Building Partnerships Between Local Governments & Non-Profit Organizations
The non-profit sector is one of the most valuable tools to which a sustainability officer has access. Such organizations are strategically placed to be strong allies and advocates in many of the issues involving the creation and maintenance of a sustainable community. Alternatively, these same groups can serve as considerable opponents to initiatives they do not support.
What are the best ways for a sustainability officer to work with non-profit organization? What are the relative strengths of that sector into which a sustainability officer can tap? It should be noted that some for-profit organizations share similar functions and roles with non-profits. The following offers ideas about how sustainability officers may work with for-profit and non-profit organizations to advance sustainability issues.
Non-Profits Are Well Positioned To Achieve Sustainability Goals
Non-profit organizations are formed to address specific missions and goals, and as such, concentrate their limited resources in those areas. It is best to seek non-profits whose missions support sustainability goals as allies and partners.
They typically have better access to a wider range of funding sources than is typically available to local governments, including public and private grants, and private donations. They may also be better able to allocate their resources to achieve specific goals. For example, because they are not restricted by legislative mandates and processes, some non-profits have more flexibility in assigning staff, money, and other resources to projects. They are also more experienced in the recruitment, training, and utilization of volunteers.
Advocacy is a key function of many non-profits. They can work both within and outside of political arenas, and can often advocate in situations and in ways restricted to government agencies.
Engage Non-Profits Early and Regularly
A common mistake is to approach non-profit and other potential allies after goals and strategies have been defined. This can make it harder for these groups feel a sense of ownership and buy-in. It is best to allow non-profit representatives to participate in the early stages of conceptual development and strategy formation. This can provide additional of expertise, vision, and enthusiasm to the project in the early phase when outcomes are usually more uncertain. It also allows for the use of additional resources which non-profits can bring to the project planning phase. In short, non-profits should be seen as strategic partners throughout the full life of programs and initiatives.
Consider Starting a Non-profit Organization
Sometimes, there may not be non-profit organizations that directly address a local government’s sustainability missions and goals. In such cases, it might be worthwhile to form a non-profit to meet the need. Park conservancies are a good example of the alignment between local government and non-profits addressing shared goals.