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The Politics of Charity: Philanthropy and the New Tax Law

January 2, 2018

Part II. The Johnson Amendment and Implications for Fundraisers

One of the most controversial provisions in the House version of the recent tax bill was the repeal of the Johnson Amendment. The proposed repeal was not included in the final version of the bill and the Johnson Amendment remains in place. However, a Presidential Executive Order was signed in May of 2017, restricting its enforcement, and the amendment continues to be a subject of fierce debate.

The Johnson Amendment is part of a long history of tax laws that regulate the political activities that charitable organizations, including religious institutions, can pursue while maintaining their tax-exempt status. Key legal milestones in that process include a famous 1930 case Slee v. Commissioner of Internal Revenue. In this case, the petitioner, D.G. Slee, had donated to the American Birth Control League, which he later claimed as tax deductions. The Internal Revenue Board disallowed these deductions and the court upheld their finding. In his ruling, Judge Hand determined that the purpose of the lobbying efforts of the League (repealing laws preventing birth control) was not directly related to the provision of its charitable services (education and free health care) and therefore did not qualify for tax exemption. A 1934 ruling shifted the focus from the purpose of lobbying activities to their extent. Since that ruling, allowable lobbying activities have been more clearly defined, and limits on acceptable lobbying expenditures were established (generally 20% of tax exempt expenditures, with some variance according to the total organizational budget).

Twenty years later, the Johnson Amendment, introduced by then Senator Lyndon B. Johnson of Texas and adopted on July 2, 1954, extended nonprofit restrictions to include endorsing political candidates. In 1987, congress further expanded this prohibition to include opposing political candidates. Today, under the current IRS code, 501(c)(3) organizations and institutions are “absolutely prohibited from directly or indirectly participating in, or intervening in, any political campaign on behalf of (or in opposition to) any candidate for elective public office. Contributions to political campaign funds or public statements of position (verbal or written) made on behalf of the organization in favor of or in opposition to any candidate for public office clearly violate the prohibition against political campaign activity. Violating this prohibition may result in denial or revocation of tax-exempt status and the imposition of certain excise taxes.”

As decisive as this language is, the Johnson Amendment has rarely been enforced. But where it has been applied, it is often legally contested as conflicting with the right to free speech. One famous case involved revocation of the tax-exempt status of Christian Echoes National Ministry, for encouraging its member base to lobby their representatives for specific outcomes on legislation and endorsing then candidate Barry Goldwater for President. Christian Echoes challenged the revocation on the basis of the First Amendment but in 1973 the Christian Echoes National Ministry, Inc., v. United States of America decision upheld the IRS determination: “In light of the fact that tax exemption is a privilege, a matter of grace rather than right, we hold that the limitations contained in section 501(c)(3) withholding exemption from nonprofit corporations do not deprive Christian Echoes of its constitutionally guaranteed right of freedom of speech” and upheld “the principle that the government shall not subsidize, directly or indirectly, those organizations whose substantial activities are directed toward the accomplishment of legislative goals or the election or defeat of particular candidates.”

The Johnson Amendment recently became a matter for accelerated public debate during the 2016 presidential election and following the May 2017 Executive Order. Critics of the amendment continue to assert that it conflicts with constitutional guarantees of free speech, most notably for some faith leaders who consider sharing political convictions and endorsing candidates that reflect their values to be a meaningful part of ministering to their communities. But supporters of the amendment fear that a repeal would transform places of worship and charitable organizations into tools of political campaigns, turning charitable donations into a tax-deductible campaign finance loophole, and ultimately diverting resources from the spiritual comforts, or services and supports that so many nonprofits provide to people in need.

If charitable donations were to become essentially tax-deductible support for political campaigns, this would have an enormous impact on professional nonprofit fundraisers. Nonprofit development or fundraising is very much mission driven work, so it is not uncommon to find strong political or faith-based convictions among development professionals. But, unlike individual and crowd-sourced fundraising efforts, which are often very much about the personal beliefs and values of the fundraiser, professional fundraisers typically maintain a stance of neutrality in their work.

Grant writers for instance, are generally committed to serving nonprofits by helping them clarify their messaging, build their capacity, assemble stakeholder consortiums and other collaborations. This often includes partnering, as a neutral party, in designing programs and evaluation plans related to the grants they write and submit on the organization’s behalf. The primary purpose of the job is to facilitate funding for the services provided by nonprofits from the donors and grantors throughout the philanthropic community who want to help make that good work happen. Fundraising is a critical intermediary service, aligning the professional skills and expertise of the fundraiser with the missions of charitable organizations and the commitments and standards of dedicated philanthropists, always with the end goal of meeting urgent community needs.

