A Bigger Boat: Sustained Collaboration for Increased Impact

This blog is written by guest author, Daniel A. Rabuzzi of Indigo Pheasant LLC. Formerly a Network Member and the Executive Director at Mouse, Daniel continues to contribute to the Network as a partner dedicated to sustained collaboration and change management.

David Garza, long-time President & CEO of Henry Street Settlement (one of the oldest social service organizations in the country), says that beating our collective current crises will require the strategy recommended by Roy Scheider’s character in the movie Jaws:  “You’re gonna need a bigger boat.” David expanded upon this point in a recent webinar, “Let’s Make a Deal: Sustaining Impact in the Time of COVID,” hosted by Lucy Herz, Co-Founder & COO of the Student Success Network (Henry Street Settlement is one of the 70 non-profit member organizations of SSN) and facilitated by Jessica Cavagnero, Partner at SeaChange Capital Partners. The author of this post, representing Indigo Pheasant LLC, also participated in the webinar. 

You can access the entire webcast recording at no cost below:

David notes that “a bigger boat” can take many forms, depending on the current mission, size, location, and nature of a given non-profit.

Sometimes two or more organizations may build a larger vessel that they will crew and captain together, to improve their positive impact for and with the communities they serve. Sometimes “bigger” may mean broadening the range of contractual activities associated with operating separate boats – continuing in the Jaws mode, that might mean regularly sharing supplies at the harbor or navigation data once at sea. Sometimes “bigger” may mean combining existing methods or creating new ones to improve results at a lower cost, such as operating one instead of multiple harbor facilities or partnering to create a more efficient one. 

To widen the Jaws analogy, collaboration at other times may mean creating and coordinating a flotilla out of previously unconnected ships. Doing so may be necessary to overcome particularly pervasive and entrenched challenges, such as the pandemic and policies and practices that reinforce racism in our city.  Fortunately, shark-hunters have many tools at their disposal.

Sustained collaboration runs along a continuum from informal (alliances, networks) through shared service arrangements (co-location, shared staffing, back-office collaboration, fiscal sponsorship) to formal integration (joint ventures, mergers, acquisitions).

Regardless, bigger must also mean better – and ironically sometimes an organization should be willing to let go of a substantial program to improve its own performance while simultaneously bolstering the overall impact of the fleet.  A good example of this is Henry Street Settlement’s partnership with Betances Health Center, a neighbor on Henry Street in Manhattan’s Lower East Side. In 2019 the two organizations combined elements of their health services, expanding care for their patients while making service delivery more cost-efficient. Doing so meant that Henry Street Settlement transferred certain programs, with their funding, to Betances.

Reducing in size to help make a bigger boat for all may sound counter-intuitive but is the kind of bold, nuanced innovation that the current challenges require. The current crises, felt most acutely by individuals and families in our neighborhoods, can best be met with new patterns of ships, crews and tackle. Bigger may refer as much to the size of the fleet as it does to any individual ship, or even the size of the map within which the fleet maneuvers. 

With the shark upon us, we need to find whichever form of sustainable collaboration is best suited to our specific needs – so that we are together large enough and strong enough to overcome the monster.

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