Submitted by Shawn Durr on July 9, 2024 - 09:47

Trend 1: Stronger Together. The Growing Trend of Collaboration in the Nonprofit World

Nonprofits are increasingly recognizing the value of collaboration to amplify their impact, extend their reach, and optimize resources. This can manifest as shared services, joint programming, or even mergers. This trend towards collaboration is propelled by a mix of external pressures and an understanding of the benefits of collective action.

Addressing Complex Social Challenges. The first external driver of this trend is the escalating complexity of social challenges. A growing number of nonprofits are realizing that these challenges are interconnected and often cannot be effectively tackled by a single organization working in isolation. For instance, issues such as poverty, education, and health are all intertwined, and efforts to address one aspect can have ripple effects on the others. By collaborating, nonprofits can pool their resources, share expertise, and coordinate their efforts, thereby enhancing their collective impact and ability to address these complex issues.

In Illinois, a group of nonprofits is providing a powerful demonstration of how collaboration can improve the system of care for individuals with Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities (I/DD). People with I/DD, their families, and their service providers face significant, intertwined challenges, including issues with the fee-for-service model, lack of care coordination, overuse of institutional care and historically underfunded services.

In response, an informal coalition of nonprofits in Illinois, including Arc of IL, The Center, Engage IL, IARF, Illinois Council for DD, The Institute and Self Advocates' Alliance, are set to begin a system redesign initiative in collaboration with the State of Illinois. Their goal is to build a new Illinois I/DD service system that consistently delivers high quality, integrated services and supports for children and adults with I/DD. By working closely with state and national partners to identify best practices, this collaborative effort exemplifies how nonprofits can effectively tackle interconnected issues and enhance their collective impact.

Resource Scarcity. Another significant driver is resource scarcity. Consistent funding remains a primary challenge in the nonprofit sector, and collaboration can enable nonprofits to leverage resources more effectively. This allows them to do more with less, extending their reach and impact without necessarily inflating their budgets. Shared services, joint programming, or even mergers can lead to cost savings and increased efficiency.

A prime example of this is the partnership formed by The Oriana Singers, the Oak Park Festival Theatre, The Symphony of Oak Park and River Forest, and Pro Musica. These organizations came together to create “One Voice for the Arts.” Their goal was to collectively develop a corporate giving program and elevate awareness about the excellent performing arts organizations in and around the Oak Park community. This innovative partnership not only helped them secure their first grant from the Arts Work Fund’s “Think-Explore-Share” grant program, but also created a community of support among the organizations, helping them combat the isolation often experienced in leading a nonprofit.

Increasing Expectations. Lastly, there is a mounting expectation from funders, stakeholders, and the communities they serve for nonprofits to collaborate. This is driven by a recognition that collaboration can yield better outcomes. Funders are increasingly inclined to support collaborative initiatives, and communities are reaping the benefits of the coordinated efforts of multiple organizations working together.

In a survey conducted by the Center for Effective Philanthropy, “59% of foundation CEOs identify ‘collaborating with one another’ as an important strategy for increasing foundations’ impact over the next few decades.” Their expectations are not only for foundations to collaborate but for those organizations they support as well. This trend of increasing funder expectations towards collaboration is further evidenced by most private and government agencies explicitly mentioning collaboration as a funding criterion in their grant guidelines.

Some funders have established collaborative funds where multiple funders pool resources to support collaborative projects such as Blue Meridian Partners. The Lodestar Foundation’s specific mission is “to increase philanthropic impact by encouraging and supporting long-term collaborations among nonprofits” and they have grantmaking specifically to support sustained collaborations through their Exemplary Collaboration Grants.

These examples illustrate the increasing trend of collaboration among nonprofits, particularly in Illinois. More and more, funders are recognizing the value of collaborative efforts, seeing them not as a sign of weakness, but as an indicator of an organization’s adaptability and commitment to maximizing impact. This shift in expectations is not just reshaping the way nonprofits operate, but also redefining what it means to be successful in the nonprofit sector. As we move forward, the ability to collaborate effectively is likely to become an even more critical factor in securing funding and achieving meaningful, sustainable outcomes.