Most nonprofits are relatively small organizations addressing big social problems. As a group, we’re remarkably skilled at stretching limited resources—people and money—a long way to get impact and results.

Nearly every nonprofit has realized a need to form partnerships to meet their mission. These partnerships can enable organizations to serve more people, serve them better, operate more efficiently, or raise the profile of important issues. Partnerships can also be frustrating, time-consuming and sometimes ineffective.

What types of partnership arrangements can nonprofits consider, and how can they evaluate options? These are the questions I’ll be addressing in a workshop at the upcoming Washington Nonprofit Conference on May 14 titled "Merger, Partnerships and Restructuring: Strategies for Nonprofits to Reach Scale and Sustainability."

In short, there are a range of possible partnership models:

  • Program collaboration
  • Strategic alliance
  • Joint venture
  • Merger

Each model has distinctive characteristics and requirements. The appropriateness of each one depends on the situation, the desired outcomes, and the level of independence required by  the participants. All of these models have required ingredients for success. And they have complexity—for example, there are four different legal structures for nonprofit merger, each one offering unique advantages.

As with anything that important to your business, partnership choices deserve systematic evaluation. Sometimes going it alone can be better than a flawed partnership!

The good news is that we're gaining collective experience with the full range of options, and that means we know more about what works and what doesn’t. It will make for an interesting dialogue next month…

AuthorScott Schaffer