The Art of Nonprofit Collaboration
Updated: Apr 5
Part 1: Such a Puzzle!
Imagine for a moment a triangular shaped neighborhood covering 224 acres. Let’s call it "Real Town" so as not to name names.
How big (or small) is Real Town?
If square in shape, 224 acres would be about seven blocks wide.
It takes just 15 minutes at a leisurely, sightseeing pace to stroll from one side of Real Town to the other.
You can circumnavigate the perimeter of Real Town in an hour.
Now hold in mind Real Town’s population of 35,000, with one-third living below the federal poverty level.
Here’s your challenge. Take a guess:
How many nonprofit organizations are serving the Real Town community?
If you guessed the following, you are spot on!
623 - Nursing and residential care facilities,
624 - Social assistance agencies, and
813 - Religious, grant-making, civic, professional organizations.
That’s 2,060 nonprofits – one of the highest concentrations per capita in the country.
Do you work for a nonprofit?
If not, you must know someone who lives and breathes the nonprofit lifestyle, right?
Perhaps you have noticed that your nonprofit friends, especially those who lead smaller organizations, tend to work 10 or 12-hour days? That’s because
they devote a full-time shift to their passion, working in the organization—delivering the mission.
Then, they do a second shift to make their passion possible, working on the organization—securing financial resources and cultivating supportive relationships to sustain the work.
Likely, you are also aware of how hard it is for nonprofits to collaborate. Given the host of challenges employees face, it is easy to understand how they tend to spend more time siloed than networking or coming together to support each other’s events.
"If we have not peace, it is because we have forgotten that we belong together." -Mother Teresa of Calcutta
Of course, the benefits to collaboration are many!*
Unfortunately, challenges to collaboration abound. Three obvious frustrations:
Limited Bandwidth: When expending every ounce of energy on your own cause, there is nothing left in the tank to show up in support of another organization, no matter how much you value their cause and want to support their work.
Limited Time: When it takes 10 or 12 hours per day (sometimes weekends, too) to keep up with what is urgent in your own organization, every other life priority suffers your absence.
Scarce Dollars: Especially with rising wages and operational costs, each organization needs to claim full credit for its own work to attract sustaining gifts and grants. Shared ownership is tricky!
For these and other reasons, competition can undermine the collaborative spirit that nonprofit leaders so value and wish to embody.
Given what nonprofit leaders are up against, when collaboration happens it is noteworthy.
Our team at SEED Impact has spent a good deal of time over the past nine months immersed in deep inquiry with our current client partners to learn about their collaborative experiences.
Oh, the stories they have shared!
Please stay tuned in April for “The Art of Nonprofit Collaboration Part II: An Offer That Could Not Be Refused.” It features an inspiring organization in Real Town, USA, whose leaders reframed a key question to discover a whole new world of support for their mission!
* Baxley, E. (2022, August 17). How to collaborate successfully: A Complete Guide for Nonprofits. Nonprofit Megaphone. Retrieved from https://nonprofitmegaphone.com/how-to-collaborate-successfully-a-complete-guide-for-nonprofits/
Chandler, J. (2016). 5 tips for nonprofit collaborations - National Council of Nonprofits. National Council of Nonprofits. Retrieved from
Kania, J., Williams, J., Schmitz, P., Brady, S., Kramer, M., &;Splansky Juster, J. S. (2022). Centering equity in collective impact (SSIR). Stanford Social Innovation Review: Informing and Inspiring Leaders of Social Change. Retrieved March 28, 2023, from https://ssir.org/articles/entry/centering_equity_in_collective_impact
Samali, M., Laidler-Kylander, N., Simonin, B., & Zohdy, N. (2016). Why and how do nonprofits work together? | the sustainable nonprofit. Philanthropy News Digest. Retrieved from https://philanthropynewsdigest.org/features/the-sustainable-nonprofit/why-and-how-do-nonprofits-work-together
Melinda Lackey is Co-founder and Director of SEED Impact, which has coached hundreds of nonprofit initiatives to communicate and coordinate action more efficiently, sustain higher performance and report greater social impact. SEEDing Stronger Together strengthens partnerships.