Competition versus collaboration

Feb 16, 2023

The Not-for-Profit (NFP) world is constantly evolving on a number of levels, and that includes the nature of competition vs. collaboration in the industry. NFPs have a long history of competing with one another for donor support. However, there is another trend that is not discussed as often – how NFPs also collaborate with other organizations, creating stronger campaigns and best practices.

When looking at how NFPs have made strides in working together towards a common goal, it’s important to review some of the most common types of collaboration, as highlighted by MindTools:

  • Open collaboration people who are internal or external to the business are invited to generate ideas or solve problems. This works best for large, widespread challenges since they allow for anyone to respond, opening it up for a diverse range of opinions and knowledge
  • Closed collaboration – typically smaller than open, and works best when there is a particular problem to solve that requires expert knowledge
  • Cross-functional collaboration – people who have different job functions work together with the aim of achieving a common goal
  • Cross-cultural collaboration entails working with people from other countries or cultures to expand learning and understanding
  • Virtual collaboration apps like Slack, Asana and Google Docs are now the norm in most office settings

The most common form of collaboration in the NFP world is open collaboration. There is a common underlying trend of trying to make the most out of limited budgets, which encourages organizations to gather information and expertise to maximize revenue. Many organizations use the same fundraising and marketing platforms (such as MarketSmart or Donor Motivation), and sharing successes and challenges has allowed NFPs to be both effective and efficient in how they shape their strategies. Sharing information often helps organizations focus on what is best for the community to which they’re dedicated. For example, hospital foundations focused on pediatric and adult health can focus on the natural transition between those levels of care. Open collaboration puts the patients’ health journey first, and challenges are solved on a more strategic level.

While collaboration is extensive in the NFP industry, there is also a significant amount of internal and external competition. Internally, we are all familiar with the universal competition between segmented teams, for example, Annual Giving vs. Major Gifts or Events vs. Corporate Giving. As teams are tasked to hit what are often challenging targets, a natural level of competition is going to exist, and in some situations, the level of competition can increase to a level that negatively affects morale.

NFPs that are truly successful are able to find the proper balance between collaboration and competition, engaging their staff to achieve their goals, while creating nurturing relationships between internal teams. Incorporating donor journeys and foundation-wide donor strategies helps create an atmosphere that is conducive to focusing on relationships with donors, which drives overall results.

External competition between NFPs is common as organizations compete for donor support, typically driven by sector (e.g. healthcare, food security, homelessness), but often the competition is more perceived than actual. While it may appear that some organizations are competing against each other, they are often working together to help combat their area of focus. For example, an organization that focuses on a certain health segment might be seen to compete with a major hospital, but that organization may often raise funds and then transfer those to the hospital for a designated research project that serves a common interest. While competition is an everyday occurrence, it is possible for it to harmoniously exist with collaboration in order to benefit the cause.

Competition between NFPs can get ugly. There have been cases of organizations either copying campaigns or poaching staff to gain event expertise, in effort to launch a competing campaign. While this may seem normal to some, NFPs have typically considered this to be more of a “corporate” approach to the workplace, with revenue and targets seen as the primary focus. As the NFP sector experiences this more, the ripple effects can be seen through increasing staff turnover at many organizations, which could impact donor trust in the long term.

As budgets continue to be tight in most NFPs, collaboration is key to continue moving forward. Finding suitable opportunities and organizations to share ideas and goals with is an important step in the right direction. To help your organization, here are a few points from MindTools on how to collaborate successfully:

  1. "Define your purpose"
    • Find a shared purpose and make it clear so everyone knows what they’re working towards
  2. "Choose open or closed collaboration"
    • The choice will most likely depend on the problem at hand. Choosing the right form of collaboration will help drive the results you want
  3. "Involve the right people"
    • This is of particular importance when using closed collaboration. Assigning roles can help keep projects on track by encouraging responsibility
  4. "Achieve buy-in"
    • It’s important to let collaborators know how the outcome can benefit them. Motivators may include the opportunity to learn new skills, recognition or career progression
  5. "Encourage collaborative behaviour"
    • Lead by example to inspire others, build trust, encourage the use of different meeting spaces, and foster a culture of creative thinking

Competition and collaboration are normal occurrences in daily NFP business, but they don’t necessarily have to be rivals. In order to succeed and have a vibrant and innovative workplace, strive to find a balance between the two, with focus maintained on donors and end users.

profile picture

Jason Egbuna

Marketing Manager, Major, Estate & Leadership Giving Princess Margaret Cancer Foundation




Carousel title 2


Recent Work |

View All
  • Key Topics

Major Sponsors

  • BMO-800x450
  • CIBC-800x450
  • Microsoft-2023