Seeking Common Ground
June 6 and 7, 2001
Organized and sponsored by:
The Canadian Centre for Social Entrepreneurship
Capital City Savings
Report prepared by:
Ineke C. Lock, Workshop Rapporteur
Strategic alliances between 'not for profit' (NFPs) and for profit (FPs) organisations are emerging
as a valuable tool for building stronger, healthy and vital communities. A consensus is emerging that no
organisation can survive on its own in today's interconnected world. The magnitude and complexity of the
problems crying out for solutions mandates that all sectors (including government at all levels) must join
forces to meet the challenges. Neither NFPs nor FPs will survive and thrive if their visions and activities
remain within the walls of their own organisations. The key to achieving shared visions, goals and mutual
benefits through collaborative efforts is to understand the nature of such collaborations, the potential
pitfalls and the strategies that work in bringing different organisations together.
The shifting of responsibilities in the past two decades places the imperatives for collaboration on
three levels: 1) politically, the devolution of social functions from the national to the local level and from
the public to the private sector; 2) economically, the reduction of funding from the public purse; and 3)
socially, the increasing complexity and magnitude of problems. This same shifting of responsibilities leads
to increased confusion and frustration within the different sectors.
Forty-one participants from the FP and NFP sectors in a ratio of about 1:2, along with
representatives of the Canadian Centre for Social Entrepreneurship and facilitator Teresa Halkow, gathered
in the Stollery Centre on June 6 and 7, to explore co-operation and collaboration between the sectors. By
facilitating a dialogue between the NFP and FP sectors, the sponsors of this workshop hoped to present
insights on the determinants of effective alliances.
The workshop consisted of a mix of discussion, exercises and educational sessions. The
framework first allowed the participants to explore the benefits and challenges of alliances. The next
section explored the attributes of NFP/FP alliances. The workshop then moved into a set of exercises,
organized around the “SPOC” approach: S) know Self; P) know Partner; O) Opportunity seek; and C)
Commit to an opportunity. The final section of the workshop briefly discussed and provided tools for
The Dickensfield Community Partnership is an example of a well-managed project and a very
effective alliance. Through the collaborative efforts of 24 public, non-profit and private organisations, the
community moved from having the 7th highest crime rate in North Edmonton to 27 th out of 32. Two
representatives of the Partnership highlighted the following keys to the success of the program:
A real and tangible mission and vision
Reliability and commitment of partners
Trust between partners
Partners set aside their competitiveness for funding
Co-ordination of different agencies working with the same clients led to less duplication
Power-based action plans
Open to group mind-set
Appreciation of strengths of partners and clients
The synergy created through the collaboration of different organisations with different capacities but
similar goals and client groups created a critical mass of common concern about a particular set of
problems. The Dickensfield Community Partnership may be said to operate towards the right-hand side of
a continuum, as illustrated below.
Unequal power --------------------------------------------------- interdependence
and resources and two-way value
At the left-hand side, there are unequal power relations and an unequal flow of resources between
the partners. At the right hand side interdependence and the creation of two-way value between the
partners. The Dickensfield Community Partnership exhibits clear traits of interdependence and creation of
multiple values between the partners. All partners are committed and actively engaged. There is increased
understanding and trust between the partners. Informal learning occurs and resource exchanges take place
through specific activities. Importantly, all partners appreciate and value the resources and strengths each
brings to the table.
From the discussions at the two-day workshop, it became clear that much of the work between the
NFP and FP sectors is still located towards the left of the continuum. This may be characterized as a
relationship between a charitable donor and a grateful recipient. Some strategic fit is required, but the
recipient‟s activities must fit the social objectives of the donor. There is minimal collaboration in defining
activities, goals and outcomes. Value-flow is one way and consists of a generic, usually unequal, exchange
Workshop participants identified numerous issues that stand in the way of successful movement
from the left side to the right side of the continuum. Both sectors cite time- and resource-constraints and a
climate of constant change as the major difficulties in establishing long-term relationships. Both struggle to
manage expectations, internally as well as externally. Both sectors feel a need for tools to "make the
business case". Participants recognised the existence of different terminologies, organisational cultures,
functionalities, motivations, liabilities and power between the sectors.
According to the literature, only one of ten alliances is successful. If we think of alliances as
vehicles for achieving each partner‟s mission, it becomes clear that relationship-building approaches must
be adapted to the special nature of cross-sector collaborations.
In order to move beyond the philanthropic, fundraising/check-writing stage and move towards
interdependent, two-way value relationships, workshop participants identified a number of possible
Holistic community-based approaches
Rather than approach alliances on a cause-by-cause basis, an issue/outcome based approach may
be more fruitful in forging collaborations. In such an alliance the complementary competencies
and capabilities of each partner may be leveraged more fully. An example of this approach is the
Conversations on a sector-to-sector basis may be more effective than an organization-to-
organization approach. Identification of mechanisms for cross-sectoral engagement needs to be
Intra-sectoral coalition building
Consolidation of forces, especially in the NFP sector, would increase this sector‟s leverage to set
terms for alliance-building. Alberta currently has 77,000 NFP organizations, 1,000 in the area of
disabilities alone. A consolidated NFP force brings expertise and knowledge of the issues to the
table. Such a force would be able to take a more effective role in advocacy with governments and
the private sector.
In the FP sector there is a need to involve small and medium-sized businesses in the community
investment process and to invite them into partnership. A possible vehicle to facilitate this is the
Chamber of Commerce. Large corporations also could take on a mentoring role and need to lead
by example and influence by their actions.
Information about availability and suitability of partners currently is not readily available. This
further tends to be a one-way process, where NFPs seek out FPs. If NFPs were consolidated
around issues and outcomes, a two-way process of pro-active searching could become more
feasible. Nonprofits and corporations both require factual information and clear expressions of
missions, strategies, values and competencies from each other. In the absence of a
clearinghouse/marketplace for such information, pro-active searching is essential.
Education around “making the business case”
Community investment and alliances between FPs and NFPs create value both for the partners in
the alliance and for the community at large. The strategic fit between FPs and NFPs is not always
obvious, but common ground can be found. This requires a broader definition of the value created
by collaborating in alliances. Case studies and/or pilot projects may be helpful in identifying value
It is generally acknowledged that society is organized around three sectors: governments, the
private - for profit - sector, and the not for profit sector. There is a need to bring the government to
the table and clarify its role and share responsibilities. Governments may need to play a key role in
setting outcomes, accountabilities and establishing measures.
Establishment of an Advisory Council may be a way to bring together key community leaders
from all sectors and discuss strategies, the role of each sector, issues and desired outcomes.
Involve academic sector
The academic community can offer many resources to all sectors. For example, MBA students
often look for case studies to carry out. A pilot project could be the basis for a study of best
practices for alliance-building and demonstrate the creation of new and two-way value.
Ideally, at the interdependent point on the continuum of alliance relationships, there is a „we‟
mentality instead of „us versus them‟. The partners demonstrate a set of shared values and engage in a
broad scope of activities of strategic significance. The alliance demonstrates joint benefit creation and
mutual „returns‟. There is organisational integration in execution of projects, including shared resources.
The relationship is an active learning process.
For most participants in this workshop, reaching an interdependent, two-way relationship is still
far removed from becoming a reality. Yet, two days of dialogue brought the parties to a much deeper
understanding of the issues and of each other‟s positions. The participants expressed a desire to continue
Evaluations were conducted. A summary of the evaluations is available to workshop participants
from the Canadian Centre for Social Entrepreneurship, by contacting Sharon Pangman at