Collaboration requires that each organization engage with thought and intent, understanding the risks and increasing trust as it moves toward more formal partnerships and beyond. Leaders who engage in collaboration understand that the true objective is not to serve a community by combining two or more organizations. Instead, it is to truly redefine the conversation in an effort to achieve greater good. The form of partnership then simply is determined by the legal construct that best serves the good.
Another way to view the options for partnerships is found in the 1997 study Beyond Collaboration: Strategic Restructuring of Nonprofit Organizations by David La Piana in cooperation with the James Irvine Foundation and the National Center for Nonprofit Boards. It outlines four options that nonprofits could consider when thinking about engaging in new structures.
- Joint ventures – when multiple organizations formally cooperate to provide a new or enhanced service.
- Back-office consolidations – when multiple organizations combine internal support services like finance or human resources.
- Fiscal sponsorships – when an organization with a broad mission serves as the fiscal agent for a new initiative or organization.
- Mergers – when two or more organization are combined into a single entity.
The most successful partnerships are those in which board and staff members at the participating organizations respect and communicate with each other, identify roles and responsibilities, possess a common vision, and solve problems together.
How do you think the core values of an organization set the tone for partnerships?
Dennis McMillian, is President of The Foraker Group, a capacity building organization based in Alaska, and the author of Focus on Sustainability: A Nonprofit’s Journey.