Successful fundraisers must be collaborative at their core, and collaboration requires the ability to listen to, understand, and integrate diverse and often conflicting perspectives. There is something unique about this aspect of the nonprofit and philanthropic community circle, especially today when divisive, partisan electoral politics seem to penetrate all aspects of civil society. A statement by the Association of Fundraising Professionals in February of this year noted that the foundation of philanthropy is to “bring people together to advance causes and create change. People who believe in an issue—regardless of their creed, background, nationality, political leanings, or any other factor—unite to support a cause through giving, volunteering and other types of engagement. It doesn’t matter who you are as long as you support the issue and the cause.”

The tax code as it relates to nonprofits is complex and always evolving and there are still important issues to consider on all sides in the debate concerning the Johnson Amendment and where and how we separate charitable and political activity. But, it is important to acknowledge that political campaigns are about winning elections, not performing a social or spiritual service, which is the common existential basis of nonprofit entities. If the Johnson Amendment is repealed and charitable organizations and institutions direct their activities towards the competitive endorsement or opposition of political candidates it would alter the service-based end goal of nonprofit fundraising and erode its collaborative core, diminishing public trust in fundraiser’s integrity and a vital communal space where inclusive solutions can be invented, supported, and implemented.

In the conflict resolution and formal mediation fields, one strategy for reaching an effective and lasting agreement is to focus on problem solving techniques that are designed to encourage a focus on the real needs and interests of conflicting parties, instead of arguing, defending, and reinforcing positions. Similarly, partisan positions may be a political inevitability today, but those positions in and of themselves cannot solve problems or help people in need. Only listening to each other and working together can.


Contact: Myshel Prasad, Resource Development Officer,

The Politics of Charity: Philanthropy and the New Tax Law

January 2, 2018

The newly-passed federal tax legislation could have dramatic impacts on philanthropic giving, charitable organizations, and the work of nonprofit fundraising professionals. Nonprofits have long benefitted from itemized tax deductions for charitable giving, which have been a part of the U.S. tax code since 1917, and any changes in this area of tax law may have significant effects on donation levels. But, the potential impacts go beyond revenues. The allowable activities that nonprofits can pursue while maintaining 501(c)(3) status are also regulated by the tax code. In the hundred years since the individual donation deduction was established, the Internal Revenue Code regulations pertaining to charitable organizations have evolved to increasingly define and regulate legislative and grassroots lobbying while prohibiting charitable organizations from engaging partisan political activities, most notably through the 1954 Johnson Amendment. While the new law does not repeal the Johnson Amendment, changes to allowable activities under this area of the tax code could completely alter the social purpose and function of charitable organizations- and of those who work to support them. Part I of this article, The “Tax Cuts and Jobs Act” and Impacts on Giving explores the new tax law, its potential impacts on charitable giving, and possible strategies for moving forward. Part II, The Johnson Amendment and Implications for Fundraisers, reviews the history and intent of Johnson Amendment, the movement to repeal it, and the implications for nonprofits and especially nonprofit fundraisers.


Part I. The “Tax Cuts and Jobs Act” and Impacts on Giving

The final version of the new tax bill was officially passed on December 20th and signed into law by the President on December 22nd, 2017. The new law increases the standard deduction for individuals, couples, and heads of households to $12,000, $24,000, and $18,000 respectively, until 2025. Charitable gifts have traditionally been one of the most popular itemized tax deductions but under the new law, most middle and lower-income individuals will typically not have enough qualified deductions to exceed the higher standard levels, making itemization superfluous. The National Council of Nonprofits estimates that these higher standard deductions will decrease the number of those who itemize from 30% of taxpayers to less than 10% of taxpayers. Individual donors contribute over 70% of all funding to nonprofit organizations and according to Brian Gallagher of United Way Worldwide, 82% of all individual charitable gifts come from donors who itemize their tax return. Estimates of the potential reduction in charitable giving range from $13 to as much as $24 billion. However, the bill will also raise the limit on cash donation deductions for those in higher income brackets, who will continue to itemize deductions, from 50% to 60% of their adjusted gross income. This could help to balance projected losses, but may also widen the charitable giving divide by disincentivizing giving in middle and lower income tax brackets. This could potentially result in a less diverse philanthropic community, while giving the priorities of a smaller base of donors a disproportionate impact on nonprofit programming.

