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.