Thursday, April 6, 2017

Evaluating Collaboration

When engaging in collaborations, non-profits must be intentional about which partnerships to pursue. Contributions – and visions for the partnership – will differ based upon the assets and the organizational goals of each collaborating party. Generally speaking, non-profits contribute moral credibility, a support network from a community, a more informed understand of community needs, and have the goal of achieving a public good; for-profit organizations can contribute a stable income stream, the visibility of their brand, their products, and operate with a profit motive; public agencies contribute legitimacy, some funding, and can safeguard the nonprofit from competition with other similar organizations. Contributions will always be unequal, with one party gaining more from the collaboration. Non-profits must remember that partnerships are finite, and must be secondary to the organization’s own health.

Non-profit – Non-profit Partnership: The Seattle Art Museum and First Things First
The partnership between Seattle Art Museum and “First Things First” offers us an example of two non-profits working together to have their missions accomplished. In this case both organizations had measures that were being voted on that requested funding for their projects. The organizations decided to join forces, leverage their resources and share their voting bases by creating the movement “Citizens for a Better Seattle.” In this case, the two non-profits offered unequal contributions, with the museum providing staff, and the housing organization providing a grass roots base. In the end the partnership was successful, and both organizations gained funding through the vote. Non-profit partnerships can allow for organizations that may have resource constraints to partner to achieve similar goals, raising the likelihood of success for both organizations.

Non-profit – For-profit Partnership: Timberland and City Year
The partnership between Timberland and City Year offers an example of a for-profit corporation collaborating with a non-profit organization. Timberland was able to offer funding, and their product and brand visibility to City Year – a relatively new non-profit at the time of the collaboration. City Year provided Timberland the organizational connection to help make communities better, and an outlet for the corporation’s desire to act out their beliefs. The challenges that arose in this collaboration stemmed from their differing organizational structures. The collaborators found that “having congruent values is different from having congruent agendas” (9). Non-profits aim at accomplishing a public good, while for-profit corporations operate with a profit motive. Non-profit-for-profit partnerships can provide moral legitimacy to the for-profit organization and greater stability for the non-profit. In this case, the two organizations had to reevaluate the partnership when they faced financial difficulties at the same time; this exemplifies that partners must be reflexive when evaluating collaborations, prioritizing the survival of their own organization.

Non-profit – Public Partnership: The Department of Social Services and La Alianza
The partnership between Department of Social Services (DSS) and La Alianza offers an example of a non-profit-public partnership. The DSS attempted to called upon La Alianza Hispana to provide social work services to the Hispanic community in Boston that were more culturally specific for the families. La Alianza was not equipped to provide the level of social work service that DSS was requesting, did not want to mission creep to include these services, and did not want to have a highly visible relationship with a government agency. La Alianza did not have the same power to negotiate with the DSS, which jeopardized the partnership. The benefit of public-non-profit partnerships is that service delivery can be rendered less bureaucratically and with greater sensitivity to local contexts. However, in order to services to be on par with public expectation non-profits must be properly funded and must have the skill set to offer the service.


Elias, Jaan. 1996. Timberland and Community Involvement. Boston: Harvard Business School Publishing,

Varley, Pamela. 1996. Partners in Child Protection Services: The Department of Social Services and La Alianza Hispana. Boston: President and Fellows of Harvard College.

Funding Seattle’s Art Museum and Low-Income Housing: The Politics of Interest Groups and Tax Levies.