New Bridgespan Group Survey Shows 91% of Nonprofit and Foundation Respondents Engaged in Some Type of Formal Collaboration, Most with High Level of Satisfaction

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The research also highlights three barriers to increasing collaboration, even as nonprofits and grantmakers both say they want more.

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Nonprofits and funders clearly believe that collaboration can help to grow impact. Now the challenge is to lower the barriers that get in the way.

A new study, Making Sense of Nonprofit Collaborations, by The Bridgespan Group aimed at understanding the frequency and success of formal nonprofit collaborations reports that 91% of participating nonprofit leaders and grantmakers are engaged in at least one type, and most viewed those collaborations as highly successful.

Supported by The Lodestar Foundation, Bridgespan surveyed 237 nonprofit CEOs and 101 foundation officers over the last year on their participation in four common forms of formal collaboration: associations (including coalitions and community collaboratives), joint programs, shared support functions and mergers (including subsidiary relationships) and the barriers that block results.

Both nonprofit leaders and grantmakers said they want to see more formal collaboration, especially via shared support services and mergers. But the study also found three impediments to increasing collaboration related to lack of funding, meeting the right partners and failure rates of joint programs.

According to Bridgespan Partner and the paper’s co-author Katie Smith Milway, "We were surprised at both the volume and satisfaction across all types of collaborations and intrigued that nonprofits found the most integrated forms of collaboration to be more successful – shared support functions and mergers, while grantmakers tilted toward the less integrated – coalitions and joint programs. Our follow up interviews showed too many joint programs to be a forced march by grantmakers.”

The study found that:

  •     91% of respondents were engaged in some form of collaboration
  •     At least 80% of nonprofit leaders and grantmakers viewed collaborations across the board as largely successful
  •     Both funders and nonprofits wanted more collaboration of all types, in particular shared support functions and mergers

According to the paper’s co-author Bridgespan Partner Alex Neuhoff, “While leaders from both nonprofits and foundations see positive momentum around collaboration, we also found three barriers that funders and nonprofits will need to address to make the most of their potential.”

According to the report, these barriers relate to:

  •     Funder support for collaboration – nonprofits say they don’t get much; funders say they don’t ask.
  •     The difficulty of finding the right partner – nonprofits rate this as their highest barrier, and grantmakers rate it the lowest.
  •     The downside of well-intentioned funder influence – particularly when it comes to joint programming – nonprofits say joint programs have the highest failure rate, too often driven by funder requests; grantmakers say joint programs don’t fail.

“Nonprofits and funders clearly believe that collaboration can help to grow impact,” said Milway. “Now the challenge is to lower the barriers that get in the way.”


About The Bridgespan Group
The Bridgespan Group ( is a nonprofit advisor and resource for mission-driven organizations and philanthropists. We collaborate with social sector leaders to help scale impact, build leadership, advance philanthropic effectiveness and accelerate learning. We work on issues related to society’s most important challenges and to break cycles of intergenerational poverty. Our services include strategy consulting, leadership development, philanthropy advising, and developing and sharing practical insights.

About The Lodestar Foundation    
The Lodestar Foundation, a grantmaking organization, is devoted to maximizing the leverage of philanthropic resources through the pursuit of two strategies: to encourage philanthropy in others by increasing philanthropic resources; and to increase philanthropic impact by encouraging and supporting long-term collaborations among nonprofits working in the same or complementary areas in order to increase efficiency and/or impact and to reduce duplication of efforts, and the adoption of other sound business practices.

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Liz London
The Bridgespan Group
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