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Simply put, collaboration refers to two or more organizations coming together to accomplish a specific goal. It is helpful to think of collaboration as a spectrum: Collaborations range from informal arrangements (e.g., a committee, a task force, a joint initiative, information sharing, joint purchasing arrangements, co-locating arrangements, or program coordination) to more formal arrangements (e.g., the creation of a new entity).

Common reasons for collaborations include

  • greater access to certain funding or grant streams;
  • access to the expertise of the collaborating organization;
  • an ability to increase the human resources that can be devoted to an event or cause;
  • access to an established infrastructure or positive reputation; and
  • an ability to accomplish more than the organization would otherwise be able to accomplish.

Collaborations tend to work best among participating organizations that understand and trust each other and that have closely aligned missions, goals, and core values.

While there may be benefits to collaborating, it is essential to recognize that collaboration is rarely cost-free. For example, logistical and relational issues in the collaboration can eat up significant time and other resources (including money and reputation). Or, the potential collaborative partner
may be one who does not “play well” with others, frustrating the effort at every major step along the way. Additionally, the collaborating organization may turn out to have less expertise or fewer resources than originally perceived. Moreover, if the potential benefit of the collaboration is unclear—or if the collaboration is simply an end in itself (and not a means to an end)—these downsides are likely to be magnified.