Commentary: interorganizational relationships in program delivery.
Subject: Nonprofit organizations (Services)
Nonprofit organizations (Management)
Public-private sector cooperation (Management)
Author: Word, Anna Kathryn
Pub Date: 06/22/2012
Publication: Name: Journal of Health and Human Services Administration Publisher: Southern Public Administration Education Foundation, Inc. Audience: Academic Format: Magazine/Journal Subject: Government; Health Copyright: COPYRIGHT 2012 Southern Public Administration Education Foundation, Inc. ISSN: 1079-3739
Issue: Date: Summer, 2012 Source Volume: 35 Source Issue: 1
Topic: Event Code: 360 Services information; 200 Management dynamics Computer Subject: Company business management
Product: Product Code: 8380000 Nonprofit Institutions; 8300000 Social Services & Nonprofit Institutns NAICS Code: 813 Religious, Grantmaking, Civic, Professional, and Similar Organizations; 624 Social Assistance
Geographic: Geographic Scope: United States Geographic Code: 1USA United States
Accession Number: 304051551
Full Text: In a time of ever-shrinking public and private dollars, collaboration between public organizations, not-for-profits, private providers, community groups and government agencies has gained new urgency (Gray, 1989; Gazley, 2009; Norris-Tirrell & Clay, 2010). In the Mid-South Region, the term "collaboration" has become a favorite catchword among private foundations and government agencies. As a result, local nonprofit agencies are quickly realizing that more inter-agency collaboration is necessary to deliver services efficiently and effectively but also to establish legitimacy with funding sources.

In other circumstances, such as with the SPARC case study, organizations seek collaborations to further their outreach capabilities, to provide necessary services that are currently overlooked or to reduce duplication of services. It should be noted that SPARC is not a strategic partnership--it was formed solely to further the success of an external organization and to provide outreach capabilities. Consequently, the ability of SPARC to endure speaks to the commitment of key individuals to build and strengthen local, informal relationships.

From my experience, many nonprofit agencies may be eager to form partnerships. Unfortunately, the motivation to partner has less to do with addressing problems or delivering services more efficiently and effectively but more with responding to the current economic climate. As funds have become increasingly scarce, agencies are left scrambling and collaboration is a mechanism to receive a favorable review from local private foundations when they review proposals and requests.

Yet for many agencies, a true, effective collaborative partnership is difficult to achieve. Making joint decisions and sharing power is not an easy task for many organizational leaders and staff members, and the willingness to pool scarce resources is challenging in a bleak economy.

In the Mid-South, the majority of organizations rely on consultative partnerships, where advisory councils provide input into a specific project. Contributory partnerships are also quite common and are often the result of a private foundation or government agency providing funding for a specific program. In many cases, this contributory collaborative model leads to the "chasing of dollars". This funding chase provides for the potential of superficial collaborations, that have little sustainability, tangentially align with agency mission, and are perceived as adding burden rather than value-added. Unfortunately, this problematic model of collaboration appears to have become more prevalent as nonprofits compete for scarcer and scarcer dollars.

Based on the results of the case study in this volume, two key questions can be raised: Is SPARC successful? At what point does SPARC become less of a collaborative network and more of a duplication of service? With several mini-SPARC clinics and little oversight, it is possible that the Fulton County SPARC may be losing focus. There was significant turnover since 2009, with fifteen new agencies and an overall loss of six agencies. With limited communication between the partner sites, each mini-SPARC developing additional partnerships, each developing individual funding partnerships, and no formal agreements in place, how can the parent organization be assured that the overall goals are maintained?

In my experiences as a nonprofit administrator, a collaborative partnership that is showing consistent and positive results is exceedingly rare. I believe SPARC is a prime example of a still-evolving collaborative network. As mentioned in the article, clear goals, trust and communication are key factors for a successful collaboration, and for SPARC to continue its success, more will have to be done in these areas to ensure that SPARC's overall goals are sustained.


Gazley, B. (2008). Beyond the contract: The scope and nature of informal government--nonprofit partnerships. Public Administration Review, 68 (1), 141-154.

Gray, B. (1989). Collaborating: Finding common ground for multi-party problems. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.

Norris-Tirrell, D. & Clay, J. A. (2010). Strategic collaboration in public and nonprofit administration: A practice-based approach to solving shared problems. Boca Raton, FL: CRC Press.


Catholic Charities of West Tennessee

Anna Kathryn Word is a ten-year veteran of nonprofit development and fundraising in the Memphis, Tennessee, human services community. She is currently the Director of Development for Catholic Charities of West Tennessee and volunteers her time with the Junior League of Memphis and FirstWorks Education Program.
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