Ask a Nonprofit Specialist: Using collaborative inquiry to engage stakeholders

posted by
Anne Byrne,
ASU Lodestar Center

Question: My board of directors and staff are working, doing their jobs in the day to day, but they don’t seem to have the energy or interest in the overall mission and future of the organization. We need to develop a plan for the future, but I can’t seem to muster up their enthusiasm and creativity for the effort. How can I increase engagement in order to lay strategic groundwork for the future?

A friend of mine once gave me a card that pictured a crisis center, on fire and afloat on a river, about to fall over a cliff.  I was the director of a crisis center at the time, so it was amusing and a bit true to my experience.  Unfortunately, the portrayal of a crisis center in crisis is not so farfetched. The day-to-day work of nonprofit organizations is often so demanding, the big picture is often overlooked in response to the daily “crisis” of staying afloat.

Research Friday: Ten Types of Collaboration (an alternate view)

posted by
Craig Van Korlaar, CNP,
Consultant and 
Project Manager
Create Etc.

Welcome to Research Friday! As part of a continuing series, we invite a nonprofit scholar, student, or professional to highlight current research reports or studies and discuss how they can inform and improve day-to-day nonprofit practice.

Models of Collaboration, by professor Mark Hager and Tyler Curry, identifies and describes types of nonprofit collaborations from an analysis of the 177 nominations submitted in 2009 for the prestigious Collaboration Prize. Recently, Professor Gordon Shockley and I reviewed and re-coded the nominations. We noticed that a great deal did not fit neatly into any one model outlined in Models of Collaboration. Instead, they were often blends that involved different levels of partnership and sharing. From this, we developed an alternative list of ten types of collaboration, organized by increasing levels of integration, and which can be combined to make hybrids.


The left side of the spectrum represents partnerships. By definition, these are formal agreements between two or more organizations that wish to work together to achieve a goal. In their purest form, they involve little to no direct sharing of overhead, though some efficiencies might be seen in the long term. There are four types of partnerships, as originally laid out by Hager and Curry.

Research Friday: Trust and Collaboration


posted by
Sarah Gates,
Grant & Contract Officer
Arizona State University

Welcome to Research Friday! As part of a continuing weekly series, each Friday we invite a nonprofit expert to highlight current research reports or studies and discuss how they can inform and improve day-to-day nonprofit practice.

Collaboration among nonprofit organizations is near to becoming a necessity. Driven by waning resources and increasing demand, nonprofits are entering an era of “accelerated interdependence.”1 Cooperation has proven to be efficient in enduring through meager means,2 and expectation among donors reflects this philosophy.3 However, inter-organizational collaboration is not a mere exercise in sustainability. Recognition of the combined capacity, or collective impact, for large-scale change has redefined the sector. The individual outcomes that single organizations are capable of can rarely produce large-scale, comprehensive advancement.  While resource sharing is a practical motivation for collaboration, the possibility of large-scale, authentic social shifts is fueling collective effort and redefining longstanding limits. 

Accepting that collective impact relies on dedication to a common agenda, it becomes evident that interaction is at the heart of the effort. In an environment of shared risks, responsibilities and rewards, relationships sustain the system. Because infrastructure alone cannot completely support a collaborative undertaking,4 the creation and maintenance of relationships is the most vital element of inter-organizational work.5 To foster the quality relationships so critical to inter-organizational operations, nonprofit leaders are compelled to recognize the underpinning of interdependence: trust.

Nonprofit Mergers - When Churches Merge

posted by
Craig Van Korlaar,
Chief Operating Officer
Open Church

In the business world, mergers and acquisitions are fairly commonplace. Those that are successful tend to benefit all involved, but the process is usually long and most will face problems and resistance along the way. The same is true for nonprofits.

The following is a combination of results from analysis I conducted last year on the 50 Collaboration Prize submissions that related to mergers, as well as two case studies from recent church mergers in the metro Phoenix area.


