Posted Thursday, August 21, 2014 at 3:07 pm

Increasingly, grantmakers and nonprofits understand that collaboration is critical for social change. One form of collaboration, collective impact is a powerful strategy that can lead to lasting systems change. The examples in this blog and throughout the Collective Impact Forum show the range of ways communities are making progress through collective impact initiatives.

Despite energy in the field, knowing how to effectively support or participate in collective impact can be daunting to some. In some cases, the conditions for success for collective impact may seem like a barrier to entry. Sometimes the players may not be ready to work together in this way. Other situations that call for collaboration may require a simpler or more short-term arrangement than collective impact.

When it comes to collaboration, there are a range of options for grantmakers, nonprofits and other community stakeholders, each ranging in formality, actors and purposes. And less formal or shorter-term collaborations can help pave the way for more sustained forms of collaboration such as collective impact.

As part of the Smarter Grantmaking Playbook, Grantmakers for Effective Organizations created a framework of the most common forms of collaboration in the nonprofit sector.

The types of collaboration are below and are listed in level of formality from low to high.

  • Networks — people connected by relationships which can take on a variety of forms, both formal and informal. For example, the Barr Fellowship, which consists of a fellowship and peer learning group, aims to build a network of Boston-area nonprofit leaders that are working to improve lives for the people of Boston. A measure of success for the fellowship is the degree to which fellows collaborate with one another.
  • Coalitions — organizations whose members commit to an agreed-on purpose and shared decision making to influence an external institution or target, while each member organization maintains its own autonomy. An example of a coalition is the Conservation Alliance for Seafood Solutions, a partnership of 18 conservation organizations working together to pursue a common vision for environmentally sustainable seafood.
  • Movements — collective action with a common frame and long-term vision for social change, characterized by grassroots mobilization that works to address a power imbalance. One movement that has had some recent legislative success is Caring Across Generations, which is building a national movement to change the way our country cares for the aging population. In September 2013, the U.S. Department of Labor issued regulations that extended minimum wage and overtime protections under the Fair Labor Standards Act to the nearly 2 million home care workers in the country, an encouraging step in the movement to give home care workers labor rights such as full benefits.
  • Strategic Alliances — partnership among organizations working in pursuit of a common goal while maintaining organizational independence. This could mean aligning programs or administrative functions or adopting complementary strategies. An example of a strategic alliance is Arts + Response, an alliance between the American Red Cross of Central Louisiana and Central Louisiana Arts & Healthcare formed in 2005 to help individuals and families recover from the devastating impact of Hurricane Katrina.
  • Strategic Co-Funding — partnership among organizations that work in pursuit of a common goal. This could mean aligning programs or administrative functions or adopting complementary strategies. For example, Home for Good is a co-funding partnership involving private and public sector funders that aims to end chronic and veteran homelessness in Los Angeles by 2016.
  • Public-Private Partnerships — partnerships formed between government and private sector organizations to deliver specific services or benefits. Cambridge Energy Alliance is a public-private partnership designed to reduce the carbon footprint of the city of Cambridge and save businesses and individuals money on energy costs.
  • Collective Impact Initiatives — long-term commitments by a group of important actors from difference sectors to a common agenda for solving a specific social problem at scale. Collective impact must meet five conditions. One example of a collective impact initiative is Shape-Up Somerville, a city-wide effort to promote health and reduce obesity in Somerville, Massachusetts.

To see the full framework, which includes guidance around when to use it, examples and considerations for grantmakers, visit GEO’s Smarter Grantmaking Playbook. While not an exhaustive list, we hope this framework can be helpful in understanding the options for collaboration.


1- TCC Group, “What Makes an Effective Coalition?,” 2011

2- David La Piana, “Merging Wisely,” Stanford Social Innovation Review, Spring 2010.

3- John Kania and Mark Kramer, “Collective Impact,” Stanford Social Innovation Review, Winter 2011.