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Targeted collaboration strategies will strengthen nonprofit's effectiveness

One of the biggest challenges nonprofits face today is staying focused on mission and making a genuine social impact while becoming more productive, results-oriented and engaged with constituents. Collaboration is an avenue to nonprofit financial sustainability and overall survival.

Nonprofit trends in collaborative projects

Stanford Social Innovation Review recently reported a growing trend toward greater collaboration between nonprofits and other partners. Nonprofits continually feel the pinch of government budget cuts on their funding, while also facing increased need among those they serve. Unfortunately, many organizations are realizing that they cannot achieve their missions without building new alliances.

Nonprofits benefit from connecting individuals or organizations with collaboration tools and insights. Organizations can intentionally build networks through standardization and cohesive messaging. One frequently cited example is Strive Partnership — a collaboration of nonprofits, foundations, government agencies and corporations with a shared vision to improve education outcomes in the Cincinnati area, which serves as an example for the broader “collective impact” movement. The various organizations involved track the same indicators and engage in regular, structured communications to inform their communities with a dynamic strategy.

Internet-based communities can magnify the power of network effects. Properly utilized, network effects help enable nonprofit communities to achieve the scale of reach while still celebrating the diversity of the network.

Structural barriers to collaboration CAN be overcome

If collaboration represents the future of social change, why is it so difficult to get it right? Why don’t we experience more collaboration “wins”? Stanford Social Innovation Review shares: “nonprofits often act in isolation against complex problems, spinning reinvented wheels.”

In other words, effective nonprofit collaboration is harder than it sounds.

Despite the resulting increases in funding opportunities associated with working together to achieve a shared goal and address systemic social issues, most organizations face serious structural barriers including geographic distance, schedules and workloads. Nonprofits are not alone in having to manage situations where working with others is difficult. Utilizing the best communication tools will help nonprofits build trust with all constituents.

For example, even if the executive directors of two organizations want to collaborate, staff members may resist, saying the partnership will force them to restructure the program, re-do internal systems, abandon their unique culture or admit the weakness of their organization.

But there are solutions. Intentional communication can remove the knowledge barriers that cause negative outcomes, making it possible to transcend the dilemmas that get in the way of collaboration.

The key to successful collaboration

Collaboration can challenge nonprofit leaders’ sense of identity. We would be wise to respect how emotionally and intellectually difficult it can be for practitioners of social change to acknowledge that they cannot succeed alone. But designing new collaborative spaces based on a shared-value system and driven by a common purpose lays a strong foundation from which to make social change. The right tools and insights increase the likelihood that the collaboration will endure and achieve the desired results.

The challenges the nonprofit sector faces are big and incredibly complex. Leslie Crutchfield writes that social change begins with personal connection and human emotion, and gives a five-point framework of successful movements. Strong communication and engagement is a foundation for creating social change.

How do we move to transformative collaborative relationships?

Insights offered via a roundtable sponsored by the National Council of Nonprofits, along with Exponent Philanthropy and Funds for Shared Insights, note different ways funders and nonprofits can work together, starting today, to be more intentional about building relationships with our mission partners:

  • Share mistakes
  • Get to know each other like I know my friends
  • Be open to bigger pictures beyond individual programs
  • Take risks and be strategic
  • Listen and learn
  • Be open to multi-year funding
  • Be human-centered in how we design our work
  • Connect each other to resources
  • Be intentionally educational
  • Have open communication
  • Be interactive and feedback-friendly
  • Adapt to change
  • Take time to be relaxed
  • Engage for the longer term
  • Build on common interests
  • Keep each other informed

What is the best and most effective way to maximize transformational collaboratives?

Collaborative stakeholders and constituents, as groups or individuals, deserve a private place to which they can go for all “need to know” communications—available when they have the time or the desire to know more, say more, join more and give more.

MissionBox powered Engagement Communities™ provide one secure, branded online center for all collaborators to access:

  • Information
  • Education
  • Memos/budgets
  • Reports
  • Inspirational stories
  • Invites
  • Suggestion boxes
  • Policies and procedures
  • Simple surveys
  • Impact reports
  • Shared documents/discussions
  • Internal news feeds
  • Videos
  • Applications
  • Trainings and more …

Plus, MissionBox Engagement Communities provide easy document archival and retrieval, along with project organizational tools to promote true collaboration among staff and stakeholders.

Best of all, these tools are accessed with a unique username and password in a guaranteed private, managed environment, available through any device, both desktop and mobile.

With free user seats and cloud storage, you can invite a limitless number of collaborators to learn, connect, share and shine.

MissionBox Engagement Communities. Your one-stop, secure, online center for all nonprofit constituent communications and collaboration. For a free demonstration, contact



MissionBox editorial content is offered as guidance only, and is not meant, nor should it be construed as, a replacement for certified, professional expertise.