When needing a more formal, structured partnership, you may want to consider some sort of alliance; such options are shown in the second of the three circles on the Map. La Piana Consulting considers these as falling into two categories: 1) those that involve doing some part of your nuts-and-bolts business together (such as programming, administration, or revenue generation), and 2) those that are really more about working together to have an impact on the field, for example through advancement of a social change agenda or work to strengthen organizations with a particular issue or geographic focus.

The first category (top half of the purple ring in the Map) includes administrative consolidation, fiscal sponsorship, joint programming, and joint earned income ventures. The second category (lower half of the purple ring in the Map) includes affinity groups, associations, consortiums, and coalitions. In either case decision-making power is shared or transferred, but the organizations involved are not called upon to make changes to their corporate structure.

Let’s look more closely at the various types.

  • Administrative Consolidation. An administrative consolidation is an alliance that entails the sharing, exchanging, or contracting of administrative functions to increase the operational efficiency of one or more of the partner organizations.

    Nine Habitat for Humanity affiliates in the Charlotte, North Carolina area came together to collaborate and consolidate business processes; they refer to their partnership as Habitat for Humanity Metrolina Partners. Current focus areas include joint purchasing, joint training, joint ReStore marketing, and mortgage servicing. (
  • Fiscal Sponsorship.Fiscal sponsorship refers to the practice of a nonprofit organization offering its legal and tax-exempt status to unincorporated groups engaged in activities related to the organization’s mission. It typically involves a fee-based contractual arrangement between the fiscal sponsor and the unincorporated group, or project. The fiscal sponsor often provides some amount of administrative support to the project.

    Citizen Engagement Laboratory “supports, starts, and connects individuals and organizations that use technology-fueled approaches to close the gap between the world we live in and the more just and equal world most of us want.” Though its Powerful Communities program CEL works with entities at all stages of development, providing a combination of infrastructure and strategic guidance.(
  • Joint Programming. A joint programming is an alliance in which organizations come together to launch and manage one or more programs to further the goals of the participating organizations.

    In Buffalo, New York, EPIC and Baker Victory Services joined forces to provide more robust hospital-based parent education programs to help new parents foster the social, emotional, and cognitive development of their children; the result is the Ready, Set, Parent! program, which dramatically increased the number of new parents served per year. (
  • Joint Earned Income Venture. A joint earned income activity occurs when two or more organizations come together to launch or manage a revenue-generating activity that benefits all partners (e.g., a combined capital campaign or social entrepreneurial venture).

    Blind Industries & Services of Maryland chose to expand its manufacturing capacity not on its own, but through a partnership with RLCB, another organization that provides employment opportunities for blind individuals. ( (
  • Affinity Group. Affinity groups bring together professionals in the nonprofit sector for networking, peer support, and professional growth. Often convened by associations or management support organizations, affinity groups may be organized by issue (funding efforts to end homelessness), identity (Native Americans in Philanthropy), role (CFOs, child care providers), function (volunteer management), stage in one’s career (young nonprofit professionals, seasoned CEOs), geographic focus, or some combination (the Nonprofit Human Resource Affinity Group of Central Florida). Affinity groups may be less formal, or may be formalized through the creation of a separate organization.

    This is what happened with GEO (Grantmakers for Effective Organizations), which started as a small gathering of philanthropic leaders and is now an independent corporation with 459 member organizations.(
  • Coalition, Consortium, and Association. Coalitions, consortiums, and associations are groups of organizations, individuals, and/or government entities that choose to pool their resources and work toward achievement of a common goal. Coalitions typically share a specific political or social change goal, while consortiums and associations typically serve and represent the interests of those involved—though this distinction isn’t universal. Associations are more likely to hold their members to a common set of standards, but again, that distinction is not universal; many ask for little more than dues and an annual commitment to participate in advancing shared goals.

    Coalitions may be temporary or long-term, small and local or large and national. They may operate more or less informally, with or without the formation of a separate legal entity. The Pennsylvania Coalition Against Rape (PCAR) is an example of a coalition formed as an independent entity. It partners with a network of Pennsylvania rape crisis programs to eliminate all forms of sexual violence and to advocate for the rights and needs of victims of sexual assault.(

    The Guilford Nonprofit Consortium is collaborative of nonprofit organizations in Guilford County, North Carolina that fosters mutual assistance and support within the nonprofit community to create a more efficient and effective nonprofit sector. Benefits of membership include an Executive Director Academy, a financial management help desk, a Nonprofit Management Institute, a board development academy, job postings, and various opportunities for discussion and shared learning.(

    The California Alliance of Child and Family Services is a statewide association of more than 130 private nonprofit child and family serving agencies committed to providing the highest quality services in the most caring and effective fashion. The California Alliance provides legislative and regulatory advocacy on behalf of its member agencies regarding a wide range of key policy issues. All members are required to meet Alliance or national accreditation standards. New members are granted provisional status during their accreditation process. (

Alliances can evolve over time. Some start less formally and over time move toward establishment of a formal, legal connection between organizations or even the formation of a new entity, such as those described below.