By Jocelyne Daw & Nadia Thorp
Partnerships…collaborations…collective impact… These words are being used interchangeably in terms of organizations coming together to address social issues. But what’s the difference? Which is most appropriate and when? Does one have greater value than another?Partnerships are growing as we recognize that complex social problems can no longer be solved by individual organizations alone. Organizations and different sectors must come together to address and advance a community issue.At JS Daw & Associates, we understand the complexity of collaboration and partnership. As a result, we have created a framework that looks at partnership as a spectrum of engagement – starting with transactional funding relationships and moving towards collective impact partnerships. Each level offers different advantages and opportunities, and each can be appropriate for different circumstances.Defining Each ApproachA funding relationship is one in which financial support is provided to support a community issue. While purely transactional, not every funding organization has the resources or capacity to go beyond a financial relationship. At the same time, not every community issue needs more than financial support. Many people call this form of cheque writing a “partnership”. Loosely speaking, they are coming together to advance a community issue, but there is low complexity and low to no collaboration.A collaborative partnership is a deeper level of collaboration where organizations come together and join forces to achieve joint goals. According to the Partnership Brokers Association (PBA), an international organization dedicated to excellence in cross-sector collaboration, a partnership is:A cross-sector alliance in which individuals, groups or organizations agree to: work together to fulfill an obligation or undertake a specific task; share the risks as well as the benefits; and review the relationships regularly revising their agreement as necessary.This type of relationship goes deeper than a funding one and is characterized by higher levels of collaboration and complexity. Resources provided go beyond just funding support and include contributions such as providing human resources or in-kind support.The deepest and most complex form of partnership is what is described as Collective Impact. The American based Foundation Strategy Group (FSG) writes “Collective Impact is the commitment of a group of actors from different sectors to a common agenda for solving a complex social problem”. They go on to list that Collective Impact requires the following 5 conditions:1. A common agenda2. Shared measurement3. Mutually reinforcing activities4. Continuous communication5. A backbone organizationCollective Impact has gained a lot of attention recently. While it has the highest level of collaboration it is often the most complex. As a result the number of collective impact partnerships are small.A range of partnerships is possible; a spectrum exists that starts with low complexity and low levels of collaboration. It then moves up in intensity, levels of coordination, cooperation and collaboration until the collaboration becomes much deeper, and the partnership becomes more complex.Partnership Positioning MapWhere does your partnership place?No matter where your organization’s partnerships place on the map, finding the right type of collaborative relationship depends on the needs of the issue, the commitment level to shared goals and the capacity of the organizations. As we discussed previously, funding relationships are sometimes exactly what’s needed to provide the best results. Finally, Collective Impact formations are something to aspire to, but they are not always the answer; they must be strategic and have the right mix of ingredients to have the biggest impact.The next article in the Partnership series will address the role of a partnership broker and define the partnering cycle.