Rural Support Partners, mission-driven management consultants with a participatory approach to create lasting, equitable change in rural areas. Rural community and economic development.

Nonprofit Collaboration

Nonprofit Collaboration

Nonprofit Collaboration: What it takes and what makes it effective?

Our most challenging social problems are too complex to change by the efforts of any single program, organization, or sector. It is critical for funders, nonprofits, businesses, policymakers, and communities to build relationships and trust that lead to common analysis and shared objectives for addressing our complex challenges. Nonprofit collaboration accrues several benefits, including: maximization of limited resources, particularly in rural areas; reduction of duplicative efforts; more effective work; and deeper impact on root cause issues.

Effective collaboration takes strong relationships, skills, and practice. Often, people and organizations build toward collaborative work by first developing a trusting relationship and strong communication practices, and readily sharing their analysis and actions with each other. A foundation of open communication and sharing creates the opportunity for coordination of programming and action – aligning initiatives to achieve stronger outcomes. Collaboration may grow out of coordinated action, as groups and individuals work together to develop a common analysis and shared objectives for change. In some cases, and with time, effort, and commitment, a collaboration may evolve into a network, with a dedicated infrastructure, staff, and agenda setting process.

A system change network is a group of high capacity entities that have a common analysis, just the right amount of structure, and enough support to move a specific system change agenda. Below is a grid that can help you see at which stage a group may be. Know that this is not a linear progression; system change networks often spawn exploratory groups to understand aspects of a system they would like to change. Those groups could emerge as coalitions or networks should the work identified need long term coordinated effort.

Exploratory Group



System Change Network

An exploratory group consists of two or more organizations interested in working together, but need time to explore their connections.

Purpose may include:

  • Learning about each other’s work
  • Building relationships & trust
  • Uncovering common self-interest
  • Defining common opportunities
  • Exploring ways to work together

A group of organizations, agencies, institutions, or businesses who are coordinating their efforts around a common issue, cause, or campaign.

Purpose may include:

  • Information sharing
  • Coordination of services or activities
  • Spurring collective community-wide efforts to bring attention or resources to a single issue or cause.

A broad-based web of organizations, agencies, institutions, or businesses that cooperate and align their efforts toward a shared set of goals.

Purpose may include:

  • Learning and peer support
  • Coordination of services/activities
  • Creation of common analysis/vision and larger scale strategies
  • Collective resource generation
A more narrowly defined set of organizations, agencies, institutions, or businesses that collaborate to move a shared vision for change.

Purpose may include:

  • Action towards a shared agenda
  • Creation of common measures
  • Development of mutually reinforcing activities & communication process
  • Use of a backbone organization to support / facilitate the group’s work

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Management - Strategy - Collaboration

Rural Support Partners equips changemakers, organizations, and networks to cultivate lasting, equitable, participatory change in rural areas.

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