As it proceeded through congress, the new bill raised alarms for a wide range of charitable organizations, from The United Way, to the Salvation Army, and the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops. These organizations rely heavily on a large base of middle-income donors, who are more likely than their higher income counterparts to give to social-service agencies and religious organizations. But the greatest anticipated reductions in individual giving as a result of the new tax law are expected to occur for donors in the $50,000-$99,999 annual income range. In other words, at a time when government investment in the social safety net is diminishing and future cuts are likely, the organizations dedicated to serving the neediest in our communities, the homeless, the disabled, hungry children and families, may see the biggest drop in donations. Steve Taylor, Vice President of United Way Worldwide, worries the tax bill will force the organization to reevaluate its fundraising strategies to prioritize higher-end donors. “We don’t have any choice but to look to those higher-end donors more. We have to,” Taylor told The Washington Post. “But it’s not really what we want to do, and it’s not really healthy for the charitable sector in America.”

Other provisions in the new tax law that may indirectly impact nonprofit giving include a reduction in estate taxes and a $10,000 federal deduction limit on state and local income and property taxes. This reduction will have the most impact on high-tax states where state and local tax bills can far exceed this new limit, leaving donors with less to give. The new law also raises the estate tax exemption to over $11.2 million for an individual, which may lead to a decrease in charitable bequests, which traditionally have served the dual function of creating a lasting legacy for dedicated donors while reducing the future tax burden on heirs.

The full impacts of the new changes to the tax code have yet to unfold. But nonprofits, fundraisers, and individual donors can begin working together now to find creative ways to ensure that those who depend on their charitable support continue to receive it. Strategies to explore include:

Support the Universal Charitable Giving Act:

Since only taxpayers who itemize their deductions are able to withhold charitable donations, the new tax law is potentially calamitous by eliminating itemization for lower and middle-income tax payers. The Universal Charitable Giving Act (UCGA), was introduced in the Senate by Senator James Lankford (R-OK) but failed to be adopted. The UCGA would create an above-the-line charitable giving deduction for individuals who are not itemizing. As it proposed, individuals could not claim donations amounting to more than 1/3 of the standard deduction; raising that ceiling is important to ensure that the legislation does not actually have the effect of depressing larger donations. But reintroducing the UCGA could go a long way towards counteracting the anticipated giving reductions resulting from the new tax law.

Collaborate with Donor Advised Funds:

Donor Advised Funds allow donors to grow their philanthropic dollars over time. Donors make investments in the fund, typically starting at around $5,000, growing their charitable account until they choose to direct funds to a chosen charity. Donor Advised Funds have been controversial in the nonprofit world, primarily because unlike foundations, which are legally required to distribute 5% of their investment assets annually, Donor Advised Funds are under no such obligation. Additionally, donors receive their tax deduction the year the they contribute to the fund, not when the funds are disbursed to a specified organization. But under the new law, this could be an advantage. Donors could potentially combine the gifts that they would normally have given on a monthly or annual basis, invest those dollars into a fund, and stipulate monthly or annual disbursements to their chosen charities. This could allow midlevel donors to make a donation above the higher standard deduction and itemize for the tax credit, while still distributing smaller donations to multiple organizations.

Offer Options to Year End Giving:

The itemized tax deduction has been traditionally associated with a massive of influx of donations for nonprofits at the year’s end, and charitable organizations usually budget accordingly. In 2018, there may be a radical change in this established pattern and fundraising professionals will be working with their organizations, Board Members, and donor communities to plan accordingly and develop new giving options that allow them to continue receiving tax credits for their donations. For instance, without using a Donor Advised Fund as an intermediary, some midlevel donors may elect to plan their giving by “bunching” their gifts bi-annually, combining their annual donations to exceed the standard deduction threshold so that they can still itemize the gift, potentially incentivizing even larger cumulative donations from donors to the organizations they care about the most.

Make Your Case:

As United Way’s Sarah Caruso, President of the United Way Twin Cities told The Washington Post, “I’m not going to plan a retreat right now,” Caruso said. “I plan to go out and make the case for the need. And the need in the community is not changing.” As organizations enter the new year, it is important to remember that while the deduction for charitable gifts is been a powerful incentive, donors donate because they want to make a positive difference for their communities and the issues they care most about. The tax law has changed. But the good work that charitable organizations are doing and the good people who support that work have not.


