling the reach of marketing and branding efforts. By tapping into each other’s networks, nonprofits can broaden their audience, engage with more stakeholders, and generate more support for their cause.

5. Strengthened advocacy voice

For smaller nonprofits, whose voices may get drowned out by larger entities, collaboration offers a means to amplify their advocacy voice. By joining forces with like-minded organizations, nonprofits can bolster their influence, making a more significant impact on their cause and their community.

6. Expanded programs

Collaborations also provide nonprofits with the resources and capabilities to expand their programs or even create new ones. Partner organizations can combine similar programs, introduce new components, or develop entirely new initiatives, broadening the services they offer to their community.

The NGO Committee on Migration (CoM) is an international example of such a collaboration. Formed at the urging of numerous NGOs in consultative status with the United Nations, the committee comprises over 50 NGOs striving to secure justice for migrants, refugees, stateless persons, internally displaced persons, and trafficked persons. By coming together, these organizations are able to amplify their voices and strengthen their advocacy efforts.

At a more local level, we saw a similar story unfold in Poland with the formation of Grupa Granica and the Migration Consortium. These collaborations have enabled Polish NGOs to spread awareness about their humanitarian work on the Belarus border, advocacy on international collaborations (mainly with iNGOs) and influence local migration policies.

Collaboration with business

A study by James E. Austin and M. May Seitanidi, “Collaborative Value Creation: A Review of Partnering Between Nonprofits and Businesses,” emphasizes the transformative potential of NGO-business collaborations. The authors found that collaborations between nonprofits and businesses can yield significant value, both socially and economically, offering a potent pathway for nonprofits to further their mission.

A 2017 PWC report titled “Managing the Refugee and Migrant Crisis: The Role of Governments, Private Sector and Technology” underscored the powerful role that the private sector can play in providing innovative solutions to the pressing migration issues. Through strategic collaboration with governments and NGOs, businesses can provide much-needed resources, offer employment and training programs, and help tackle organizational constraints.

“The private sector can also help governments and relevant agencies dealing with the migrant crisis overcome capacity and organisational constraints by facilitating inter-departmental coordination and strategic planning, and intra-departmental organisation and programme management”, the report says.

As underlined in the PWC publication, through Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) businesses can lend their support to long-term challenges such as education, healthcare, and housing, thereby playing a pivotal role in integrating refugees into their new communities. The value of the private sector’s focus on efficiency, innovation, and adding value can significantly enhance the response to crises.

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Moreover, technology companies have a unique role to play in these collaborations. They are able to provide innovative tools and solutions to governments, NGOs, and international organizations, aiding them in navigating the complexities of the refugee and migrant crisis.

In Poland, since the outbreak of the full-scale war in Ukraine, there has been a shift in the way businesses look at CSR aimed at migration. Despite equity and inclusion being an important part of many businesses’ policies, activities around these topics were conducted without the focus on migration and refugees. Currently, we see a shift where almost all companies want to show their initiative in assisting Ukrainian refugees, often concentrating on such aspects as integration and multiculturalism.

Collaboration with government

Non-profit organizations (NGOs) and government collaborations have demonstrated significant potential for synergy in public service delivery and policy implementation. The study “Stay or Exit: Why Do Nonprofits Maintain Collaborations With Government?” highlights instrumental and relational factors that influence an NGO’s intent to maintain collaborations with the government. Instrumental factors such as the need for resources and the presence of a formal agreement strongly affect continuance commitment. Relational factors like distributive and procedural justice significantly shape affective commitment. It also highlights the importance of the sustainability of collaborations, which often gets overlooked despite its significant implications for public management.

As much as we sometimes want to, we are not able to create policies and address the issues at scale on our own. We are and always will be dependent on the work done by government institutions and policies but we do have an impact on these aspects as long as we are willing to collaborate.

The Salam Lab experience: collaboration in action

At the Peacebuilding Laboratory Association (Salam Lab), we have firsthand experience of the power and necessity of collaboration. We have joined forces with numerous organizations, from local NGOs to global corporations like IKEA, to address the refugee and migrant crisis more effectively.

The early days of the full-scale war taught us a valuable lesson: what we cannot achieve alone can be achieved through working with others. We worked closely with Ukrainian diaspora organizations like Zustricz and UAinKrakow to establish the first Help Center and shelter in Krakow. Our partnering organizations, such as IB Polska and Szlachetna Paczka, provided invaluable assistance, further highlighting the advantages of collaborative work. The existence of this Help Center, which to this day provided assistance to tens of thousands of people, would be impossible without partnerships.

Our experience with collaboration extends to the business sector as well, as our partnership with IKEA illustrates. Stable employment is a crucial factor for refugees seeking to build safe, secure lives in their host countries, and IKEA Retail, with the support of several NGOs including Salam Lab, launched an employment program aimed at addressing this need. The NGOs involved contribute their expertise in areas like refugee integration and inclusion workshops, while IKEA provides its resources and commitment to creating an open work environment.

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This collaboration aims not only to positively affect the lives of refugees but also to inspire other businesses to contribute to the effort, reshaping the labour market for migrants. Furthermore, this collaboration spurred IKEA to organize Round Table discussions between businesses, NGOs, and municipalities. These discussions could lead to significant changes in the Polish labour market for migrants, again demonstrating the transformative potential of such partnerships.

Our collaborations have enabled us to remain committed to our core mission—helping all refugees, not just Ukrainians, and prioritizing assistance to minority groups like the Roma and LGBT+ communities. By combining resources and expertise with our partner organizations, we have managed to amplify our impact significantly, providing refugees with critical services from accommodation, and stable employment to work against discrimination.

Navigating the challenges of collaboration

Despite the numerous benefits, collaborations do come with their own set of challenges. These may include differing priorities, resource constraints, and communication difficulties. Coordinating efforts between different organizations often requires extensive communication and negotiation, and conflicts may arise due to differing priorities or resource constraints. However, inter-organizational collaborations, despite their inherent complexities, can still yield positive outcomes when managed effectively.

While the power of collaborations is undeniable, it’s crucial that each NGO maintains its organizational values throughout these partnerships. This delicate balancing act is one that we, at Salam Lab, are well acquainted with. Our mission is to aid all refugees, and we emphasize assistance to minority groups such as the Roma and LGBT+ communities. During our collaborations, we consistently communicate this mission to our partners, ensuring that the shared work aligns with these values. As research by Christopher S. Collins in his paper “The Effectiveness of Managerial Leadership Development Programs: A Meta-Analysis of Studies from 1982 to 2001” indicates, consistent communication of core values and mission can significantly enhance the effectiveness of collaborations, underscoring the importance of this practice in maintaining organizational integrity.

Looking ahead

As the nonprofit sector continues to evolve, collaboration will undoubtedly play an increasingly critical role. By pooling resources, sharing expertise, and harnessing collective advocacy power, nonprofits can make a more substantial impact on their cause, moving their mission forward more effectively and efficiently.

At Salam Lab, we are dedicated to fostering meaningful collaborations that uphold our values and further our mission. By harnessing the power of partnership, we can help create a more just and inclusive world for refugees and migrants.

At Salam Lab, we see these challenges not as roadblocks, but as opportunities for growth and learning. By maintaining our focus on our core mission and values, we can navigate these hurdles and continue to create meaningful collaborations that serve our cause.

This article has been written as part of the Promigracyjne Sojusze [eng. Promigration Alliances] project implemented with a grant from the Active Citizens – National Fund programme funded by Iceland, Liechtenstein and Norway through the EEA Funds.

Zuzanna Tamas – co-founder of Peacebuilding Laboratory Association, a.k.a. Salam Lab

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