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ASU Lodestar Center Blog

What Attributes do Nonprofits Need to Build Cross-Sector Collaboration?

Complex social issues are rarely solved by the individual success of a single organization. The nonprofit sector has the ability to achieve significant social change through collaboration across sectors. Cross-sector collaboration can be defined as partnerships between nonprofit, private, and government entities working together towards mutual goals to produce change (Simo & Bies, 2007). 

When the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development dropped the bombshell of defunding all but one nonprofit transitional housing provider for homeless families in Maricopa County, Arizona, the local nonprofit, private and government organizations began to scramble (Polletta, 2016). The community’s homeless housing and service providers were aware how the funding cuts would drastically eliminate transitional shelter beds within the family shelter portfolio. All sectors needed to consider what steps were essential to prevent the families in the defunded housing programs from becoming homeless again. This is an informal and episodic example where partnerships involving government, philanthropy communities and public businesses, collaborate to create a onetime task force to keep the families in need of housing, off of the streets. 

Far too often the nonprofit sector is stepping up to fill in the gaps in services because of local, state, and federal administrative failures (Simo & Bies, 2007). In order to meet complex social needs, the interdependence between people and organizations across all sectors, need to engage to solve challenging social problems (Grudinschi, et al., 2013).  

Below are suggested attributes to implement an effective collaboration between the public, private and third sector, powered with innovation, leading, and acting.

  1. Build Leadership: The importance of building leadership within the council is one of the core elements of effective cross-sector collaboration. Creating a culture which builds trust, respect, and values creates buy-in. Collaboration efforts are more likely to succeed if their leadership team is committed to the long haul. Doing so can provide a range of champions that play the formal or informal leadership roles at multiple levels. By providing attention to building leadership within, these collaborations could model authority, vision, long term commitment and integrity.
  2. Attention to Capacity Building: When nonprofits are focused on efficiency and building capacity, it creates opportunity to strategically engage in multi-sector collaborations which can help achieve large scale social change. When capacity is built, there is potential to eliminate fragmented services. It allows an opportunity to build systems, approach needs for system change, create social capital, yield each sectors expertise and allows freedom for social innovation. As a result, multi-sector collaboration can provide the opportunity for greater impact.
  3. Social Innovation: In cross-sector collaboration, sectors are expected to harness each other’s expertise in order to create, think outside of the box and overcome barriers that lie in the way of achieving the social challenge. Through social innovation and cross-sector collaboration, initiatives should have the support to innovate and be the change needed.
  4. Understand the Importance of Social Equilibrium:  In cross-sector collaboration, it is a progressive approach and requires action and balance between interdependent parts. Willingness to try new approaches for social happenings brings the collaboration to disequilibrium. In conjunction, knowledge of why systems approach can be necessary to provide universal cohesive services. 

In the case of the defunded transitional homeless family programs in Arizona, the cross-sector collaboration shared the attributes needed to build effective cross-sector collaboration. The situation occurred in a turbulent environment, it was episodic and required leaders and champions whom share common values to build capacity across-sectors to address a large scale social problem. The situation allowed collaborators to be innovative on how to leverage their capabilities, empower possibilities through each other’s expertise, and embrace the social disequilibrium.  It provided an opportunity to overcome the complex problem collaboratively. Individually we make a difference; through cross-sector collaboration we achieve resounding impact.


Grudinschi, D., Kaljunen, L., Hokkanen, T., Hallikas, J., Sintonen, S., & Puustinen, A. (2013). Management Challenges in cross-sector collaboration: Elderly Care Case Study. The Innovation Journal: The Public Sector Innovation Journal, 18(2), 7th ser.

Polletta, M. (2016, May 12). Funding cuts could leave 100-plus Phoenix-area families homeless -- again. Retrieved February 22, 2017, from

Simo, G., & Bies, A. L. (2007). The Role of Nonprofits in Disaster Response: An Expanded Model of Cross-Sector Collaboration. Public Administration Review, 67, 125-142. doi:10.1111/j.1540-6210.2007.00821.x

Jessica Cruz currently serves as the Supportive Services for Veteran Family’s (SSVF) Program Coordinator for UMOM New Day Centers. In this role, she provides oversight to the SSVF team and implements the SSVF program for the agency including Rapid Rehousing and Homelessness prevention for veteran families. UMOM’s SSVF program specializes in serving high barrier veteran households and has served as a mentor agency for SSVF for the past 4 years. Additionally, Cruz serves on the Built for Zero leadership team in Phoenix which focuses on ending veteran homelessness. Cruz most recently began working with the Arizona Department of Veteran’s Services to provide strategic planning for the Women’s Working Group Initiative with a housing focus. Prior to joining UMOM New Day Center, Cruz’s portfolio includes program design and implementation, case management and life skills group facilitation for homeless women and families. The common theme between all of her duties is the drive to end family homelessness. Cruz earned a Bachelor of Science Degree in Human Services from California State University Fullerton and a received her Master of Nonprofit Leadership and Management Degree from the College of Public Service and Community Solutions,  Arizona State University.


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