The Types of Nonprofit Partnerships: Models and Approaches

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April 16, 2024

Last Updated:

April 16, 2024

As a nonprofit professional, you’ve probably heard how important partnerships are for your organization’s success.

What you might not know, though, is what kinds of partnerships are out there and how to approach them.

To help, La Piana Consulting created a Collaboration Map that works as a helpful framework for different kinds of nonprofit partnerships—from simple resource-sharing arrangements to full organizational mergers.

The inner ring houses the most formal types of partnerships—Strategic Restructuring—while the outer rings house more informal types: Alliances (somewhat formal), and Collaborations (least formal).

In the rest of this article, we are going to break down each of the different kinds of partnerships included in the map and explain how they work, their benefits, and examples of each.

By the end, you should have a clear understanding of what options are available to your organization for mutual support and growth!

Let’s get started!

Coordinated Action

There are numerous ways your nonprofit organization can collaborate with other organizations, and the first way we are going to talk about is through coordinated action.

Coordinated action is when your nonprofit organization collaborates with one or more other organizations toward some common goal.

This type of partnership is generally less formal, and as such could be for a one-time event or initiative. Here are some examples from La Piana Consulting on what coordinated action could involve:

  • Coordinating your service provision with another organization
  • Co-sponsoring an event
  • Pooling resources to purchase an asset both you and the partnering organization can use

Coordinated action is one of the most popular types of nonprofit partnerships because it gives you the opportunity to share resources, saving both time and money for you and the partnering organization.

Why a nonprofit might want to pursue this kind of partnership: Coordinated action benefits nonprofits because they can share the work and labor required for programs and activities while making their reach in the community that much stronger. You also do not need a formal agreement or long-term commitment with coordinated action, so nonprofits can pursue this kind of partnership without stretching their staff too thin.

Joint Advocacy

Nonprofits can also come together to advocate for common causes—such as changing policies on a local, regional, or national level—through joint advocacy.

Joint advocacy is when you and a partnering organization advocate together for a social issue or cause within your community.

For example, nonprofits throughout the state of Texas joined forces to advocate for an expansion of postpartum Medicaid coverage from two to six months. They then continued to work to expand the legislation even further. The result? Governor Greg Abbott announced in 2024 that the coverage would be expanded to a full year.

When you work with other groups that share a passion for a common cause, joint advocacy can make your nonprofit’s “voice” that much louder and more strengthened.

Why a nonprofit might want to pursue this kind of partnership: In this kind of partnership, your nonprofit can combine resources and expertise to not only save you time, resources, and money, but also to better amplify your voice within the community. You can partner with organizations that already have relationships with community leaders and you can pool the support each organization already has to better engage with the public and create positive changes within your community.

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Cross-Organizational Learning and Community Convening

Some types of nonprofit partnerships are about learning and development.

Cross-organizational learning and community convening involves learning with and from your partners.

According to La Piana Consulting, this collaborative learning can transpire through:

  1. Community meetings
  2. The coordination and sharing of training opportunities
  3. Learning communities

For example, Feed the Minds is a global organization that has cross-organizational partnerships with NGOs, FBOs, and CBOs in more than 20 countries to successfully deliver educational projects for adults living in poverty in some of the most marginalized communities.

Why a nonprofit might want to pursue this kind of partnership: Strategic community partnerships such as these give nonprofits the opportunity to deepen their knowledge of issues relevant to their mission and put those learnings into action.

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Administrative Consolidation

The next ring of the La Piana Consulting Collaboration Map is Alliance, which is for nonprofits that may need a more structured partnership than simple collaboration efforts.

The first of these we are going to outline is administrative consolidation.

Administrative consolidation involves sharing administration functions to increase operational efficiency with another organization.

Through this alliance, you could share things such as human resources, volunteer training, marketing, or any other administrative functions that could be consolidated to drive efficiencies.

A successful administrative consolidation occurred in 2000 when two museums in Chattanooga, Tennessee, the Creative Discovery Museum (CDM) and the Hunter Museum of American Art, consolidated with an aquarium. Both struggled to effectively serve their community and CDM in particular was facing a deficit. Hunter Museum of American Art also struggled with its operational infrastructure. The solution was an administrative consolidation with the Tennessee Aquarium. This partnership saved both museums nearly $4 million and generated an astounding revenue of more than $1 million.

