Submitted by Jean Butzen on November 23, 2010 - 07:39

I Gain and You Gain - The Emergence of "Smart Power" Strategies in the Nonprofit Sector

I am often asked: Why is it important to learn how to collaborate with other nonprofits? My response often has to do with the microeconomic changes that influence our sector, such as the pressure to raise unrestricted funding. But recently I saw a very interesting podcast on given by Joseph Nye, a historian and diplomat who made me see the answer to this question in a new way.
Nye explained that the nature of power - the ability to accomplish your goals - is changing in the 21st century. Most countries are used to thinking of power as the ability to act unilaterally. Nye, who was speaking about global power shifts, says however that it's soft power which is the emerging power in the 21st century. There are many problems that are outside the control of individual countries: climate change, pandemics, etc., and that the only way to deal with these issues is through cooperation among nations. The same is true in the nonprofit sector where we are often struggling with failing state governments, the recession, or complex social problems. Nye advised that we have to stop thinking of power as a "zero sum game," where I win and you lose, or vice versa. Today, power could also be a positive sum game: I gain and therefore you gain as well. Increasingly, this is the way we want to think about power in the 21st century, in the nonprofit sector, as well.
How can we work together as nonprofits to produce positive results we can all benefit from? One way is through exercising soft power by creating alliances, partnerships, and mergers between organizations as a strategy to address those chaotic issues that are beyond the control of any single organization. Nye explains that by exercising both soft and hard power, one creates "smart power," the ability to move back and forth between these two strategies. In the 21st century, let's vow to exercise smart power in the nonprofit sector in order to deliver on our nonprofit missions.