Collaboration: 4 Strategies for Joining Forces, Part 1
August 5, 2019
Gail Bower in Nonprofit Mergers and Alliances, nonprofit collaboration
Great organizations work with and through others [sic] to create more impact than they could ever achieve alone.
--Leslie R. Crutchfield & Heather McLeod Grant, Forces for Good


Does your organization partner or collaborate with other organizations? If so, have you found these alliances to be exhilarating or exasperating? If you don’t, are you curious about whether collaborating might be a wise approach?

You're in good company. The Nonprofit Finance Fund’s 2018 State of the Nonprofit Sector Survey notes that 68 percent of nonprofit respondents partnered with another nonprofit organization.

That’s up from 52 percent in 2009 when I first wrote this article. Then nonprofit leaders noted that collaboration was a way of coping with the increase in demand for services in the middle of the economic tumult. 

Common sense tells us that partnering can be an effective and cost-efficient strategy. Leslie R. Crutchfield and Heather McLeod Grant concluded in their well-researched book, Forces for Good, that partnering provides the leverage you need to build organizational impact. 

So, if more organizations are open to partnering and if indeed it is such a valuable approach, then it pays to learn how to do it better. Find out what strategies are best, how to overcome challenges, and what your choices are in case a good collaboration goes bad. I’ll address all of these topics in this three-part series in this and the next two month’s newsletters/the next two posts. 

Why Collaborate?

Partnering with others, nonprofit or for-profit, can yield many advantages, including:


4 Strategies for Success

Collaborations come together in many different ways:you or your partner may see a need or issue that you can address together, or a funder may suggest the partnership. Success stories about collaborations that work usually involve one or more of the following strategic criteria:

Core Competencies.

Organizations come together because of different but complimentary competencies that when focused on a particular issue yields exponential results. There is no need to duplicate or reinvent the wheel. 

For example, social services organizations often develop alliances with behavioral health organizations to provide a wider range of services for particular clients.

The American Academy of Facial Plastic and Reconstructive Surgery had partnered with a domestic violence organization. Surgeons across the country performed reconstructive surgery on liberated and recovering victims of domestic abuse. 

In both examples, neither organization in the partnerships would be serving its mission by developing services already offered by the other, but clearly working together these collaborations have life-changing results.


Two organizations come together because they each bring value that benefits the other. An historic preservation organization with a unique history and mission, including horticulture, collaborates with another organization that also has a more specific horticultural focus. By collaborating, the first organization will have a tenant, a steward of its grounds, and the opportunity to expand its horticultural offerings. The second organization gains a home base and new opportunity.


In this strategy, organizations pool resources (which may include competencies) to develop a program, service, or initiative bigger or better than what one could offer alone. The joint effort saves dollars in the long run.

Several conferences where I’ve spoken are jointly produced. The Washington, DC, chapters of the Association of Fundraising Professionals and the Direct Marketing Association jointly produce The Bridge Conference every year. Two nutrition organizations, one serving the elderly and the other serving people home-bound because of disease or illness, jointly convened their members. For the last several years, the Alliance for Nonprofit Resources and the Pennsylvania Association of Nonprofit Organizations have co-presented their Collaborative Conference.

The organizations share the costs, divide up the responsibilities, and foster broader networking and engagement.

Revenue or Value.

In this model, organizations exchange value for a cash or in-kind fee. Corporate sponsorship is one such example. If structured well around the two organizations' business goals, the partnership can yield tremendous results in support of both organizations' strategies.

In each of these four approaches, being clear about what your organization seeks to accomplish, what you bring to the table, and what you need from the collaboration is essential. Investing time on this discussion first, rather than just jumping in enthusiastically though perhaps blindly, will save aggravation later, once you're fully engaged.

If, after explorations with your prospective partner, you conclude that the collaboration is not a fit or that the other organization brings nothing substantive to the discussion, proceeding may not be the best choice.

Think about your organization. How could you benefit from collaboration? What do you have to offer? What drawback do you see?

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

Coming up: In the next post, find out the top 10 ingredients for a great collaboration.

Article originally appeared on Gail Bower (
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