Improving Collaboration between Minority Nonprofits and Government Agencies

Collaboration between minority nonprofit organizations, like the Latino Leadership Council, and government agencies is crucial to addressing our community’s needs. After all, the agencies have the funding (albeit very limited nowadays) and the nonprofit organizations have the intimate knowledge of the community and how best to address those needs. Neither of us can go at it alone successfully, yet it seems like the two sides are often at odds with each other. How can minority nonprofits and government agencies best partner and work together?

From the perspective of the minority nonprofits, I can say that much of the dissonance stems from what we sometimes perceive to be an unequal partnership. Yes, I fully understand that the agencies have the funding, and that with the money comes a great deal of the power. But the money is only half of the equation. We bring the knowledge, relationships, linkages, community’s trust, cultural understanding and grassroots networks.

Yet at times it seems as though we’re not included in the discussions and the decisions that affect the Latino community. We’re brought to the table to share ideas and discuss the issues, but then the real decisions are made without us in the room. And at times the direction we agreed to in our discussions is not reflected in the decisions that are made behind closed doors.

As you can imagine, this can be incredibly disheartening. It sometimes feels as though we’re not part of an equal partnership, but rather placed in a subservient role.

I am sure minority nonprofits are not free of fault here either. Government agencies probably perceive us as only interested in our own niche community and not necessarily the community at large. They may see us as always coming in and asking for money…a relationship that’s hard to appreciate in these hard economic conditions. Or they may think that we are not subject to the political, financial, procedural and legal constraints they are faced with every day and to which every decision must conform. And at times, I’m sure they are right.

Yet we still need each other. How can we best partner and work together toward a common goal?

I would say that it starts with open dialogue and discussion. We need to be more upfront with our agency partners about the role we wish to play in our working relationship. We need to stress that we’re not only looking to share in the decisions and directions, but also in the responsibility for ensuring the success of the projects, efforts and initiatives. We need to stress the value that we bring and the benefit of our presence and input at the decision-making table.

At the same time, we need to be open and hear what they expect from us, and be appreciative of the constraints, structures and demands under which they work. We need to understand that they sometimes have a broader perspective and goal than what we’re focused on and that what may seem of utmost importance to us is one of many different priorities that they have to deal with.

Overall, we need to communicate with each other better and understand each other’s roles, responsibilities and contributions. On our end, we have begun these discussions with some of our agency partners. I hope they bear fruit and lead to more productive relationships and partnerships that ultimately help our communities.

I know we have individuals from both government agencies and minority nonprofits who read this blog. What do you think each of us could do to improve working relationships between both sides? Are there other issues aside from those mentioned here that get in the way of collaboration? How has your organization or agency overcome these challenges? I think we can all learn from each other’s experiences so please share yours.

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