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ASU Lodestar Center Blog

How can utilizing collaboration increase nonprofit impact?


Nonprofit sector growth has outpaced the resources available to sustain it while the need for services continues to grow. The increased competition that results detracts from resources available to fill this gap, according to a 2014 study by Bijetri Bose. While many claim that competition adds value by ensuring employee productivity and the use of innovation, the proof of such value is only evident within development departments.

The recent pandemic has only added to the restriction of resources in recent years adding undue pressure. Those that have survived with minimal disruption often report collaboration as being a key tool used to overcome such obstacles. Its use allows nonprofits to share resources, expenses, and knowledge to better leverage scarce resources allowing for broader reach, expanded capacity, greater efficiency, and an increase in impact.

There are a variety of recognized forms of collaboration with varying levels of risk and reward already identified. Use of innovation allows for limitless forms, potentially with undiscovered benefits, however. Robert Blair found that less than 3% of nonprofits reported not using any form of collaboration. The Bridgespan Group discovered that more than half of nonprofits used multiple collaborations at once and CEOs reported considering the majority of collaborative attempts successful. An interview with a large cancer charity CEO indicated that collaborations are “critical” to their daily operations and a primary reason for their success. This charity remained small until a merger with another small nonprofit that provided for knowledge creation and the right combination of resources to expand globally and become the “largest provider of cancer support worldwide,” according to their website.

Recommendations for implementation:

  • Have an open discussion with staff and board to get buy-in and build tactical teams. 
  • Determine strengths and weaknesses to plan for the correct form of collaborations to fulfill needs and share assets.
  • Search for a partner with proper fit in mission and internal culture. Relationship forming should be slow and ongoing to grow trust and openness before beginning any collaborative activities.
  • Consider use of a consultant for finding a partner as well as use of technology for secure information sharing platforms. Proper fit for partners was the top reported barrier to collaborations reported by the Bridgespan Group. Consultants can help identify like-minded partners as well as assist in clarifying each parties’ roles and responsibilities.
  • Planning takes time and teamwork. Both parties must be aware of legal responsibilities as well as have a planned exit for a failed collaboration. Involve legal counsel for written agreements.
  • Measure impact pre- and post-collaboration to determine level of effectiveness and to identify potential mission creep.
  • Successful collaborations should be documented, shared, and repeated as necessary.

Because the nonprofit sector fills gaps in the society we share, we must all universally strive to maintain the health of sector. With competition and lack of resources being among the top complaints from nonprofit CEOs, collaboration is our best resource for overcoming these challenges to strengthen the entire sector. While to be effective, collaborations must be fostered with great care and patience, the results are well worth the time and energy needed. With increased knowledge, resources, efficiency, reach, and capacity being among the most frequent benefits, increased impact will follow leading to a healthier society overall. La Piana explains, “Today more than ever organizations must collaborate, both broadly and deeply, because that is what it will take to address the complex challenges we face.”

Jennifer King


ASU Lodestar Center Blog