Trust, Connection, and the Nonprofit Sector

I’m going to be bold and say that connectivity between organizations is more important in the nonprofit sector than in any other industry.

Why? Because the issues we work on are so immensely complex. Whether you’re working homelessness or hunger, arts education or workforce development, international poverty alleviation or climate change, the causes of human behavior are connected to something upstream.

Our work is difficult. Every day, nonprofit leaders advocate for issues, deal with trauma, and handle complicated funding streams. Human beings have a bias for the status quo, and especially when resources are limited, it’s hard to change behavior, even if we’re convinced it will pay dividends.  I remember working in a development team early in my career where I often sacrificed opportunities to network and build connections because it wasn’t part of our culture.

At NCN, we promote nonprofit shared space and shared back-office services, because they make financial sense, because they make efficient use of resources, and because they enable nonprofit leaders to focus on their mission instead of chasing bats out of the attic or agonizing over where to enter that $20 paper cutter in the books (Is it programs? Admin? Staff Development?).

But for years, I’ve noticed something different. NCN members talk about the “special sauce” that makes their spaces more than just “WeWork for nonprofits,” that makes their shared services program something different than the big shiny accounting firm.  Healthy sharing requires and reinforces a culture of trust and behaviors that support the common good in three ways:

  • Encouraging repeat interactions between people and organizations, where we learn about each other
  • Developing reciprocity by sharing information or doing nice things for the community, and
  • Creating opportunities for observability – ways we can be caught in the act being good citizens and partners.

Connection is a muscle that needs to be flexed. Shared space and shared services help us do that every day.  Together we can build a stronger nonprofit sector.



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