Why a nonprofit might want to pursue this kind of partnership: These alliances are extremely beneficial to nonprofits that need to increase their operational efficiency through the sharing of administrative functions.

Fiscal Sponsorship

If you are interested in forming an alliance with an unincorporated organization that shares a common goal, you might consider forming a fiscal sponsorship.

Fiscal sponsorships are when nonprofit organizations offer their legal and tax-exempt status to unincorporated organizations so that they can further a specific mission together.

As a fiscal sponsor, you often will act as the prime vehicle through which individuals or smaller organizations without 501(c)(3) nonprofit status can receive grants and donations in order to fund either a short-term or long-term project.

For example, a film student may seek fiscal sponsorship from a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization (perhaps a museum) in order to document interviews with World War II veterans as a way to capture their perspectives on such a historical event.

The Players Philanthropy Fund (PPF) fiscally sponsors more than 550 charitable projects across the globe—currently in 49 states and 27 countries. These partnerships allow PPF to fiscally support fundraisers, events, and mission-driven programs all over the world.

Because these are formal alliances, fiscal sponsorships usually require a contract that is fee-based, depending on the agreement. That way, the nonprofit organization (i.e., the fiscal sponsor) can be compensated by the unincorporated group for lending its status.

Why a nonprofit might want to pursue this kind of partnership: Fiscal sponsorships allow newer organizations who haven’t yet secured a 501(c)(3) nonprofit status to receive grants and donations to fund projects.

Joint Programming

Has your nonprofit had aspirations to develop a new program but simply didn’t have the funds or manpower to achieve it? If so, joint programming could be a perfect alliance for your organization.

Joint programming is an alliance between your nonprofit and an organization to successfully design, implement, and launch a new program together.

The Ready, Set, Parent! Program is just that—a joint alliance between the group Every Person Influences Children (EPIC) and the social service organization Baker Victory Services. The result of this joint programming alliance is an award-winning national parenting program that helps parents prepare for their babies’ social and emotional health and development.

As you can see from the joint programming venture above, nonprofits can start important programs in their communities with organizations that are interested in pursuing similar goals and initiatives.

Why a nonprofit might want to pursue this kind of partnership: These partnerships can help your nonprofit enter a new geographic area, obtain greater access to funding for a program, or offer additional services to your current clients.

Joint Earned Income Ventures

The main difference between joint programming partnerships and joint earned income ventures is revenue.

A joint earned income venture is when a nonprofit partners with another organization to launch a revenue-generating program or activity that supports a common mission.

Joint earned income ventures give nonprofits the ability to engage in commercial activities with similar organizations to support their common missions. For example, a nonprofit that is interested in a combined capital campaign could partner with another organization to help raise money for a specific project, improvement, or expansion.

Many joint earned income ventures are a 50-50 split in which each organization owns a 50% share of the arrangement. The share split will depend on the contractual agreement agreed upon. Instrumentl has a helpful capital campaign toolkit here to help you get started on your joint earned income venture!

Why a nonprofit might want to pursue this kind of partnership: This type of partnership is mainly to generate revenue, whether it be a combined capital campaign or a social entrepreneurial venture.

Affinity Groups

Affinity groups are a great opportunity for nonprofit organizations to band together around a common interest.

Affinity groups bring together people (in this case, nonprofit professionals) for networking, professional growth, or support.

According to La Piana Consulting, affinity groups can be organized by:

  • Issue
  • Identity
  • Role
  • Function
  • Stage in one’s career
  • Geographic focus

Depending on its size, an affinity group may need to be created through an entirely new separate organization. For example, the United Way of the National Capital Area has numerous affinity groups that organizations can join depending on their specific mission, goal, or purpose. Joining an affinity group gives your organization access to their networking events, advocacy opportunities, and volunteer activities.

Why a nonprofit might want to pursue this kind of partnership: Joining an affinity group can help you network, learn new things, and get connected to resources to help you achieve your organization’s goals.

Coalition, Consortium, and Association

The final types of alliances are when a group of nonprofit organizations, philanthropic individuals, or government entities pull their resources together into a coalition, consortium, or association.

