There are many ways to collaborate, and collaborations aren’t mutually exclusive. Organizations can and do collaborate with multiple organizations, often from multiple sectors, on a range of initiatives. In fact, today more than ever organizations must collaborate, both broadly and deeply, because that is what it will take to address the complex challenges we face.

At the most basic level, two or more entities may choose to simply coordinate their actions, activities, advocacy, or learning; such options are shown in the outermost circle of the Map. You don’t need a formal agreement to do these things, or a long-term commitment, although you might choose to make your participation official in some way. For example:

  • Coordinated Action. Two or more organizations might coordinate their planning or service provision, co-sponsor an event, pool resources to purchase an asset both could use, or solicit better pricing on assets they will purchase and use independently.

    In 2014 the Nonprofit Quarterly (NPQ) launched a partnership with the Young Nonprofit Professionals Network (YNPN) to ensure that NPQ is serving and including YNPN membership in its information and readership community. It kicked off the collaboration by asking YNPN members to fill out a special survey; NPQ evaluated the results and wrote up a comparison of the YNPN member response to NPQ’s broader 2014 reader survey, raising the visibility of issues affecting next generation leaders. (
  • Joint Advocacy. Joint advocacy can be aimed at changing policies locally, regionally, or nationally.

    A notable recent example is the pursuit of marriage equality. Over the course of the last decade dozens of nonprofits joined a growing number of individual voices to call for change with respect to the legality of gay marriage, many coordinating their efforts in particular states.
  • Collaborative Learning. Collaborative and cross-organizational learning can happen in community convenings, through the coordination and sharing of training opportunities, or through learning communities. Learning communities in particular can provide a mechanism for individuals to deepen their understanding of a given topic or issue area by learning together,putting that learning into action, and then deepening the learning by jointly reflecting on those actions. A common practice in education, learning communities are often intentionally designed and convened by funders interested in supporting both leadership development and field building in a range of content areas.

    Hawai’i Community Foundation’s $5 million Schools of the Future capacity building Initiative (2009-2013) provided funding for professional development, planning for school change, technology infrastructure upgrades, and—a major component—a learning community in which the 18 funded schools could share their experiences in trying out new instructional methods. (
  • Network.Networks are collections of individuals and organizations—often self-organizing—working together to create social change. Some networks do ask members to make a formal commitment to participate or share data; many of the “collective impact” examples that have been highlighted in recent literature do this.

    The Boston Green and Healthy Building Network was established to bring together two sets of organizations (public health and environmental groups) advocating for change in building codes in Boston. The Barr Foundation supported an effort to “map” the organizations’ networks and explore whether they could coordinate their efforts and develop a more unified message to local policymakers. The parties have since strengthened connections and coordination among public health and environmental organizations, improved access to influential policymakers, and achieved wins in health-related building policies.(