Thursday, March 23, 2017

Stop, COLLABORATE, and Listen!

The Jossey-Bass Handbook of Non-Profit Leadership and Management states that “greater value can be created for organization, individual, and society through collaboration (pg. 427). However, as we learned from the following case studies, collaboration comes with challenges, some that are unique between sectors.

Case 1: Timberland & City-Year - Profit & Non-Profit Sectors

Timberland developed a desire to give back to the community. When City Year reached out to them regarding a boot donation, Timberland happily agreed. Over the years their partnership evolved, with Timberland providing monetary donations, employee-service days and a complete City Year uniform and product line.

Benefits. Timberland was contributing to an organization they believed in while consumers viewed them as a benevolent company. City Year could provide quality uniforms to their volunteers, gain additional volunteer involvement without recruiting, and fund many of its operations through Timberland’s donations.

Opportunities. As the partnership was desired, not necessary, both organizations were able to select a partner aligned with their own mission. They were able to leverage the brand name of the other, strengthening their own brand.

Challenges. This relationship was highly dependent upon financial security: a for-profit organization giving financial and time resources to a non-profit. When Both organizations faced financial hardship in 1995, the relationship became strained.

Case 2: Seattle Art Museum & First Thing’s First - Non-Profit & Non-Profit Sectors

The partnership between the Seattle Art Museum and First Thing’s First emerged as a politically strategic move for the Museum. The organizations were competing for funding. As a compromise, they banded together, creating a new mission of “Citizens for a Better Seattle” and worked together to ensure that both organizations could thrive.

            Benefits. Both organizations could secure funding.
Opportunities. The organizations could leverage each other’s resources and gain support from new networks.

Challenges. They created a common-ground rather than recognizing one that organically existed. With non-profit organizations, securing funding is always a challenge. Partnering with a competing organization may cause internal conflicts and confusion regarding how to optimize the partnership in a way that benefits the organizations’ clients.  

Case 3: The Department of Social Services & La Alianza Hispana - Public & Non-Profit Sectors

This partnership was proposed by DSS to La Alianza in an effort to improve their services. DSS wanted La Alianza to take over social service cases in the Hispanic community, services that they had not historically delivered and which were not consistent with the organization’s mission.

Benefits. DSS believed organizations with strong community ties would be in a better position to understand and interpret family dynamics and troubles, gain trust of families and appropriately intervene, therefore having Hispanic social service cases handled in a more culturally sensitive and appropriate manner. If La Alianza accepted the proposal they would keep their funding from DSS.

Opportunities. La Alianza could use its community ties to help DSS provide better services, strengthening the community La Alianza serviced.

Challenges. There was no trust between the organizations because the partnership was a one-sided proposal. There was poor communication between the key stakeholders of each organization, leading to unclear roles and expectations.

A common theme among these cases is that strategic planning is necessary to maximize the value that can be gained from such partnerships. Doing a SWOT analysis can help organizations realize their full potential and be proactive in facing crises. Partnerships that rely on financial transactions should create a worst-case scenario action plan in case funds become limited. It is clear that partnerships that emerge organically, with the organizations’ mission and values in mind will be more successful. However, no partnership can be successful if there is no trust and/or poor communication.

Collaboration means to work with another. Regardless of which sectors the partnership crosses, it is important to consider “…what might be accomplished as a single entity that would not be possible for either organization to achieve alone” (Yankey, Jacobus, Koney, pg. 38-41).


Austin, James E. and M. May Seitanidi. “Value Creation through Collaboration.” In Renz, David (eds.), Jossey-Bass Handbook of Nonprofit Leadership and Management. Hoboken: John Wiley & Sons, 2016.

Varley, Pamela and Christine Lettis. “Partners in Child Protection Services: The Department of Social Services and La Alianza Hispana.” Cambridge: Kennedy School of Government. 1996.

Yankey, John A., Barbara Wester Jacobus, and Kelly McNally Koney. “Merging Nonprofit Organizations: The Art and Science of the Deal.” Cleveland: Mandel Center for Nonprofit Organizations. 2001.