Types of Partnerships

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There are many types of partnerships, such as those among community-based nonprofits or among nonprofits and corporations. The factors that partners must weigh and the structures they establish will vary depending on the kinds of organizations involved and the types of relationships they choose to have. However, in all types of partnerships, it’s important to build on the strengths of all the participating organizations. In recent years, there has been an increased interest in partnerships that focus on community improvement. Agencies at the Federal and state levels, universities, corporations, and national nonprofits have all provided support to partnerships that have the capacity to produce community impacts.

Partnerships fall into different categories.

Diverse organizations often join forces to achieve shared goals around capacity building and community improvement. Several types of partnerships are described below:

  • Partnerships among community-based nonprofit service organizations
  • Cross-sector partnerships (between nonprofits and the business, government, and/or academic sectors)
  • Partnerships between donor organizations and recipients

When community-based nonprofits join forces, each organization must have the organizational capacity necessary to manage projects, budgets, and staff involvement. In community-based partnerships, decision-making should be inclusive and deeply engage the community itself.

Cross-sector partnerships are fairly simple to initiate but challenging to maintain. Regardless of the goodwill of the participants, two very different organizational cultures must come together to produce results. One key is to find common ground and use shared language that underscores the vision of the partners.

Partnerships between donors and recipients can create confusion. Is the partnership just about receiving money? This type of partnership actually aims to take advantage of what the recipient, as well as the donor, can bring to the relationship. For instance, this might include local expertise, on-site workers, or clarification of priorities and constraints. Donors can’t coerce recipients, for the sake of obtaining resources, into doing things they don’t want to do. Together, both sides must define the terms of the relationship.

Partnerships can also be classified by their primary characteristics.

This list of partnership types might help you determine what kind of relationship you want to establish. 

  • Collaboration involves great autonomy and no permanent organizational commitments or combined services.

    Examples: sharing information; coordinating efforts

  • Strategic alliance involves shared or transferred decision-making power.

    Examples: joint programming; administrative consolidation

  • Integration involves changes to organizational structure and control mechanisms.

    Examples: joint ventures (two or more organizations create a new structure to advance a program-related function); mergers (previously separate organizations combine program/administrative/governance functions)

  • Funding alliance occurs when organizations come together to share a large grant/donation or create a recipient/donor relationship.

  • Cost-sharing occurs when each organization provides different resources, such as facilities, staff, or equipment.

  • Grant-match occurs when one organization provides a grant and the recipient provides a match in services, cash, maintenance, supplies, or volunteers.
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Check your understanding of different types of partnerships.

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