Capacity Building Series: Building Collaborative Relationships

Building Collaborative Relationships: Relationship building with peers and other nonprofit organizations

We’re back with our third blog post in this Capacity Building Series! Let’s explore the practice of building collaborative relationships with peers and nonprofit organizations. So, what is collaboration? According to the Cambridge Dictionary, collaboration is the act of working together with other people or organizations to create or achieve something. In short, to collaborate is to create, produce, or achieve together.

You might be asking yourself, why do nonprofits collaborate anyway? How might working with another nonprofit benefit my organization? You might wish to collaborate for three main reasons:

  • to boost organizational efficiency, so your organization can accomplish its work more quickly and with fewer resources. For example,­­­­­­­­­­­­­ nonprofits can work together to create a community resources directory/website. This guide of shared resources helps organizations more efficiently navigate Social Determinants of Health needs for their clients.
  • to increase organizational effectiveness, so your organization can advance its stated mission more successfully. For example, organizations working together to bring new resources to another organization to better meet their mission. This could look like collaborating with organizations that have community counselors who can work with food banks and then food banks bringing services to community mental and behavioral health clinics to care more holistically for clients.
  • to drive broader social and systems change, so when executed successfully, collaborating organizations can collectively strategize to identify solutions that address a social issue in efforts to change systems. For example, a mental health provider, law enforcement, and jail system may collaborate to meet the needs of a person’s crisis mental health needs, diverting them from jails and hospital emergency rooms who are commonly under-resourced to effectively address such needs.

How might nonprofits collaborate with each other? Each partnership between nonprofits will look different depending on the end goal. Nonprofits can work together through cooperation, coordination, and/or collaboration. Let’s look at the 3C Model below that demonstrates the distinguishment between these levels.



For a great example of a local group demonstrating collaboration principles, BUILD Health Challenge® (BUILD) 4.0 awardee, Bridges to Care San Antonio (BTCSA), is a collaborative made up of NAMI Greater San Antonio, City of San Antonio Human Services Department, H. E. Butt Foundation, and WestCare Foundation, that is working to bridge the gap in mental health issues for underserved and predominantly Black and Hispanic/Latino communities and create more welcoming, inclusive, supportive, engaged, and resilient communities by collaborating with faith and community-based organizations.

The BUILD Health Challenge® (BUILD) invests in multi-sector, community-centered partnerships and champions the national movement for health equity by moving attention, resources, and action upstream to support health and well-being across the United States. Since 2019, Methodist Healthcare Ministries has been a philanthropic partner of the BUILD Health Challenge. Learn more about Bridges to Care San Antonio (BTCSA) and their work as a BUILD Health Challenge awardee at

Check out more resources on collaboration from BUILD Health Challenge® (BUILD):

There are many types of collaboration in the nonprofit space, and it can be difficult to differentiate between them. However, it is important to identify the best type of partnership for your organization and situation, which requires reflection, dialogue, relationship building, and communication. Collaborative efforts can look different for various end goals, can ebb and flow between collaboration types, and can also incorporate multiple types of collaboration all at once.

Let’s take a look at these common types of collaboration, from least formal to most formal:

  • Networks: People connected by relationships, which can take on a variety of forms, both formal and informal.
  • Coalitions: Organizations whose members commit to an agreed-on purpose and shared decision making to influence an external institution or target, while each member organization maintains its own autonomy.
  • Movements: Collective action with a common frame and long-term vision for social change, characterized by grassroots mobilization that works to address a power imbalance.
  • Strategic Alliances: Partnership among organizations working in pursuit of a common goal while maintaining organizational independence. This could mean aligning programs or administrative functions or adopting complementary strategies.
  • Strategic CoFunding: Partnership among organizations that work in pursuit of a common goal. This could mean aligning programs or administrative functions or adopting complementary strategies.
  • PublicPrivate Partnerships: Partnerships formed between government and private sector organizations to deliver specific services or benefits.
  • Collective Impact Initiatives: Long-term commitments by a group of important actors from different sectors to a common agenda for solving a specific social problem.

So, what has collaboration looked like in your organization (with or without a grant)? We’d love to hear about your experiences with collaboration and what you’ve gained or learned about collaborating with other organizations. author pics

About the author: Chloé Laurence (she/her)

With a professional background working in education, mental health counseling spaces, and the nonprofit sector, Chloé serves her community through education, advocacy, and capacity building. She utilizes her love of learning and connecting with people in her work as a Capacity Building Specialist at Methodist Healthcare Ministries to support and empower our funded partners. Her mission is to strengthen our partners’ organizations so they can continue their incredible work building health equity and serving underserved individuals.