Author: Kate Sunners


For at least the past decade there has been a push for collaboration between nonprofits. We’ve noticed it as a strong theme in our own research into Government Budgets and in our daily checks on philanthropic funding and grants made by trusts and foundations. And for good reason. Research has found that collaboration “improves sustainability and social impact and facilitates more innovative service delivery” (Harman 2008: 3), and, of course, funders are looking for the greatest impact achievable within the value of their grant.

As the trend toward longer-term funding agreements for social impact (in both Government and Philanthropy) means an increasing slice of the funding pie is directed towards partnerships and consortia, it’s paramount that nonprofits of all sizes embrace collaboration. As we are always reminding attendees at our Grant-Seeker Workshops, working in a silo is no longer accepted by funders.

“Transformation happens when we work together and align efforts” – ten20 FoundationCollaborating

Collaboration is critical to achieving the best outcomes for those in need through the development of strong referral pathways. Working together with other organisations targeting the same need allows for the identification of service priorities and reduces replication.

Collaborating has big implications for evaluation, too, as Jane observed at the Australian Regional Development Conference in 2015: “Some of the best collaborations I saw in the regional development space weren’t just around getting things done, but around working together to assess impact.” Understanding how other organisations measure their impact, how they define their successes, should be part of the feedback process of your own organisation’s social impact measurement.

But collaboration is not as simple as extolling its benefits. Great collaborations require relationships, resources, a great deal of thought and time (60% of organisations responding to a survey on collaboration said working together took more time than they’d expected). 

Some of the things needed for successful collaborations, according to research done by Harman in 2008, include:


• The resources required for collaboration (seeing as funders are keen on granting to collaborative efforts, why not ask them for $$ to help get your collaboration up and running?)
• A strong motivation for collaboration (is it cost-saving? Can you make great leaps in achieving your mission?). It’s probably fair to assume it won’t be a sustainable collaboration if your aims are competitive. 
• Skilled leadership (even better if they have previous experience of collaborations)
• Choosing partner organisations with common objectives
• Arranging collaborations so both members can perceive benefit to their organisation
• Flexibility in dealings between the organisations 
• Support from social and political leaders, which lends legitimacy to the collaboration (for example, grant funding)
• Shared responsibility for the creation of clear roles, structure and guidelines
• Open communication
• Equal power sharing
• A relationship of trust and mutual respect (which will be helped by taking up opportunities for nonprofit leaders and employees to get to know each other outside of work). 

Further to collaboration, there is collective impact, which deserves a whole other blog post of its own. This involves working with a range of partners in the community to answer need, evaluate, learn and create impactful change. Think about how much more impact you could make on the problem your mission addresses with the collaboration of businesses, government departments or local council, and community action groups and network!

We hope we’ve given you enough good reasons to work on collaborating in 2016!


Harman, J. 2008. Factors Influencing Successful Collaboration: The Case of dKnet. University of Wollongong. 

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