What Are the Different Ways to Collaborate?

  • March 5, 2014

In the nonprofit sector there are various forms of collaboration, ranging in formality, actors and purposes. Some of the most common types of collaboration include networks, coalitions, movements, strategic alliances, strategic co-funding, public private partnerships and collective impact initiatives. It can sometimes be difficult to differentiate among them and know which might be the best fit for certain situations. This piece defines these forms and offers guidance for grantmakers on when to use each, along with examples and considerations.

While not an exhaustive list, the following table breaks down some of the most common forms of collaboration in the nonprofit sector and provides guidance on when to use it, examples and considerations. It is important to note that these types of collaboration are not mutually exclusive — a collaborative effort may include two or more types at once. Also, each of these entails some level of formality, although the degree of formality varies. Usually, less formal collaborations, partnerships and/or intentional relationship building are important precursors to more sustained forms of collaboration to build a baseline of trust and common understanding.

Common Types of Collaboration

Some of the most common types of collaboration, listed in level of formality from low to high and with definitions, are as follows:

  • Networks: People connected by relationships, which can take on a variety of forms, both formal and informal.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • Public-Private Partnerships: Partnerships formed between government and private sector organizations to deliver specific services or benefits.
  • Collective Impact Initiatives: Long-term commitments by a group of important actors from different sectors to a common agenda for solving a specific social problem.4


Collaboration with and among grantees and other key partners is central to the solutions we as grantmakers seek to advance. There are many forms these collaborations can take, ranging from informal to formal. Fostering the right type of partnership at any given moment in time requires reflection and dialogue, as well as attention to relationship building and communication.


What Are the Different Ways to Collaborate?

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