Urban Wire Hard times create openings for cross-sector collaboration
Thomas Callan
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In the aftermath of the Great Recession and the housing crisis, both local governments and nonprofits have encountered many challenges. But despite growing need and shrinking budgets, there may still be cause for optimism.

Today, the Urban Institute released a report commissioned by Habitat for Humanity International on how their Neighborhood Revitalization Initiative (NRI) affiliates can plan, build, and sustain collaborations with local government in this new climate. Generally, we find that both nonprofits and local governments are more open than ever to cross-sector collaboration, and that affiliate size, local government characteristics, and community context don’t matter much. Productive collaborations can take root under a wide array of circumstances.

That said, there are definitely things that nonprofits can do to increase their likelihood of success.

For example, stepping out of their comfort zone to meet community needs often creates new opportunities. When funds for a clean-up of 15 group homes for the disabled disappeared, a small Northeastern affiliate moved beyond its “one house, one family” new construction only model and expanded its portfolio to include light housing rehab. News of the project got the affiliate on the mayor’s radar. For the first time, he saw the affiliate as a real partner helping him and the city achieve community housing goals. As a result, the mayor passed a resolution supporting the affiliate’s work and often calls on it to help address housing issues that arise.

It’s also important for nonprofits—like Habitat’s NRI affiliates—to remember that collaboration with local government doesn’t just mean getting funding. For example, in the jurisdictions where they had most success collaborating with government, 60 percent of NRI affiliates reported receiving expedited inspections and half cited other benefits such as donated land and waived fees or codes.

But, as many of the panelists at the “Opportunity in Times of Austerity” event today emphasized, collaboration isn’t about local government or nonprofits at all—it’s about working together to make things better for the whole community.  The tools and strategies laid out in the report can help support these efforts in an ever-changing landscape.

Photo from Helga Esteb / Shutterstock.com

Research Areas Nonprofits and philanthropy