Do You Partner with Other Nonprofits?

Lori Halley 08 October 2010 7 comments

mergeThere's been a lot of talk lately about some associations and nonprofits starting to lose sight of service to members or constituents, shifting focus to keeping the organization itself alive. Perhaps the effects of economic recession are to blame for an increased sense of competition between some not-for-profit groups, but other nonprofits have reacted to tough times in a radically different way – by partnering up and even going as far as formally merging – in the interests of greater efficiency and impact. 

Partnership is far from a new concept for nonprofits, of course, but it has never been more timely.

A few years back, Marion Conway gave a talk on Partnering for Nonprofits to a networking group. In the accompanying blog post, in which she discusses how partnerships both within the third sector and with corporate partners can be a “win-win” for everyone concerned, Marion lists 6 key benefits of partnering with other nonprofits:

    1. Using and leveraging your own resources and strengths
    2. Learning from the other organization's strengths
    3. Operating more efficient programs
    4. Operating more diverse programs
    5. Developing new networks and new audiences
    6. And of course... Funders LOVE partnering.

I’ll add one more:

By partnering with other organizations that share your cause, or pursue a closely related mission, you’re helping your supporters to take action – to make a decision about where to direct their donations and volunteer hours.

As Kristin Ivie puts it,

There are so many slightly different groups with similar goals and services that it’s becoming difficult for individuals to find the time for all these groups and similarly difficult for these groups to find enough active members to maintain their chapters.

Two organizations pulling together for a single cause lends more weight, more public credibility, to that cause. And a shared campaign or program means less confusion in messaging – together, you can put out one clear call to action. Both of the partner organizations gain from each other's strengths on the team, and, more to the point, the shared cause will benefit.

From collaboration (for example, sharing information and coordinating event schedules with a like-minded group) to partnership (collaboration in joint projects and programs with tangible resources on the table) is not a huge leap.

For smaller nonprofit organizations with overlapping missions, however, a full-on merger might prove a better alternative than continued competition between nonprofits for limited resources. 

Examples? There are plenty.

Since the first rumblings of the economic recession, we’ve been seeing an increasing number of cases where nonprofits have found that joining forces is in the best interests of those they serve:

Take the recent case of two animal rescue groups in one small city that merged as a logical alternative to struggling on with two separate aging and inadequate shelters. Now joined under a new combined identity, the staff and volunteers of both are working together to raise funds to build the much-needed new facility.

Or the case of the two Maryland water trail conservation and stewardship groups who merged to form the Chesapeake Conservancy  earlier this summer.

Or this example, reported in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette a few months back:

For 23 years, North Hills Community Outreach, based in Hampton with a satellite office in Millvale, has provided families in economic crisis with utility assistance, emergency financial help, access to food pantries and economic and job counseling. Community Auto was founded in 2003 as a volunteer-run program to accept donated vehicles, have them repaired and sell them at a reasonable price to low-income workers. The program relies on vehicle donations from the public.

The two formed a partnership in 2005, with Community Outreach providing back office functions so Community Auto could build its organization. But with two boards and two sets of books, costs were duplicated without a corresponding increase in productivity. With the official merger Jan. 31, Community Auto became a program of North Hills Community Outreach and no longer has a separate nonprofit status.

Mergers aren’t the wise choice for every nonprofit, of course, and organizational culture is notoriously resistant to change – especially when that change involves a perceived loss of identity and influence! – but there’s nothing too boat-rocking about a good sound partnership.

Do take a good look around your community for possible win-win partnerships within the nonprofit sector, while you’re out there hunting for corporate sponsors. 

And if a nonprofit partnership of some sort does come up in your organizations’ future, you’ll find it helpful to be familiar with “common pitfalls and challenges.” The National Council of Nonprofits. They’ve assembled a handy page of tips and resources on Collaboration, Mergers, and Partnering to help get you off on the right foot.

What do you think? Is there a way for your group to join forces with another nonprofit to build a win-win partnership?

