"Collaboration is not about gluing together existing egos. It's about the ideas that never existed until after everyone entered the room." --Unknown

Collaborations have the potential to strengthen communities, remove turf issues, develop relationships among public and private organizations, and improve the quality of services to the community. The process is not difficult. But it takes patience, sensitivity, and a commitment to achieving the mission of the collaboration.

Collaborations have become an essential tool for community organizations to enhance and coordinate services within their communities, which increasingly face serious problems and a scarcity of resources to solve them.  Most social agencies recognize the need to cooperate to create efficiencies, improve client/consumer services, fill critical gaps, and eliminate unnecessary duplication of effort.  Government funding has decreased over the past decades and cannot possibly keep pace with our burgeoning social needs.  Recognizing this, sophisticated philanthropists have begun looking toward collaborative or community-wide approaches to addressing human need.  Likewise, research has shown that community involvement is an important strategy for supplementing other forms of intervention.  Therefore, for economic, political, and humane reasons, collaboration is essential.

 “In democratic countries the science of association is the mother science, the progress of all the rest depends upon the progress it has made.” --Alexis De Tocqueville, Originally published in Democracy in America (1835)

The reliance on volunteerism and on the formation of voluntary associations is stronger in America than in any other country in the world.  As De Tocqueville points out, volunteerism is a natural outgrowth of a democratic society.  Democracy implies a responsibility among its citizens to be involved in the process of shaping society.  Americans understand that their voices become stronger when they join with others who share the same values or goals.

Communication Links

At a most basic level, individuals in communities develop communication links to exchange information and resources.  The emphasis is on tapping into other people for contacts, information and resources location


At a second level, cooperation is a logical extension of individual networking.  Participation at this level centers on trying to accomplish a specific purpose or goal, with work driven by individuals rather than the organizations they may represent. 


Coalition occurs more typically at the organizational level with more formal participation around an issue or a common set of interrelated issues.  The focus of the coalition may be rather broad, but the intent is to address a specific need and then disband.  The goal is to amass enough influence and resources to have an impact on an issue beyond what one group could do alone.


Collaboration is different.  A smaller but growing number of communities are experiencing the benefits derived from this highest and most difficult level of strategic alliance.  Collaborative effort among public and especially voluntary, not-for-profit agencies and organizations involve a more formal and sustained commitment than either cooperative agreements or coalitions.  Collaboration builds on the conviction that, while retaining uniqueness and autonomy, organizations and agencies that share values and goals can often accomplish more toward a common mission by working together than they can on their own.

What is Collaboration?

Collaboration is the process by which several agencies or organizations make a formal, long term commitment to work together to accomplish a common mission related to critical and complex social issues of wide concern.  Collaboration requires a commitment to participate in shared decision-making and allocation of resources related to activities responding to mutually identified needs.  Organizations in collaboration:  share resources; develop, implement, and evaluate programs together, establish policy; and jointly conduct educational programs.

Collaboration implies a structure by which organization representatives decide how to plan and act together.  Generally, by-laws or other written materials or procedures will be helpful.

Collaboration implies a style of work in which agencies and organizations deliberately decide to do things together as a whole, rather than as individuals acting on their own initiative.

Collaboration implies a sense of community in which members begin to see themselves as complementary and mutually supportive contributors to the whole community and not as competitors.

Unique Characteristics of Collaboration

  • Clearly Defined Mission Or Purpose
  • Active Involvement Of Goals, Objectives, And Activities
  • Clearly Define Operating Procedures And Member’s Roles
  • A Communication System Which Includes Regular Information Sharing And Planned Discussion Of Interagency Competition, Vested Interest And Turf Issues
  • Common Ground, Common Agenda And Ownership

Why Collaborate?

Collaborations provide opportunities to rethink how organizations within a community relate to each other and how they can respond to the growing needs of their members and the community, often in the face of scarce resources.

Collaboration is not the answer for every situation.  An organization, by itself, can often plan and implement an activity more quickly than a group of organizations—that is, an individual action can be more expedient.  In many kinds of activities, this separate approach makes sense. But in other instances, individual organizations acting alone may lack the resources and the clout to produce desired results.

Collaborations are more effective at developing an understanding of the community-wide implications of problems and solutions.  They are more adept at mobilizing larger segments of the community to effect change. A group effort can bring together diverse opinions and develop a program, an activity, or a campaign that will be supported by many organizations.

Excerpted from “The New Community Collaboration Manual”, The National Assembly of National Voluntary Heal and Social Welfare Organizations

Seven Keys to Successful Collaborations

Before presenting the basics of organizing collaboration, some key concepts should be discussed.  These seven ideas:
  • Shared Vision
  • Skilled Leadership
  • Process Orientation
  • Diversity
  • Member Drive Agenda
  • Multiple Sectors
  • Accountability