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Competition or Collaboration

Have you ever thought about fast food restaurants?  There are many kinds of fast food places that specialize in some type of mass produced cuisine.  There are burger places like McDonalds, Jack In the Box, Burger King, and Carl’s Jr.  There are taco joints like Taco Bell, Taco Time, and Taco Del Mar.  There are sandwich shops like Subway, Quizno’s and Arby’s.  Pizza comes from Domino’s, Pizza Hut, Little Caesar’s, and Papa John’s.  The quality varies from place to place, but the competition gives you a choice of where to go and keeps the price down.  If there were only one place to go for each type of food, the only competition would be with different types of restaurants and a monopoly would likely make the cost higher.  When it comes to fast food, competition is good for the consumer. 

When it comes to the nonprofit sector, it is similar, but I am not so sure that it is good in the same way.  There a lot of agencies out there which provide the same services that have to compete with each other for limited financial support, especially if the support they are vying for comes from foundations and government resources.  There are numerous social service agencies that help low income clients, animal rescue organizations saving dogs and cats from euthanasia, shelters for the homeless and victims of domestic violence, chemical dependency rehabilitation clinics, environmental groups trying to conserve natural resources, and support organizations for a myriad of diseases.  Because they have to compete against similar organizations, nonprofits have to spend a great deal of time and money marketing their programs to the public and potential funders.  They have expensive events to bring in financial support and battle for limited corporate sponsorships to pay for them.  If they are in a smaller geographical area, like the Portland area, it can be a tough row to hoe.   Is this competition serving those who benefit from these agencies, or would it be better if these similar organizations worked together to accomplish more?

I rarely see like-minded groups work together on projects to reach their goals, and more often read of groups working against each other.  I recently read an article in the Chronicle of Philanthropy about one organization in Florida complaining that, because they had similar missions and names, donors in the area were confused and giving their support to the other organization.  A well known breast cancer foundation has sued other breast cancer organizations for using pink ribbons as part of their marketing campaigns.  I do know of a few collaborative efforts that raised money for an event, but they are few and far between. 

I think it might be better if smaller organizations considered joining forces. If smaller organizations banded together to raise support for their causes and shared the results, I think more can get done.  A coalition of organizations can work together successfully if they can leave their egos at the door and keep their eyes on their goals.  Less money could be spent on marketing individual organizations and more money could be spent on delivering services to their clients.  Organizations could learn more from sharing their knowledge and experience, and learn from the successes and mistakes from their partnering organizations.

Maybe competition is good in the nonprofit sector because it might lead to innovation, but to me competition creates wasted opportunities that collaborative efforts might cure.

What do you think?