Here’s a quick overview of each:

  • A coalition works toward a specific political goal or social change in the community. Coalitions could be temporary or long-term depending on how long it takes to make political or social change. Coalitions could also be on a local, regional, or even national level.
  • A consortium serves the interests of the organizations that belong to the group. That is, a consortium is meant to better the participating nonprofit organizations so they can better their own communities. This may be through networking opportunities, collaboration, educational services, or advocacy.
  • An association is similar to a consortium in which it services the interests of the members who belong to the association due to their shared mutual values or ideals. Members usually pay dues and then commit to certain participation requirements, whether it is through meetings or events, to advance their shared goals.

For example, the Pennsylvania Automotive Association (PAA) has partnered with Dauphin County Technical School to sponsor an Automotive Technology Competition for high school seniors wanting to enter the world of automotive technology. PAA secures the vehicles from their participating membership and also handles the media coverage, and then the technical school houses the competition and chooses the students to participate.

Why a nonprofit might want to pursue this kind of partnership: Each of these partnerships focus on bringing about a specific change in their communities. Joining a coalition, consortium, or association is a great way to tap into resources to further a shared cause.


The innermost ring within La Piana Consulting’s Collaborative Map is Strategic Restructuring. These are the most formal kinds of partnerships and can come about in three different ways: Joint Ventures, Parent-Subsidiary Structures, and Mergers and Acquisitions.

Joint Ventures

In a joint venture, the participating organizations will further an agreed upon goal by combining parts of their individual administrative, programmatic, or advocacy roles into an entirely new, jointly-controlled corporation.

Unlike a more informal administrative collaboration, joint ventures have contractual agreements that allow the two organizations to work as a single entity.

For example, when the American Institute of Certified Public Accountants joined the Chartered Institute of Management Accountants, a new joint venture was formed. The American Institute of Certified Public Accountants owned 60% of the joint venture and the other 40% was owned by the Chartered Institute of Management Accountants. This new organization is jointly governed by those involved and combines their specific strengths to increase the efficiencies of the participating organizations.

Why a nonprofit might want to pursue this kind of partnership: The main benefit of a joint venture is generally the capital that comes along for projects and programs. For example, a nonprofit interested in housing the homeless could partner with a commercial developer in a joint venture.

Parent-Subsidiary Structure

Parent-subsidiary structures also integrate administrative and programmatic services to help the partnering organizations become more efficient.

In these partnerships, the parent company holds a controlling interest over the subsidiary company (it owns or controls more than half of the subsidiary’s stock). This is extremely popular in the for-profit sector: Alphabet Inc. (the parent company of Google) holds subsidiaries like YouTube, and Berkshire Hathaway Inc. owns the subsidiaries Geico, Dairy Queen, and Duracell.

Why a nonprofit might want to pursue this kind of partnership: Parent-subsidiary structures allow the partnering organizations to achieve the benefits of a consolidated organization while maintaining distinct corporations. In the nonprofit space, your organization could create a “for-profit subsidiary” or partner as a subsidiary with a parent corporation to engage in business activities that are outside of the nonprofit’s mission.

Merger or Acquisition

Mergers and acquisitions are some of the most serious and formal types of partnerships.

A merger is when two organizations combine to create something totally new, while an acquisition is when one company absorbs the other organization (with the first company keeping its original identity).

Here’s the main difference between the two:

  • Merger: Both organizations are dissolved and then form an entirely new organization. Some or all of the administrative functions, programs, and resources of each organization could be transferred into the newly-formed organization.
  • Acquisition: This is when one organization is dissolved and taken over by the acquiring organization. In some cases, a new organization may be formed, but usually the administrative functions, programs, and resources of one organization are completely acquired by the surviving (acquiring) organization.

Why a nonprofit might want to pursue this kind of partnership: Sometimes a merger or acquisition is the only way a nonprofit organization can continue to further its mission effectively. You may also choose to combine resources to avoid potential financial concerns. Whatever the case may be, outside legal counsel will probably be required for these more complex partnerships.

Which Partnership Is Right for Your Nonprofit?

Deciding which of the many types of nonprofit partnerships may be right for your organization depends on your mission, overall goals, and needs moving forward. Whichever kind you choose, partnerships are a great way for your nonprofit to grow and make a stronger impact in your community.

To learn more about the power of partnerships, we encourage you to watch our webinar with Maryn Boess: Partnership Pays! 5 Ways Partnering Builds More Grants Success, Faster. Enjoy!

Stephanie Paul Morrow

Stephanie Paul Morrow

Stephanie Morrows holds a Ph.D. in Media and Communications and is a professor at PennState Harrisburg.

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