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Is It Time for Xtreme Collaboration 3.0?

Picture1.preview.jpgRecently I was describing “Xtreme Collaboration,” a project that grew out of an Open Space session at one of our national meetings many years ago. The enthusiastic buzz it created left me wondering if it might just be time for the sequel, Xtreme Collaboration Returns or 3.0 depending on your favorite frame.  


So first, what was the project?

I pitched the idea during Creating Space (our national meeting) with the prompt: “the Xtreme collaboration session is for people who are willing to explore the possibility that we just may be going about this all wrong.” I had been mulling over the paradox in the non-profit sector, from a niche marketing perspective, that the organizations with whom you have the greatest mission alignment are your competitors.  You have probably heard the widely used metaphor, ‘we are competing for slices of the same pie.’ Given the prevalence of this assumption (and its impact on our behaviors) I became curious about whether anyone had ever tested this assumption and began to consider the possibility that it might not be true.

Hence the Xtreme Collaboration experiment.  I proposed to the pioneers who showed up that we test this hypothesis and up the ante by suggesting that we might even be able to raise more funds (or bake a bigger pie if we are to stick with that metaphor) through collaborative marketing and fundraising.  We proposed a matrix (yes a nod to the film which gives you an idea about how long ago this was) that we would use to let each other know who we current received funding from and who we were approaching for funding.  See the sample below:

Organization Name

Who Funds You

Who You Are Approaching


Foundation A

Foundation B

Foundation C

Foundation X

Foundation Y


Organization “B”

Foundation  G

Foundation  H

Foundation B


The idea was that if my organization (LLC) received funding from Foundation B and another organization, Organization B (who listed themselves in the Matrix), submitted a proposal to or was in a conversation with Foundation B, I would reach out to Organization B and offer to speak to my contact at Foundation B on their behalf if they wanted to tell me about their proposal so that I could speak concretely and positively about their proposal. We had a couple of ideas we tried out:

  • That we could be champions for leadership development investment and help increase investments in the field by promoting good work
  • That recommending the good work of others programs to our funders would not cause them to fund these programs instead of ours
  • That it would be unusual for funders to get calls from their grantees on behalf of another organization’s and we hoped would carry the weight of a program knowledgeable about the field
  • That increased funding for leadership development is good for all who believe that leadership is critical to social change because there is no shortage of work to be done, only a shortage of funding

So what happened?

We started out with a dozen or so enthusiasts who filled out the matrix.  Obviously we could have suggested that everyone use the Who is Funding You column as a cultivation strategy asking everyone to introduce you to their funder.  For this experiment we thought reinforcing cultivation efforts already underway would be more effective than having each person do fifteen or twenty email-introductions to each of our funders.  Only a handful people actively engaged over the course of the next six months.  Still, we generated $200,000 in new grants total (to two different organizations) and none of the participating recommenders lost funding from their current funders.   It was a modest experiment.  We can’t claim to have disproved current assumption or even solidly affirmed our hypothesis but it does make us wonder if we don’t need more research.  

We have also experimented with joint marketing and a number of programs are sharing their evaluation findings.  Together we can pool our data and findings to make a more compelling case for leadership development.  A big shout out as well to Cynthia Chavez, former LLC board member and Executive Director of LeaderSpring.  Cynthia is another pioneer in Xtreme Collaboration who did joint cultivation meetings with LLC and helped us get support from some of her funders.  I bet there are more examples these days and I would love to see us share them and craft new experiments.  After all, we have seen the power of networks and we are a powerful network so lets put it to use in designing Xtreme Collaboration 3.0.  Are you game?  Send me an email

For Xtreme Collaboration 2.0 See Our 2009 Article