Wednesday, April 8, 2015

Collaboration: Are We Stronger Separate or Together?

Are we stronger separate or together?  When looking at collaboration between organizations there are many considerations that must be made.  In their article, “Best Practices Summary: Collaboration, Coalition Building and Merger,” United Way Worldwide (2008) gives an articulate description of the benefits of collaboration by stating that “collaboration can be a vehicle for expansion into new areas of service requiring the resources of more than one organization or to proactively address an emerging community issue.”  However, collaboration does not come without unique challenges.  Furthermore, as seen through the three case studies presented in class, there are unique opportunities and challenges associated with collaboration across different sectors. 

The case of the Massachusetts Department of Social Services (DSS) and La Alianza Hispana gives an example of potential collaboration between a nonprofit agency and a government agency.  Sharma and Missey (1998) describe that to have a successful collaboration, organizations must have a “shared vision.”  In this case, the two agencies did have the common vision of improving conditions for the Hispanic population in Massachusetts.  However, there was little “mutual respect, understanding, and trust,” and the collaboration did not seem to be in the self-interest of both parties (Sharma and Missey, 2008).  As a government agency, DSS provided funding to La Alianza and used this as a bargaining chip in encouraging them to partner with them; the relationship was not built out of a place of trust and mutuality.  DSS would likely have benefited by being better able serve minority families, but La Alianza would likely have lost the trusting relationship that they had developed with the Hispanic community and experience mission drift.     
Government agencies have a substantial amount of power and influence in society and building collaborations based on trust and mutual gain can be tricky in light of this.  These relationships have the potential to be very successful, as many nonprofits are working to meet the same ends as government agencies, particularly in the social service sector.  However, there must be clear communication, equal benefit to each party, and trust between those involved.            

Collaboration between nonprofit agencies at its surface may appear to be straightforward since they would share a common structure.  However, many nonprofits work to achieve very different missions, such as in the case of Citizens for a Better Seattle.  In this case the two organizations had very different missions but there was a unique opportunity for them to combine their resources and work towards a common, short-term goal.  Instead of competing for resources and votes, the organizations decided that it would be mutually beneficial to work together. 
In doing this, they confronted challenges experienced by many coalitions such as “unclear roles and expectations of member organizations” (United Way Worldwide, 2008).  While roles were defined, each organization had different resources to offer: the Seattle Art Museum primarily provided financial resources and First Things First primarily provided a strong volunteer base.  Each organization contributed a substantial amount of resources to the coalition, but the difference in type of resource along with each organization having very individual missions was cause for some lack of trust and inequality throughout the process.     

Nonprofit-For Profit
As seen with in the case of the partnership between Timberland and City Year, there are unique opportunities for partnerships between nonprofit and for profit entities.  Obviously, these entities are going to have different goals solely based on their structure; for profit agencies aim to make money through offering a particular product or service and this is not the goal of nonprofit agencies.  However, as discussed previously, one of the most necessary components of a successful partnership is that each party must have a stake in the collaboration and see the partnership as benefitting their own self-interest which is possible between nonprofit and for profit sectors. 

In the case of Timberland and City Year, Timberland was benefitting from the partnership through being able to offer its employees a strong sense of community built through volunteering with City Year which may have helped to increase productivity.  Furthermore, Timberland gained the image of being a progressive and social justice oriented business which had the power to attract customers.  City Year gained financial resources as well as Timberland apparel for its members.  The main challenge associated with this case is a challenge that is faced across all sectors, and that is lack of shared vision and planning.  Collaboration takes a significant amount of planning and it is necessary to have a shared vision to guide this plan (Sharma and Missey, 2008).  In this particular collaboration, these essential components were not fully developed.  


Elias, Jean (1996).  "Timberland and Community Involvement."  Harvard Business School 

"Funding Seattle's New Art Museum and Low-Income Housing: The Politics of Interest Groups and Tax Levies (A)" (1996).  Cascade Center for Public Service, Public Service Curriculum Exchange

Sharma and Missey (1998).  "How I Learned to Stop Griping and Love Collaboration."  Volunteer Center of Bergen County, Inc.   

United Way Worldwide (2008).  "Best Practices Summary: Collaboration, Coalition-Building and Merger."

Varley, Pamela (1996).  "Partners in Child Protective Services: The Department of Social Services and La Alianza Hispana."  John F. Kennedy School of Government, Harvard University