Grant Geek

Team Up for Success: Collaboration Tips for Nonprofits


It’s one of those lessons you learn in kindergarten. If you cooperate you’ll get more done and the work is easier on everyone. That lesson doesn’t just apply when you’re building a sandcastle. It’s an important one for your nonprofit organization as well.

Often, your mission can be supported and enhanced by the work of others. When applying for a grant, it’s particularly important to show funders that you are working across the community toward a common good. By working with partners you can avoid duplication of efforts and strengthen each other’s individual work.

Identifying good strategic partners

Start by thinking about the local and national organizations in your community that have similar or parallel objectives. This could include local agencies, schools, community organizations, or faith-based organizations. They should have a solid infrastructure and plans in place for successful delivery of their programs. If they are adequately resourced and financially sound they could be good partners for you.

Starting a relationship

Once you have identified a potential partner, begin getting to know each other. Depending on the size of the organization, reach out to the Executive Director or Program Director and introduce yourself and your organization. You can do that with an initial phone call or email or, if possible, have a mutual acquaintance make an introduction. Maybe you have a board member in common or one of your donors is affiliated in someway. Search for common ground and connections.

Once you’ve been introduced and broached the subject of a partnership, it’s time to start sharing information, including your program goals and milestones. Find out what you can offer each other. Also make sure you don’t have any conflicts of interest or overlapping areas of funding.

Formalizing alliances

You may have informal partnerships with many organizations in which you mutually support one another by promoting each other’s work. However, for grant application purposes and larger partnerships, particularly those that include an exchange of services or financial support, it’s important to formalize the arrangement.

First, agree on a timeline for the partnership. Each organization should be clear on what they want to achieve and by when. You should discuss how to handle modifications to the timeline if issues arise and how each milestone will be marked and celebrated. Having a clear understanding of the timeline for collaboration will ensure a smooth working relationship.

Documenting the partnership is essential, and will be required as part of a grant application. It’s important that all parties are clear about what they are contributing to the partnership. There are a number of document types you can choose from to formalize the partnership depending on the nature of your collaboration.

  • Memorandum of Understanding or Agreement (MOU) – are typically used for more complex partnerships, often with two or more parties involved and include the signing of a formal agreement by all parties documenting the commitment of resources and time.
  • Letters of Commitment – document specific support and resources for the project.
  • Letters of Support – document endorsement of the project and sometimes a contribution of funds or resources, but are less specific while still acknowledging the importance of the endeavor.

Start now! It takes time to build strong partnerships that will allow for successful collaboration. Your program will be strengthened by such partnerships, you will have more opportunities to share success and outcomes, and you could be eligible for new funding streams.

If you need help identifying potential partners or formalizing partnership arrangements, the Resource Associates can help. Check out our Partnership Documentation services.

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