Welcome: Mapping Strategic Relationships

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This issue of the Nonprofit Quarterly is, to put it simply, about choosing your partners strategically to best leverage the results you want. That said there’s really nothing simple about it. We chose the image on our cover because it shows a web of interaction among a decentralized assortment of players. The background has a global texture. Even this representation is far less complicated than the range of choices you really have. In this illustration, as relationships zing back and forth and far away, flashes of brilliance emerge and the nodes seem to dance with each other.

When you look around your own organization you can see and feel the web of relationships that nurture, sustain and stimulate–and you can sense the potential in further joining together. Your relationships define you as much as do your personal or organizational traits. The questions to ask yourself now are: do we have the right types of relationships with the right partners? Where are decisions being made that affect the lives of our constituents and our own work? What provides our constituents and us optimal creative and strategic power?

Articles in the feature section include one which proposes a slightly different definition of collaboration: portraying it as a larger commitment to a way of working that will, of necessity, involve multiple partners at various levels, over time. Most discussions of collaboration focus on short-lived experiments involving just a few organizations–we take it one step further with examples of large-scale engagements of various stakeholders across whole systems. Understanding where action needs to occur in a complex system is important, as our article on regionalism points out. Taking yet another step out, we end with two articles looking at movement building: one hopeful and the other less sanguine. This last takes up issues of divisiveness reinforced, disturbingly, by a later article in the special philanthropy section.

Lest you think we have an altogether naive view of the virtues of our feature topic, Flo Green contributes sobering thought on when to avoid collaborating. We also acknowledge that though we tried to present a broad view on the topic of collaboration, we have given very little ink to constituent involvement, which we consider primary to all other forms of relationship development. We plan to devote a future issue to this important topic.

In keeping with the seasonal spirit, we recognize many of you are actively in fundraising mode, so, to help set your efforts in a broader context, Rick Cohen of the National Committee for Responsive Philanthropy has contributed a special section to this issue. We have a set of three articles–on where larger grants are going, on the scandalous decline in funding for racial and ethnic minority groups, and on the Bush administration’s plans for faith-based charity. We’re sorry to say the news is not pretty.