Redemption Merger: Similar Vision, Differing Models & Audiences

East Valley Bible (EVB) was a large, well-established 20-year-old church located in the East Valley which comprised a single campus with multiple services. EVB had well-established programs for children, families, and older adults.

Saving the California Condor: A Collective Impact Story

Stephanie La Loggia, M.A.

Manager of Knowledge Resources
ASU Lodestar Center

Once upon a long time ago, North America was bursting with animals that were really big. Mammoths, mastodons, giant sloths — animals we only know about from their old bones and our good imaginations. The birds were over-sized as well, and when the huge animals died, giant vultures with 20-foot wingspans would swoop down to feast on their carcasses.

And then, they vanished. For reasons scientists still theorize about, most of these large animals went extinct rather quickly. The huge vultures, once plentiful, with all varieties of Eagles, Teratorns, and giant condors, were suddenly hungry. Their food sources gone, the giant vultures soon followed the animals into mass extinction.

Except one: The California Condor.

The California Condor is the sole surviving member of the Gymnogyps genus, a castaway from the Pleistocene epoch. It’s the largest flying bird in North America. If you see one sitting in a tree, you might remark that it is the ugliest bird you’ve ever seen. But when you see it flying, unfettered in the open sky, you’ll undoubtedly think it is one of the most beautiful sights you’ll ever witness. It has a wingspan of nearly ten feet and can soar for miles without a single flap.

Research Friday: The Real Impact of Collective Impact

posted by
Brian Spicker,
Senior Vice President
of Community Impact
Valley of the Sun
United Way

Welcome to Research Friday! As part of a continuing weekly series, each Friday we invite a nonprofit expert to highlight a research report or study and discuss how it can inform and improve day-to-day nonprofit practice. This week, Brian Spicker of Valley of the Sun United Way sat down the with Center's Stephanie La Loggia for a short interview about the meaning of "collective impact." Below is part of the interview.

In Kania and Kramer’s article[1], they discuss the key elements to successful collective impact. Can you talk a little about those key elements?

Brian Spicker: What's wonderful about that article is it’s something I think all of us in the social sector have been working on, they just happened to present it elegantly. But those five elements are: a common agenda. So everyone understands the language, what it is what we’re intending to do, and it’s tied then to metrics, that it’s a shared metric system. So, that’s the second element. The third element, which is really critical, is mutually reinforcing activities. So you have a variety of nonprofits, government, and philanthropic organizations working together — they are doing their own things, but it’s mutually reinforcing that common agenda, it is tying those things together. And showing that it's moving the needle, the metric, forward.

Better Together: Collaboration and Nonprofit Networking

posted by
Jessica Sadoway,
Nonprofit and
Social Media Blogger

Just last Friday, The Collaboration Prize announced its third annual winner (congratulations to the Adoption Coalition of Texas!). This competition is working hard to encourage collaboration and highlight outstanding partnerships in our communities.

"Collaboration" is one of the big buzzwords in nonprofits now. It makes sense — when budgets stretch thin, it's important to maximize your resources. The Collaboration Prize itself is a joint effort by several pioneering organizations: The Lodestar Foundation has partnered with the AIM Alliance, the Foundation Center, La Piana Consulting, and other foundation and nonprofit leaders to support the 2011 Prize.

By working together, you're boosting the potential of both organizations. Two heads are better than one, right? How about three? Or five?

It's amazing how many resources are shareable. Have extra toiletries from your last donation drive? Give them to an organization that can use them. Need more volunteers for an event? Invite your friends from the nonprofit down the street to participate with their volunteers. In fact, why don't you plan the event together and make it even bigger and better? And things go on from there.

Yet it's not just about sharing supplies, funds, or even human resources. There are also hidden benefits. By working together, you're combining your reputation with theirs, and you're also incorporating their public support and branding with yours. You're sharing marketing and word-of-mouth, and we all know how valuable getting your name out there is when looking for support.