If you’re already partnering with another nonprofit – tell us your story!

Photo credit: TheTruthAbout

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Lori Halley [Engaging Apricot] Lori Halley [Engaging Apricot]

Posted by Lori Halley [Engaging Apricot]

Published Friday, 08 October 2010 at 3:41 PM

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  • Devin Mathias (aka @moredonors) said:

    Friday, 08 October 2010 at 8:48 AM

    Great piece Rebecca!  I'd also add that those serving small non-profits, such as consultants, software companies, etc. should keep their eyes open for potential partnerships... and facilitate them if possible.

    Sometimes being employed by an NPO can lead people to be hesitant to partner because of any potential perception that seeking a partnership means you can't do things on your own.  An 'outsider' can help foster the partnership without concerns re: ego/ rejection.

    This post is a great example of helping NPOs partner! Kudos!

  • Great Shape! Inc (@greatshapeinc) said:

    Friday, 08 October 2010 at 10:12 AM

    Our nonprofit organization is looking forward to a new partnership with One Sight! (More info on them here:

    One of our projects, iCare, provides eye exams, surgery referrals and glasses through free clinics in rural Jamaica. One Sight partners with a number of smaller nonprofits with projects like iCare and supports them with additional supplies.

    The newest of our three projects, iCare just finished its second year and for such a short amount of time, the growth we've experienced is amazing. We hope through our partnership with One Sight, we will be able to continue increasing the number of patients we care for!

  • Bambi Weavil said:

    Saturday, 09 October 2010 at 7:10 AM

    We've made it part of our mission at Out Impact, Inc. to always be working and helping other non-profits besides our own.  We donate partial proceeds of advertising to various non-profits and every event we produce we donate net proceeds to various non-profits.

    We hope to work with those who support Wild Apricot too, we love what your guys do here.


    Bambi Weavil

    CEO of Out Impact, Inc. - Making a positive impact in the gay community.  Make yours.

  • Lain Shakespeare said:

    Saturday, 09 October 2010 at 6:22 PM

    The Wren's Nest, our historic house museum, needed (a) vibrant programming that made a meaningful impact in our neighborhood; and (b) a way to reach people who would not normally visit an author's home. We had no volunteers.

    The Decatur Book Festival, the largest independent book festival in the country, needed to reach (a) the under-served population in our neighborhood; and (b) teenagers. They had no presence in Atlanta outside of the weekend of the festival.

    We partnered by creating two programs:

    (1) Our staff organized a publishing camp for high school students. The Decatur Book Festival provided professional writers to help the students create the best high school literary magazine in Atlanta.

    (2) Our staff paired professional writers (many of them DBF-affiliated) with the 5th graders in our neighborhood. They worked 1-on-1 for eight weeks to record an important family story. We compiled their stories for a book.

    The Decatur Book Festival lent us their publishing experience and connections, while we provided the elbow grease and the vision. Both books debuted at the DBF. The students had launch parties and book signings. Grandmothers bought dozens of copies (of course), but so did folks who had no connection to the programs whatsoever!

    We engaged our community, and our community engaged with the Decatur Book Festival. Everybody won, and we're doing it again next year.

  • Blake Raab said:

    Saturday, 09 October 2010 at 6:25 PM

    Bears on Patrol partnered with Kids Are Heroes at one of their events at Boyd's Bear Country.  The event was a gathering of many of their heroes to be recognized.  There was also the opportunity to build a bear and have it donated to one of three causes, ours included.  It was a great event for both of our organizations, and I know that we both benefit from the partnership.

  • Geri Stengel said:

    Wednesday, 13 October 2010 at 4:34 PM

    You are absolutely right. Collaboration can make nonprofits more efficient and effective. In fact, it was a theme at the recent Social Impact Exchange. As you pointed out, collaboration is not a merger.

    <a href="">Much can be done </a> to better serve your mission without losing your identity.

  • kate lim said:

    Thursday, 30 December 2010 at 10:56 AM

    thank you for sharing,i am now currently looking for potential partner.

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