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ASU Lodestar Center Blog

Better Together: What Collaboration Strategies are Necessary to Increase Nonprofit Effectiveness?

As the nonprofit sector continues to grow and expand, the number of nonprofit organizations increase, funding becomes more competitive and resources become scarce. However, nonprofit leaders can combine operational and programmatic strategies through collaboration to combine resources and funding in order to increase social efforts. Witesman and Heiss (2016) define collaboration: ‘‘when different nonprofit organizations work together to address problems through joint effort, resources, and decision-making and share ownership of the final product or service’’ (Witesman, Heiss, 2016, p. 1502). 

Possible threats, such as funding cuts, lack of stakeholder/donor involvement and ineffective leadership, have the ability to weaken nonprofits and can result in creation of duplicating organizations or efforts in order to serve social issues (Suárez, 2010). However, collaboration has the ability to strengthen the sector by combining weak nonprofits with strong nonprofits to assist in overall greater community impact. By collaborating, nonprofits can improve operational efficiency, bridge community gaps and program disparities, accumulate funding and increase fundraising efforts. 

Collaboration was extremely effective in bridging gaps within the juvenile justice and foster care systems found in a study by the National Survey of Child and Adolescent Well-Being. Data was compiled from various studies which included children and their families within the child welfare system and researchers noticed that between 40 and 86 percent of these children involved in child welfare or juvenile justice systems were seriously emotionally disturbed and a high number of these children remained untreated (Chuang, 2010). 

Collaboration played an important role in service delivery amongst the two state departments and aided in increasing the number of children who received behavioral health treatment. It was determined that children who had received behavioral health services from a single agency that was accountable for their care were more successful in receiving services than children receiving care from multiple agencies. Before their collaborative efforts, child welfare and juvenile justice staff experienced barriers to cooperation, differentiating priorities and confusion regarding utilization of funding; thus resulting in negative outcomes for the youth (Chuang, 2010). The study shows that linking resources, sharing information and database systems, and increasing connectivity within child welfare and juvenile justice systems proved more successful (Chuang, 2010). 

Collaboration can also assist in creating greater accountability among nonprofit organizations. An increased focus on creating transparency and openness with the communities served has become a trending topic among the nonprofit sector. Nonprofits have been increasing focus on efficiency, effectiveness and accountability (Suarez, 2010). 

With the ability to collaborate with other organizations alongside the use of technology assistance, nonprofit organizations can easily develop accountability documentation. This will increases the time and focus spent on the development of effective strategic planning and programming.

Collaborative efforts among nonprofit organizations is not an overnight process, however. Strategies of collaboration necessary to increase nonprofit effectiveness include effective leadership, collaborative governance, and may require restructuring of budgets and fundraising strategies. 

Below are suggested strategies necessary for effective collaboration: 

Effective leadership

 Development of effective leadership is especially critical when transforming into a collaborative approach. Jim Collins states that effective leaders are those who attract followers even when they have the freedom not to (Collins, 2005). Collaborative efforts are more successful if their leadership is pure to their mission and can guide employees’ interests. Ensuring that the correct leaders are in the correct positions will be key. 

Collaborative governance: Ensure that your organization establishes clear legal form or a specific body in charge to avoid major changes within your organization’s governance (Cornforth, 2014). Policies and procedures should be able to adapt to an ever-changing community/society and cannot be too loose or too free. Collaboration offers the ability to create a new focus on inter-organizational governance or structures and should align with a shared mission and values. 

Restructure budgets and fundraising strategies

 Collaboration allows organizations to combine funding and may increase financial stability (Thompson, 2016). However, organizations may need to re-evaluate their funding requirements and fundraising efforts. Stakeholders and donors alike may fluctuate or change. Re-establish new funding policies and predict possible changes in funding sources (Guo, 2005) to avoid financial downfall. 

Pace and risk

Collaboration should not be rushed and should be carefully evaluated. Collaboration requires organizations to take risks, cross boundaries and change their behavior. This can be difficult, especially at first. Develop a culture that values learning opportunities and internal monitoring for continuous improvement (Thompson, 2016). 

Multi-faceted collaborative initiatives between child welfare and mental health agencies resulted in faster access to services for children and adolescents in need. It also increased the number of inter-organizational arrangements between mental health agencies and child welfare (Chuang, 2010). While risky, collaboration has many benefits, such as increasing efficiency, developing innovative ideas, increasing advocacy, cutting costs and expanding funding, and building and strengthening our communities by increasing impact on social issues


Chuang, E., Wells, R. (2010). The role of interagency collaboration in facilitating receipt of behavioral health services for youth involved with child welfare and juvenile justice. Child Youth Services Rev. (1), p. 1814-1822.

Collins, J. (2005). Good to Great and the Social Sectors. Jim Collins. Retrieved September 12, 2017, from 72314/content/_16708162_1/Collins%20J%20Good%20To%20Great.pdf 

Cornforth, C., Hayes, J., Paul, Vangen, S. (2015). Nonprofit-Public Collaborations: Understanding Governance Dynamics. Nonprofit and Voluntary Sector Quarterly, 44(4) p. 775–795. 

Guo, C., Acar, M. (2005). Understanding Collaboration Among Nonprofit Organizations: Combing Resource Dependency, Institutional, and Network Perspectives. Nonprofit and Voluntary Sector Quarterly. (34), p. 340-361. Retrieved from: 

Suárez, D. F. (2010). Collaboration and Professionalization: The Contours of Public Sector Funding for Nonprofit Organizations. Journal of Public Administration Research and Theory, 21 (2), p. 307-326 

Thompson, C. (2016). Collaboration Handbook. Fund for Our Economic Future, (1) p. 1-58. Retrieved from:

Witesman, E., & Heiss, A. (2016). Nonprofit Collaboration and the Resurrection of Market Failure: How a Resource-Sharing Environment Can Suppress Social Objectives. Voluntas, 28, 1500-1528. Retrieved September 7, 2017, from 

Stella O’Rourke is a native of Washington State. She has over 10 years of experience in the nonprofit sector and is particularly passionate about youth development and cultivating community relationships in underserved areas. She received her Master of Nonprofit Leadership and Management Degree in December 2017 from ASU’s College of Public Service and Community Solutions. Stella earned her Bachelor’s Degree in Communication Studies from Louisiana State University. Stella is currently employed with Devereux Advanced Behavioral Health-Arizona as the organization’s Business Development Manager for the Residential Treatment Center program. 


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