Collaboration Part 2: Best Practices and the Ingredients for Success
August 12, 2019
Gail Bower

This is the second in a three-part series on nonprofit collaboration, originally written in 2009 and updated a decade later.

When you decide to move forward with collaboration, you'll want to cultivate and adopt a set of best practices. 

Here are the top ten, culled from my own experiences and from discussions with clients and others who've found success (and learned from frustration) while collaborating:


  1. Trust is essential. You must both engender a trusting environment and be a trusted partner.
  2. Starts at the top. The vision and commitment comes from you, the chief executive of the organization. You set the example and blaze the trail for your staff. Conversely, if you're not invested, your staff is not going to champion the cause.
  3. Start at the beginning. When you launch the collaboration, begin with a meeting of all the stakeholders. Create an “opening ceremony,” of sort, to get everyone in alignment.
  4. "Face-to-face is better than fax-to-fax." One of my clients hasd a poster on her wall with this line. While the technology has certainly evolved from the fax machine, you get the point. Meet in person when necessary. It realigns and reconnects everybody with the project goals and with each other.
  5. Clarity about your needs. Share your needs with your partner and encourage your partner to do the same. Work together to accomplish your interests. No one is served by remaining quiet about what you and your organization need.
  6. Put it in writing. Documenting the terms and parameters of your work together is just plain smart business. It may be a helpful tool later in the life of the partnership, especially if a leadership or staff change shifts the nature of the partnership. The agreement may be a simple MOU, a letter of agreement, or a more comprehensive contract. Involve a business advisor, someone like me who has focused on collaborations for over 25 years, and your legal team as appropriate. A third party review by an expert can save you lots of aggravation.
  7. Accountability. Besides an agreement, using a project management tool, even a simple spreadsheet, outlining tasks and deadlines and identifying staffs' responsibilities, will support workflow and provide a mechanism for accountability.
  8. Staff needs. Be sure that your staff members involved in the collaboration have ample time to complete the thinking and subsequent tasks necessary to execute the project, in addition to their ongoing responsibilities.
  9. Balance. When we think of collaborating, it's natural to have flashbacks to the failed group projects in 4th grade, where we got stuck doing all the work. A better way to look at collaborating, however, may be to consider the idea of balancing responsibilities over time, not on a day-to-day basis. Be mindful that your partner has ongoing activities, other priorities and deadlines. One client found success by choosing to jump in and offer help, rather than allowing resentment to build. 
  10. Realistic expectations. It's easy to fantasize tremendous results, but don't allow yourself to become unglued and swept away. Be realistic and focus on long-term results and impact, not a quick fix.


So what do you think? Does collaborating sound like a smart approach for your organization? Could you try collaborating on one initiative or project? Can you think of an organization that aligns well with yours that would benefit from your expertise and vice versa?

Did you miss Part 1 in this series? You can go back and read it by clicking here.

Download this questionnaire so that you can gain clarity and ideas about collaboration.

Coming up: When good collaborations go bad. In the next post, find out why conflict happens in collaborations, no matter how well-intentioned, and what to do about it. 

Article originally appeared on Gail Bower (
See website for complete article licensing information.