Contact: Myshel Prasad, Resource Development Officer,


In Grant Writing, Getting Ready is (More Than) Half the Struggle

November 9, 2017

As the end of the year looms closer, it is a good time to take stock of where your organization stands and think about how to make next year’s grant writing better and more successful. A big part of that is getting organized. If you’re reading this, you probably work for an organization interested in pursuing grants and may have already suffered from a headache or two related to getting a submission together. It’s likely you know about the crazy rush to assemble documents and the stress of last-minute reviews to make sure your submission is competitive and complete. While some deadlines are stressful no matter what, in most cases, there are ways to avoid the scramble and set yourself up for fewer headaches. At The Grant Plant, we strongly advocate doing some prep ahead of time to streamline your work after an RFP comes out. Following the guidance below will make submissions smoother, easier, and reduces the risk of missing a key component of the proposal.

First, get your registrations in order:

  • Check on your Attorney General and Secretary of State status. Many RFPs will require proof that these are up-to-date.
  • Register as a New Mexico-owned or veteran-owned business (if applicable). This can get you extra points on state and county RFPs (usually a 5-10% scoring bump). The process is not hard, but it does take a while, so it’s best to do it when you aren’t facing an imminent deadline. There is a $35 fee, but it puts your organization in more competitive standing for grants and contracts.
  • Make sure you are registered and up to date in, in the federal government’s System for Awards Management (SAM), and with the Data Universal Numbering System (DUNS) (if applying for federal assistance). Make sure that you designate someone as Authorized Representative when you register—this is an extra layer of work, but is required for you to submit via And, very importantly, write this information down and store it somewhere you and other staff will not forget it. For instance, it can be tricky to get back into the system if the person who registered as the Authorized Representative leaves your organization and no one else knows how to log into the system.
  • Are your Guidestar and Share New Mexico profiles up to date? Locally, more and more funders are looking at ShareNM profiles as part of grant submissions, and many funders nationally review Guidestar information. Take the time to make sure both of these are currently reflective of your organization.

Then, get your organizational documents in order:

  • Do organizational and program budgets exist? Are they up-to-date and board approved?
  • Organization’s most recent audit (if applicable) or financial statements. Do you have the most recent year copies of these? If you are submitting part-way through the year, do you have year-to-date financials by the most recent quarter?
  • Do you have the most recent year’s tax forms? If your organization filed for an extension, when will the most recent year be available?
  • Make sure the board list is up-to-date. Has anyone joined or left your organization’s board recently? Also, be as complete as possible in your board list—note contact information and professional affiliations, who sits on which committees, and each member’s term dates.
  • Are key staff résumés up-to-date? Is the last time your staff updated their résumés when they were hired by your organization? Make sure each person’s résumé shows his or her current role. If any staff person recently received a promotion, accolade, or credential, are those reflected in his or her résumé? (Better yet, it can be nice to format everyone’s résumés the same so they are the same length and look alike—this is an aesthetic suggestion though, and not critical.)
  • Is the organizational chart up to date? Not every organization keeps an organizational chart, but funders frequently want to see this. If you do have one, have you added programs, gained or lost staff people, or promoted anyone recently? If you don’t have one, consider making one because it may come in handy.
  • Do you know where an electronic copy of your IRS 501(c)(3) letter is?
  • Do you have a listing of the race/ethnicity and gender for your staff and board? This important inventory has been coming up with more frequency.

(Note: it is general best practice to place the above public information on your website—then you can simply link to it in cases where you are not required to provide the full documents.)

Other things you can do to help get prepared:

  • Nail down your program description. This is as helpful in general conversation as it is in grant writing. You need to get people who have never heard of your work to understand quickly the value of your program. If you can’t describe what you do in a couple of paragraphs or a 20-30 second pitch, you’re probably not ready for prime time.
  • Create S(pecific) M(easurable) A(ttainable) R(ealistic) T(ime-bound) objectives. You do not need to wait for an RFP to be SMART on whether your program is a success. No matter what, being able to measure and track accomplishments is a good thing. It can help you track progress over time and make a stronger case about your programs—to funders, your board, and community partners.
  • Consider a Logic Model or other visual representation of your program. “A picture is worth a thousand words.” Using visuals to show how a program functions can be a good tool when designing your program, and can be a concise and effective means of portraying how your program works. The act of creating a logic model or other visual representation of your program can also be a useful exercise when project planning out a program too—visuals can help you identify gaps and weak areas more easily. These can also come in handy when marketing the program because people tend to respond well to visuals.

