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

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.

Issue Advocacy *
These joint partnerships work together to advance public awareness for an issue or cause. Organizations involved in the collaboration lend staff and leadership to committees as needed, allowing them to mobilize and communicate in unison. In general, advocacy partnerships can be assembled or disassembled with relative ease and involve the least amount of integration and risk (of failure).

Creation of a New Org *
There are a number of instances when a partnership might be created to form a new organization. Most often these are created when a recognized need falls outside of these organizations’ current scope. For example, a joint programming partnership wants to spin a program off as its own independent organization, or a partnership around joint advocacy wants to create a formal umbrella organization to coordinate and support their collective activities.

Confederations *
Confederations are partnerships where organizations work together to create some form of supporting or coordinating body. In many cases, this also involves the creation of a new organization. This centralized body is able to network services across regions, provide support and services, and give the collaboration more stability.

Affiliated Programming *
Affiliated programming involves the development and coordination of joint projects or service delivery by two or more organizations. The organizations involved typically share similar missions and audiences but not necessarily the same services. These types of partnership often reduce the amount of fragmentation of services and provide better coverage of the area or people being served.


The biggest category I revised is “Shared Overhead.”  The models of “Joint Administrative Office” and “Joint Programming Office” provided in the original models are some of the favorite examples of shared overhead. They are not the only instances of organizations sharing facilities, staff or other forms of overhead, however. In fact, all but 18 of the collaborations that were included in the top 177 of the 2009 nominations involved some sort of cost savings through shared overhead.

Shared Facilities
Next to people, facilities are often the largest overhead items on a nonprofit’s budget. Some organizations have extra office space, while others can’t find room for their staff. Sharing back-end offices (administration, marketing, development, etc), storage facilities, and meeting spaces, (such as board rooms) are all examples of support facilities. The nice thing about sharing facilities is that it can immediately reduce the overhead for an organization without requiring much more than calendar coordination.

Shared Support Staff
A lack of support staff is often a limiting factor for small to midsized nonprofit organizations. One solution to this is to explore ways to share the cost of support staff. This could come in the form of sharing an individual staff member, or it could be in the form of support offices. The challenge is identifying ways to ensure that each organization receives their equitable proportion of the support staff’s time.

Shared Program Staff
Organizations also reduce overhead by sharing their program staff or offices. Examples of this include community organizers, teachers and training staff, program evaluators, and program managers. Two of the largest challenges with shared programming staff center around trust between organizations and transitioning from a state of competition to one of cooperation. By default, people tend to hold a higher level of loyalty towards the organizations they originally worked for.


Partially Integrated Merger *
Rather than undergo a full merger, one might explore a partially integrated merger. This is when two organizations formally merge, yet at least part of the branding and identity of the organizations involved is maintained. The main benefit here is that it allows the merged organization to pursue strategic advantages inherent to each of the collaborating orgs without losing the respective brands’ places within the hearts and minds of donors and the community at large.

Fully Integrated Merger (Absorption)
I found that there were two distinct forms of fully integrated mergers, so I chose to list them separately.  The first is when a smaller/weaker organization is fully absorbed into a larger/stronger organization. In some cases, this is a strategic move to help reduce duplication of services. More often than not, though, it is in response to one (or more) of the organizations involved trying to avoid closing its doors.

Fully Integrated Merger (Re-Brand)
An approach that is seen more often when peer organizations undergo a fully integrated merger involves the symbolic move of a name change. This signifies to the staff, stakeholders, and general community that one org didn’t take over the other. Instead, a “new” organization sprung out of the combined resources and efforts of the combined organizations.

Have you seen any successful combination of two or more of the types of collaboration listed here?

* Types of collaboration that are shared with the Collaboration Prize’s Models of Collaboration.

Craig implements strategy, measures impact, and develops teams. His proactive leadership skills were honed as a decorated sergeant and enlisted aerial navigator for the U.S. Marine Corps and nurtured through his work in both the business and nonprofit sectors. In December, Craig received his degree in Nonprofit Leadership and Management from ASU and is currently attending the University of Colorado Denver's Business School.


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