Collaboration is simply working together to achieve shared goals — and when it goes well, we get a lot more done. As anyone with much experience protecting land knows, productive collaborations with the right partners can significantly expand the range of what’s possible. Collaboration allows each organization to play to its strengths, while gaining from the strengths of others.
Successful collaboration might help your land trust:
- Increase capacity: You might gain access to professional skills you don’t have in-house.
- Gain local credibility: Your partner may have strong connections in the community.
- Take on more ambitious goals: When multiple groups join forces, you can think bigger.
- Get grant funding: Many agencies and foundations prefer to fund joint efforts.
What Does Collaboration Look Like?
Like relationships, collaboration can take many forms. It can be simple or complex, informal or structured, short-term or long-term. You might think of collaborative ventures along a spectrum from the most casual to the most committing. Here are some of the options on that spectrum:
- Networking: Have conversations and learn what other groups are working on. What drives them? Do you share values or goals? How can your work complement theirs?
- Shared trainings: Build capacity while splitting the costs.
- Shared programs: Team up to save a special place, launch a new initiative, or share the responsibilities of stewardship.
- Land trust service centers or coalitions: In many parts of the country, land trusts have formed land trust service centers or coalitions, which offer professional services or other benefits. Find one in your area. Or, if you see a need, consider starting one.
- Shared services or staff: Hire professionals to serve more than one organization, through subcontracting or staff sharing.
- Merger: A merger can be a good option when multiple groups want to expand their capacity, reduce redundancy, or avoid competing for funds — but it’s a serious move that requires reflection and due diligence.
Finding the Right Partners
As you talk with people from other organizations, look for partners with strengths that complement yours, who are working toward shared goals, and who you enjoy working with. Clear communication and mutual respect are keys to successful partnerships!
One common scenario is that a large land trust and a small one join forces. Each may bring strengths that the other needs. Often, the larger group will have more funding and professional expertise available, while the smaller group can use its connections to open doors in the local community. Another common scenario is that multiple land trusts linked by geography will find ways to support each other’s work. In other cases, land trusts reach out beyond the world of conservation to find goals they share with other groups in their community. These connections can be great starting points for community conservation.
Keys to Successful Collaboration
Collaboration isn’t always fun! There can be downsides. Sometimes, land trusts are concerned that collaboration will result in a loss of identity, lack of credit for their work, or competition for funds. More formal or complex partnerships take considerable time to set up—with thorny questions to answer, like who will lead and how staff roles will change. Mergers, in particular, require caution, because they involve taking on each other’s liabilities as well as assets. Here are a few tips for making your collaboration a success. Dig into Alliance resources to explore the topic further:
- Communicate! Avoiding misunderstanding can save major time and frustration. For more formal collaborations, written agreements are essential. Even in less formal scenarios, it can be helpful to send an email or memo that sums up your plans for working together.
- Date before you get serious. If you’re considering a major shift like a merger, first work together on a smaller project. See how it goes.
- Treat your partners with respect and expect no less.