In our previous letter, we described how to work with the personal networks of the people in your nonprofit, to find and enroll an ever increasing number of volunteers for your capacity building effort and its committees. This month we discuss developing alliances to help you recruit Board and committee members, or to help you implement any of the other capacity building strategies that we identified in Letter #2.

What is an alliance? It is a relationship with another organization that results in benefits for both organizations. It is not a donor relationship. Alliances can be tactical or strategic, and can be developed to support any of the other capacity building strategies.

When should you try to develop an alliance? Capacity building is mostly about extending a nonprofit’s “reach” into the community in an effort to include more Board and committee members, donors, volunteers, clients and/or client services in its program. If your organization’s publicity program and personal networks are not able to do this fast enough to achieve your capacity building goal, an alliance may give you the breakthrough that you need.

For example, every year we need to recruit quite a few experienced executives who are willing to volunteer their time to coach nonprofits in capacity building. The personal networks of our existing organization were only able to recruit one or two people a year. So we identified several organizations that had the kind of people that we were looking for, and attempted to develop an alliance with each of them. Our relationship with the Orange County Chapter of SCORE developed into an alliance that has been able to supply us with the volume of qualified and interested volunteers that we need to achieve our breakthrough capacity building goals.

If one of your strategies is to build your infrastructure of Board and committee, you might try to develop alliances with local civic organizations, chambers of commerce, businesses and professional organizations in order to reach a lot more prospective Board and committee members than you might be able to through your nonprofit’s personal networks.

The power of alliances is not limited to reaching prospective Board and committee members. They can help you reach businesses who might donate equipment, supplies, underutilized space and money to the nonprofit, individuals who might donate time or money, or institutions that can help you promote and publicize your nonprofit through participation in community events, joint service ventures and grants, shared mailing lists and website links, client referrals, etc. The possibilities are endless.


How do you develop an alliance? First, define the attributes of people that you would like to include in your nonprofit’s program, and the reason for including them. Second, identify organizations that have access to this target market that you want to reach. Third, do some research and networking to determine which of these organizations have values that are supportive of helping you access that market for your intended purpose. This is your list of possible alliances.

Then figure out what to ask of a prospective ally that may not cost them much to give; like referrals, mailing lists, participation in an event, unused space, equipment, supplies, food, etc. In addition, think of what you have to offer the prospective ally, which is of benefit to them. Lastly, recognize that a key ingredient of an alliance is the desire of the leaders in the two organizations to have a good relationship.

The goal is to find an aligning concept that creates a benefit for both organizations, at a readily affordable cost and downside risk. When you think you might have a viable concept for an alliance, use your personal network to initiate conversations with leaders in that organization, to develop relationships, and to test and shape the concept until both parties have some enthusiasm for helping one another.

For example, SCORE attracts an abundance of new members every year, and looks for ways to build their counseling business and deploy its new members. The Executive Coaches of Orange County invested several years of effort learning how a business executive could be of value to the nonprofit community, and have the marketing skills and contacts needed to create nonprofit coaching assignments. We asked SCORE to let us make a brief presentation at one of their chapter meetings, and five SCORE members volunteered to be nonprofit coaches.

We have another strategic alliance with the CONNECT project of Orangewood Children’s Foundation that enabled us to learn about the nonprofit community, and develop relationships in that community. Some of these relationships have, in turn, developed into other alliances that are helping us make the nonprofit community more aware of our Capacity Building Advisory Letters and our free follow-up Executive Coaching service. One alliance leads to others. It is a key capacity building strategy for us.