Wednesday, April 8, 2015

Collaboration: Another Opportunity to Prove the Power of the Strategic Plan

Collaboration can take many forms occurring across sectors or within a single sector. Each type of partnership presents a different set of opportunities and challenges as well as unique issues. In our class, we learned about three types of collaboration in detail: nonprofit and government, nonprofit and for-profit, and two nonprofits.

Nonprofit and Government

The Massachusetts Department of Social Services (DSS) and La Alianza Hispana (La Alianza) joined forces in order to improve the DSS’s ability to provide culturally competent services in Boston. DSS lacked community credibility; La Alianza had a strong and valued reputation. As a government agency DSS had many resources and developed structures valuable to a small, community funded group like La Alianza. On the other hand, La Alianza’s reputation and cultural knowledge were of great interest to DSS.

The potential benefits of a collaboration between the two entities were:

·        Identifying gaps in current services and cooperate to fill gaps;
·        Share similar concerns while being enriched by diverse perspectives that different members from varied backgrounds bring to collaboration. (United Way, 2008)

Unfortunately, the collaborative partnership was unbalanced. Factors that influence successful collaboration were absent in a contract that DSS proposed. The process and structural factors that challenged this collaboration were the absence of a shared stake in the ownership by members of both agencies, flexibility, and a shared decision making model (Sharma & Missey, 1998).

Nonprofit and For-profit

City Year and Timberland partnered over a joint interest in making the world a better place. Mutual respect and shared vision drove the partnership, and for a period of several years both City Year and Timberland benefitted from the collaboration. The partnership had a solid foundation of accessible financial resources and a commitment to the vision of City Year, but was challenged by lack of a strategic plan.

When resources became limited as City Year lost government funding and Timberland posted their first annual loss the future was uncertain. According to Michael Winer-Cyr of the Amherst Wilder Foundation, collaboration is: “A mutually beneficial and well-defined relationship entered into by two or more organizations to achieve common goals.” (United Way, 2008). Where City Year and Timberland were challenged was in the “well-defined relationship” portion of collaboration; when hard economic times entered the picture, neither entity had a plan for the future of the collaboration.

Two Nonprofits

An unlikely friendship was struck between the Seattle Art Museum (SAM) and First Things First (FTF) when a tax levy was proposed that would benefit both groups. FTF was a coalition that advocated for low income housing and was skilled in grassroots community engagement; SAM on the other hand was a favored by blue chip patrons… the potential benefits from the collaboration were:

·        Mobilized action to effect needed change through collective advocacy;
·        To achieve greater visibility with decision-makers, the media, and the larger community (United Way, 2008)

The challenges SAM and FTF experienced in their partnership had much to do with trust and mutual respect. The differences that brought them together also created tension because the purpose of the collaboration was not clearly defined to volunteers and agency members. Since each group was very different from the other, more time needed to be invested in building trust.

Collaboration can be beneficial in any of the forms it may take. For collaboration to be successful, the relationship must emphasize balance, have a planned direction, and promote communication with all stakeholders. Strategic planning is necessary to address all of the potential issues in collaboration to ensure an advantageous partnership.


Elias, J. 1996. Timberland and Community Involvement. Supervisor James Austin. Harvard Business School Publishing. Boston, MA.

Fortier, S. 1996. Funding Seattle’s Art Museum and Low-Income Housing: The Politics of Interest Groups and Tax Levies (A). Supervisor Jon Brock. Cascade Center for Public Service: Public Service Curriculum Exchange.

Sharma, Janet and Amanda Missey. 1998. “How I learned to Stop Griping . . . And Love Collaboration.” From a presentation at the National Community Service Conference. June 30, 1998. New Orleans, LA.

United Way. 2008. “Best Practices Summary: Collaboration, Coalition-Building, and Merger.”

Varley, P. 1996. Partners in Child Protection Services: The Department of Social Services and La Alianza Hispana (A). Abridged. Kennedy School of Government. Boston, MA