The Collaboration Prize is Self-Defeating

My heart just sank when I saw that the Lodestar Foundation is offering a $250,000 prize for the most worthy collaboration. Yes, it sank.

Why does the sector that should know better continue to insist on treating organizational and sector-wide symptoms? If we know that symptoms-based approaches accomplish little more in our communities than sprinkle band-aids about, why do we think treating the symptoms will do us any better as organizations?

The Collaboration Prize is well-meaning: Celebrate what good can come from working together, that cannot happen when we work separately. Yes, of course, we all know that, and yes, of course, few organizations truly collaborate as a way of being.

But here’s what gets me about the top-down approach of “rewarding” collaboration – whether that reward is in the form of funding (we will only fund collaborative efforts) or the $250,000 prize now being offered: These rewards simply reinforce competition.

Think about it – now we will have whole groups of great projects, competing with each other for who is best – working hard to prove that they should win and others should lose.

Working together means everyone. It is possible if we think it is possible. Here is just one story of how it has been done – and how funders and others can begin to implement “working together” in ways that are inclusive, and not simply exclusive on a grander scale.

A spirit of collaboration is a far different animal than the mere mechanism of collaboration. Sharing resources and talent does not have to be a competitive enterprise, motivated by money (either gaining funding or reducing expenses).

When instead, working together is motivated by what we can accomplish together that we cannot accomplish alone, it becomes an inclusive process of sharing what we have, building on our strengths and our interconnectedness. It becomes part of our value system.

It becomes simply the way we do things.

Competition for money reinforces the scarcity mentality that says, “We can’t all win. The winners will therefore be those who learn to play the game better than the losers.”

But when our work is Community-Driven, the main prize is that our communities will be better places to live. And when we assume we all have strengths – and that we can provide more benefit to our communities if we share those strengths – we prove that the scarcity model is wrong.

We can indeed all win.

But only when the Powers That Be believe there is a better way than encouraging ongoing competition.

One Response to The Collaboration Prize is Self-Defeating

  1. Hi Hildy: I wish you could have joined us at the award ceremony this afternoon. Really, there’s a lot to be said about celebrating creativity. Now we’ve got more great examples than ever of how nonprofits can work together to better achieve their missions.

    Mark