Growing Partnerships By AGS Staff

As grant professionals, we all know that one way to boost our proposals is to include collaboration. Funders like to see partnerships for a number of reasons. But too often, the partnerships we include might not be very substantive. Maybe we worked together on one event or they refer a few clients to our organization. But funders emphasize collaboration for good reason and it might be time to truly give those partnerships a chance to GROW!

So, how do you go about helping your partnerships blossom? Begin by taking stock of all of your current partners, big or small. Partners could include other nonprofit organizations, funders, businesses, or individuals. Assess the ways in which you currently partner and begin thinking outside of the box to explore other ways in which both parties could benefit from expanded collaboration. One way the levels of partnership are often framed is through the 3C Model, which came from the for-profit sector. Its tiers include cooperation, coordination, and collaboration (moving from simple to complex). Here are a few ideas of ways to expand from surface-level partnership to meaningful relationships that benefit everyone involved:

Nonprofit partners

Surface-level: Cooperating with other nonprofits often involves sharing of resources, time, or information. Think sharing an office space, volunteers, or program details to avoid duplication.

Expanded: You can take your nonprofit partnerships to the next level by looking for ways to make both of your programs more effective and efficient. What are tasks your organization spends time on that another organization has already streamlined, or vice versa? Is there a funding opportunity that could only be realized through coordinated efforts? At this level, you may even create formal policies to coordinate or develop a memorandum of understanding that details your partnerships and the roles of each organization. Collective impact is another more formalized way of partnering in which you identify shared goals and measurements. For more on organizational partnerships, we recommend a training on the subject presented by our colleagues, Julie Alsup and Julie Assel.


Surface-level: Much of the time, the extent of our relationships with funders is solely through the proposals we submit. At most, we might send an email or make a phone call with clarifying questions about the application.

Expanded: To build upon these funder relationships, you need to do the leg work to learn more about the funder’s focus areas, history, resources offered, and preferred communication method. Using all of that data, develop a plan to reach out and connect before it’s time to apply for funding. Rather than viewing funders as just a source of money, it’s important to truly see them as a partner in implementing change and benefiting the community. For more ideas on successful funder relationships, check out our February blog.


Surface-level: Most of the time, we only think of businesses when we need sponsors for an event.

Expanded: Businesses can serve as meaningful partners, benefiting both your nonprofit and the business itself. Increasingly, businesses are expected to be socially responsible. By giving to your organization or partnering on efforts, not only does your organization benefit from the support but the business gains a reputation for giving back, which can actually increase their profits. Businesses may have policies in place to allow employees to volunteer at nonprofits; these volunteers are often reliable and have skillsets that are beneficial to your organization. Co-branding with businesses can also be a win-win for everyone as it heightens awareness for both parties.


Surface-level: Organizations often overlook the many individuals who support their programs. Individuals may only participate through attending events or volunteering every once in a while.

Expanded: Give these individuals more meaningful ways to partner with your organization. They may have skillsets you weren’t aware of that they could contribute to your programs. Ask them about themselves and what specifically got them interested in your organization. They may be a future financial donor, they may have resources or space you could utilize, or they could serve as a valuable board member. Expanded partnerships are also beneficial to the individual, not only because of tax write-offs for donations but because studies show that giving back increases people’s happiness.

As you develop and grow these relationships, not only will your organization and partners find numerous benefits but you can also confidently include these collaborations in your grant proposals.

GPC Competencies:

Competency 2: Knowledge of organizational development as it pertains to grant seeking.

Skill 2: Assess organizations’ capacity for grant seeking.

Skill 5. Identify values, purposes, and goals of fund-seeking entities’ overall strategic plans in the grants process.

Competency 3: Knowledge of strategies for effective program and project design and development.

Skill 2. Identify methods of building partnerships and facilitating collaborations among applicants.