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Summit Urges Nonprofit Teamups, Big And Small

Kid plays with water table
Carleigh Gray
A kid plays at the Children's Discovery Museum in Normal. The museum's partnership with the Town of Normal will be featured at a conference next week.

The two-year state budget crisis made life difficult for many of the 105,000 nonprofits across Illinois that rely in some way on taxpayer support.

For some nonprofits, lingering uncertainty makes the possibility of collaboration with other nonprofits more attractive than ever—either to save money through efficiencies, or potentially bring in more grant money.

The upsides—and barriers—to collaboration will take center stage Tuesday at a conference in Normal hosted by Forefront, an association of Illinois nonprofits, and Illinois State University’s Center for Community Engagement and Service Learning. Over 50 nonprofits are expected to attend.

“Yes, we have a (state) budget, but our nonprofits are still feeling some of those pains,” said Sarah Tapscott, director of statewide partnerships at Forefront.

Collaboration exists on a continuum, Tapscott said. It can be as simple as a client referral, or as complex as a full-on merger of two organizations, she said. It can take months or years to collaborate.

Tuesday’s conference will highlight several specific examples of how nonprofits have joined forces—or literally joined together—to fulfill their missions, Tapscott said. Those stories will include Innovate Springfield, an incubator that became part of the University of Illinois at Springfield, in August.

Another example that will be featured Tuesday is the partnership that brought the Children’s Discovery Museum into the Town of Normal, after years of operating on its own. It’s been in Uptown since 2004.

Some nonprofits may worry that collaboration could lead to a loss of identity—and then maybe funding. Others may simply not know how to do it, or they lack awareness about what exactly other organizations are already doing, Tapscott said. Tuesday’s conference should help with that, she said.

“One of the barriers is not knowing when or how to start the conversation,” she said.

There may be a financial upside too. Some grant-making foundations are now giving preference to applicants that submit jointly with other nonprofits, Tapscott said.

“I’ve even seen a few of them come across that require collaboration amongst the nonprofit organizations in order to even attempt to submit a letter of intent (for a grant),” she said.

Illinois State’s Center for Community Engagement and Service Learning is a co-sponsor of the “Collaboration: Partnerships that Deliver Results” conference.

“We have committed to offering professional development opportunities for community organizations once a semester and this program aligned nicely. We are excited to participate alongside many of the community organizations we partner with,” Harriett Steinbach, ISU’s assistant director for service learning, said in a statement.

You can also listen to the full interview:

GLT's full interview with Tapscott.

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Ryan Denham is the digital content director for WGLT.