Submitted by Shawn Durr on November 7, 2023 - 15:44

The Collaboration Spectrum: From Full Integration to More Flexible Approaches for Achieving Impact

When we think about strategic partnerships in the nonprofit industry, we often default to considering mergers as the primary form of integration. While mergers represent a fully integrated partnership, it is essential to recognize that they are not the sole option. In fact, there are various ways to collaborate, ranging from co-locating services in a peer organization to submitting joint funding proposals or when two organizations launch co-created programs for the benefit of both. These diverse forms of partnership offer more flexible approaches, with less formal integration, and can provide invaluable opportunities for growth and impact.  

In some cases, you may memorialize these partnerships with a Letter of Understanding that informally outlines the expectations of both parties involved in the collaboration. The common thread among all partnerships is the requirement for collaboration, the act of working with one another to produce or create something new. Such partnerships are crucial for building trust between the staff and board of both organizations, which, in turn, may pave the way for a merger if it aligns with the strategic goals of both organizations. Ultimately, trust between the staff and board members of the two organizations stands as the top indicator of success for a strategic merger.  

To help us better understand the dynamics of partnerships and collaboration, Liz Weaver of the Tamarack Institute crafted an insightful framework. This framework serves as a valuable guide for nonprofit leaders looking to foster collaboration in service to the greater good. It begins with a shift in attitude moving from an “I” perspective to a collective “us.” This change signifies a transition from a focus on personal (or organizational) interests to a dedication to the welfare of the entire community.  

Moreover, the framework encourages us to move from a mindset of competition among nonprofits to a cooperative approach aimed at solving significant social issues. This shift entails moving away from short-term thinking and embracing long-term solutions that can make a lasting impact on our communities.  

As leaders within the nonprofit sector, it is essential that we reflect on where we stand on the Collaboration Spectrum. We encourage you to be honest with yourself and assess where your board and staff stand as well. This self-awareness is a crucial first step in fostering successful partnerships.  

At M + S, we focus on supporting organizations on this journey and helping them to achieve their strategic goals through effective partnerships and collaborations in whatever form they take. Collaborating in service to the greater good is our passion.