Going Alone: 3 Problems You Face When You Won’t Partner

Growing up, we are constantly taught the importance of sharing and playing nice with our friends. “Play nice!” and “Please share!” are common things to tell kids. But, much like eating vegetables, adults don’t always do what they make the kids do. When I work with different organizations, I find myself saying the same things. Many smaller ministries are hesitant and defensive when it comes to working with other ministries. They don’t want to partner with others because they can only see risk. I hear them saying things like “I don’t want to lose my donors and volunteers to another organization” or “They don’t agree with us on everything, and I don’t want to have to explain why we are working together.”

I understand that there are good reasons for caution when working with other non-profits, but I challenge you to think through partnership through a different lens. Partnering with other ministries isn’t a bad idea or even a neutral, it’s a great tool for growth and efficiency in your ministry. Without partnering, you will face challenges such as:

1. You can’t do everything

Let’s say that you run an organization that specializes in housing for homeless. As you find out that more and more of your clients are in need of some basic health care services, you may begin to think “How can we offer basic health care?” Instead, I would encourage your first question to be “Who in the area is already doing this and how can we partner with them?” Instead of widening your scope, how can you partner with someone else? After all, you will be at best a mediocre source of health care services, while diverting resources from housing. You’ve just damaged both rather than being good at your main thing.

Great quarterbacks don’t spend time coming up with defensive plays or working on their tackling- they just work on being the best quarterback. Your organization should focus on what you do well and what God has called you to, then partner with other ministries to fill in the gaps.

2. You have to say “no” more

At Keenly Interactive, we do a lot of things well. We excel at branding, media, and overall strategic planning for ministries. However, there are also areas that aren’t our strengths. One of those areas is Search Engine Optimization (SEO). We know how it works, and we can even do some of it. But we also know that to do it well is a complex specialization that requires constant learning. Instead of distracting ourselves, we know people who specialize in SEO. Instead of saying “SEO? Sorry, we don’t do that” we can say “SEO? We have the perfect connection. Let us introduce you to our friends”.

What would this look like in your ministry? If you’re trying to help single moms get out of poverty, but someone else says “I need a way to connect to foster care agencies”- you can connect them to the right people. You’ll gain credibility by being able to say yes to more things. “I know who you should work with and they will take great care of you.” You still get credit for the solution because you knew where to find it.

3. You let budget blinders determine your priorities

Imagine that your budget decreased because you worked less, but at the same time you helped twice as many people. How would you feel if this happened? To me, that feels very efficient, but in the minds of many, the budget eclipses the work. It’s important to remember that you got into this to solve a social or spiritual problem, not to protect or grow a budget.

There are two common ways I see this play out: in the first scenario, a donor comes along with one of those big cardboard checks for a ton of cash. That’s great, but they want it used for something that’s not really what you do, or at least misses the point a bit. You know it could be spent better, but it raises your profile, so you do it. Thus begins a cycle in which you slowly move from mission focused to donor focused. Your main job is to keep the donors happy, and your original mission is secondary.

The other is facility goggles, which is very common if you’re running a church. I’ve tried to do ministry without facilities, and it’s generally not very effective, so I’m not advocating that you drop facilities. But you can get so worried about a building campaign that you lose sight of the larger picture of sharing the gospel. The infrastructure, budgets, and monthly plans become the motivation behind your decision making. They used to be a means to an end, but they’ve become the end while you weren’t paying attention.

Good news

Mission drift is normal. You aren’t a terrible person for experiencing it. All you need to do is take a regular review of your original intent, measure it against your experience, and correct for areas in which you’ve drifted. Give yourself permission to say “no” to a good thing in order to say “yes” to a better thing. When that good thing comes along, partner with someone who will take it and run with it farther than you could have. You’re not risking loss; you are giving yourself a larger footprint than you ever could have had alone.

– Todd Flaming is manages Operations and Strategic Assessment for Keenly Interactive. His background is in Graphic Design and Brand Management, as well as in Worship and Church Leadership.

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