multi-colored ropes with a shared knot

Nonprofit Partnerships: Collective Impact

Effective collaboration forms the backbone of successful nonprofit work. Partnerships in the nonprofit sector help to pool resources, boost credibility, increase reach, and magnify impact. By working with other organizations, nonprofits can accomplish more than they could alone. This article will discuss strategies for building successful partnerships and collaborations in the nonprofit sector, focusing on the Collective Impact model as a potential approach to success.

The Importance of Partnerships in the Nonprofit Sector

Nonprofit organizations often address complex, systemic problems that cannot be solved by one group alone. Partnerships allow nonprofits to leverage the resources, expertise, and influence of other organizations, leading to more comprehensive and effective solutions.

Benefits of partnerships include:

  1. Shared resources: Partnerships can help nonprofits stretch their budgets further by sharing resources like staff, facilities, and technology.
  2. Increased reach: By collaborating with other organizations, nonprofits can reach a wider audience, serve more people, and have a greater impact.
  3. Boosted credibility: Collaborating with established organizations can enhance a nonprofit’s credibility, making it easier to attract donors, volunteers, and other supporters.
  4. Innovative solutions: Partnerships often lead to innovative ideas and solutions, as they bring together different perspectives and experiences.

Building Successful Partnerships: Strategies and Best Practices

When building partnerships, it’s essential to approach the process strategically. Below are some strategies and best practices for successful nonprofit collaborations:

  1. Define common goals: Successful partnerships begin with shared objectives. Both parties should have a clear understanding of what they aim to achieve through the collaboration.
  2. Communicate effectively: Open, clear, and consistent communication is crucial to building trust and maintaining a healthy partnership.
  3. Play to each partner’s strengths: Each organization brings unique skills and resources to the table. Successful collaborations capitalize on these strengths, allowing each partner to contribute in ways that align with their capabilities.
  4. Establish clear roles and responsibilities: It’s important to delineate who will do what in the partnership. Clear roles and responsibilities prevent misunderstandings and ensure that all tasks are covered.
  5. Measure and evaluate success: Regular evaluation helps partners understand whether they’re achieving their shared goals and where improvements might be needed. This process should be built into the partnership from the beginning.

The Collective Impact Model

One approach to nonprofit partnerships that has garnered attention in recent years is the Collective Impact model. This model focuses on long-term collaborations between a range of partners to solve complex social problems.

The Collective Impact model consists of five key conditions for successful collaboration:

  1. Common Agenda: All participants must have a shared vision for change, one that includes a common understanding of the problem and a joint approach to solving it.
  2. Shared Measurement Systems: All participating organizations agree to measure success using the same criteria, making it easier to monitor progress and learn from each other’s successes and failures.
  3. Mutually Reinforcing Activities: Each partner’s activities must be differentiated while still being coordinated through a mutually reinforcing plan of action.
  4. Continuous Communication: Trust is built among all participants through regular meetings and the constant sharing of their ambitions, victories, and struggles.
  5. Backbone Organization: A separate organization with staff dedicated to the initiative provides ongoing support by guiding the vision and strategy, supporting aligned activities, establishing shared measurement practices, building public will, advancing policy, and mobilizing funding.

Let’s take a look at a hypothetical example.

Nonprofit Partnerships: Collective Impact
Nonprofit Partnerships: Collective Impact

Case Study: “Feeding Our City”

“Feeding Our City,” a fictitious nonprofit committed to combating hunger in its local community, realized the complexity of the issue extended beyond their capability. They decided to initiate a partnership strategy based on the Collective Impact model, bringing together local food banks, shelters, grocery stores, farms, and government agencies to address the multifaceted issue of hunger and food insecurity.

To implement the Collective Impact model, they followed these steps:

  1. Common Agenda: They agreed on the common goal to reduce hunger and food insecurity in their city by 30% over the next five years.
  2. Shared Measurement Systems: They established a system to track key indicators such as the number of people served, the number of meals distributed, and the rate of food insecurity in their city.
  3. Mutually Reinforcing Activities: Each partner identified how they could contribute to the common agenda. Food banks and shelters focused on meal distribution, grocery stores donated excess food, farms provided fresh produce, and government agencies worked on policy advocacy and funding.
  4. Continuous Communication: Regular meetings were scheduled to share updates, discuss challenges, and adjust strategies as needed.
  5. Backbone Organization: “Feeding Our City” took on the role of the backbone organization, coordinating efforts, facilitating communication, and tracking progress towards the common goal.

Unique Perspective: From Cooperation to Co-Creation

While most partnerships focus on cooperation, co-creation takes collaboration a step further. In co-creation, partners don’t just work together—they collectively create something new that none could have produced on their own.

Co-creation requires a high level of trust, commitment, and mutual respect. It often involves shared decision-making, pooled resources, and shared credit for success. While it can be challenging, co-creation has the potential to yield innovative solutions and create a deep sense of ownership and commitment among partners.

In the case of “Feeding Our City”, they might enter a co-creation process with local farms to develop community gardens, not only addressing immediate food insecurity but also promoting long-term sustainability and community involvement.

Nonprofit Partnerships: Collective Impact
Nonprofit Partnerships: Collective Impact


Q: How can nonprofits find potential partners?

A: Nonprofits can find potential partners through networking events, referrals, online databases of nonprofits, and by reaching out directly to organizations with aligned missions.

Q: What should a nonprofit consider before entering into a partnership?

A: A nonprofit should consider its capacity to fulfill its role in the partnership, the compatibility of the organizations’ missions and values, the benefits of the partnership, and the potential challenges that might arise.

Q: How can nonprofits address conflicts that arise in partnerships?

A: Open and honest communication is key to resolving conflicts. Conflicts should be addressed promptly and directly. If conflicts continue, it may be helpful to bring in a neutral third party to facilitate a resolution.

Related Reading

  1. Kania, John, and Mark Kramer. “Collective Impact.” Stanford Social Innovation Review, 2011.
  2. Lasker, Roz D., Elisa S. Weiss, and Rebecca Miller. “Partnership Synergy: A Practical Framework for Studying and Strengthening the Collaborative Advantage.” Milbank Quarterly, 2001.
  3. “Nonprofit Partnerships: Overview and Best Practices.” National Council of Nonprofits.
  4. Scearce, Diana. “Catalyzing Networks for Social Change: A Funder’s Guide.” GEO, Monitor Institute, 2011.
  5. Wiewel, Wim, and Albert Hunter. “Partnerships, Nonprofits, and Local Economic Development: A Theoretical Overview.” Nonprofit and Voluntary Sector Quarterly, 1985.

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