Thursday, February 14, 2008

Nonprofit Competition

I've been thinking a lot about the concept of competition recently. In the nonprofit sector, folks often share the same goals... helping the homeless, improving nonprofit effectiveness through technology, etc.

They also find themselves competing for funding, mind share, partners and other resources.

Yet the concept of coopetition really hasn't been well developed, IMHO. In Silicon Valley, they concept of cooperative competition is relatively established... and the calculations are fairly straight forward. Will I make money? If the answer is yes through cooperation, then coopetition is a perfectly good way to go. If the answer is no, then coopetition is a definite no.

But asking the question "will I help the homeless?" maybe shouldn't lead to the same calculation. The homeless might be helped a lot by coopetition, but I as an individual actor might not be doing a lot of the helping. In that situation, I as an actor shouldn't bail out if I care about the goal... my ego should be able to take the bruising of not being able to take credit.

This yields an interesting optimal outcome.... many actors all helping the homeless. They are competing for credit and "market share." They are cooperating on policy and standards (which helps the "market" making the pie bigger).

The key is that no one out competes anyone else. In fact, the fiercer and more equal the competition, as long as there is cooperation on policy and standards, the better the overall social outcome.

So how do you bring institutionalized coopetition to a set of actors?

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