This may seem like a long to-do list, and you can take it one step at a time. Knowing what to expect and ensuring that you are prepared before you get hit with a short deadline will make proposal writing much less stressful and chaotic. Having your documents in order and handy can help with other tasks too, like marketing, individual donor fundraising, and reporting—there’s no downside to keeping records complete and up-to-date!

Contact: Jenny Jackson, Senior Resource Development Officer,

Now Hiring

October 25, 2017

The Grant Plant, Inc. (TGP) is seeking experienced grant proposal writers. We are a small business located in Albuquerque, NM that performs grant seeking, grant writing, and other fundraising projects for non-profit agencies in New Mexico. The company is seeking a FT Resource Development Officer to join its team of ten. TGP hires great writers with a strong work ethic, big hearts, and a commitment to excellence. People successful in this position love the written word, don’t mind being “behind the scenes,” and possess qualities like resourcefulness, ingenuity, curiosity, a sense of humor, and a desire to win. Minimum qualifications include three years’ related experience in grant writing and research and a bachelor’s degree (master’s degree preferred). Candidates must reside in central New Mexico. Starting salary is $50,000 for a FT position + benefits such as an HRA, 401k, and PTO. Interested? Please see the job description at our website (


How the Congressional Delegation Can Support Your Federal Grant Seeking

October 16, 2017

From our nonprofit arm, The Grants Collective…

Last Chance! Get your tickets today!

October 17, 2017

12:30 PM – 1:30 PM MDT

@ The Grants Collective 901 Rio Grande Blvd. NW Suite D-220 ABQ NM 87104

The Grants Collective Welcomes Representative from New Mexico Congressional Delegation

Albuquerque, NM — On Tuesday, October 17 at 12:30PM, The Grants Collective welcomes special guest, Stephen Jochem from the New Mexico Congressional Delegation office.  Jochem will be speaking about how the delegation supports nonprofits in New Mexico, particularly as it relates to seeking federal funding. He will have a short presentation and the rest of the time will be available for Q&A, conversations about current work happening in NM, and how he can help.


The event is expected to draw many local nonprofits interested in federal funding.  Admission is free for members of The Grants Collective’s Cooperative Network.  For nonmembers, tickets are $10.  To get tickets for the event, visit the organization’s Facebook page:  


“The Grants Collective is proud to bring Mr. Jochem to visit with our community,” say Program Manager, Robert Nelson.  “We know that attracting federal and national investment is key in helping New Mexico nonprofits access the resources needed to fulfill their missions.  And we look forward to bringing more of these types of events to our community.”


About the Presenter:

Stephen Jochem is the New Mexico Congressional Delegation Office Coordinator. He has been in this current position for just over a year now. He was raised in Gallup, NM where he attended Gallup Catholic High School. He left the Land of Enchantment to attend Manhattan College in the Bronx, NY. After college, Stephen worked as an English teacher, Special Education Substitute Teacher, and High School Track Coach before attending law school in Vermont. He graduated from Vermont Law School in May 2016 and is a member of the State Bar of New Mexico. His work in the Delegation Office consists of performing grant searches for New Mexicans, writing and editing letters of support, and working with New Mexicans on larger long-term funding issues dealing with Federal grants.


About The Grants Collective:

The Grants Collective addresses the philanthropic divide that New Mexico faces by building nonprofit capacity for grant seeking through professional development, shared resources, and access to expertise. Programming includes: (1) Talent Academy, a 6-month intensive, project-based professional development experience to build the skills of grants professionals, specifically around seeking large scale grant opportunities; and (2) Cooperative Network, an online and in-person forum for grants professionals to find resources, ask questions and share advice, foster collaboration, and share efficiencies. The Collective also fiscally sponsors Grow New Mexico, a program developed to identify funding sources for transformative community projects. Board of Directors: Robin Brule, T.J. Cook, Tina Garcia-Shams, Eric Griego, Erin Hagenow, Debi Randall, Anna Sanchez, and Justin Zoladz.

Grant Opps to Your Inbox

October 2, 2017

Do you have a hard time knowing what to apply for and when? The Grant Plant offers an easy, affordable way for you to stay aware of grant opportunities. We have always offered a listing of available grants on our website calendar – which is mobile-friendly, chock-full of grants, and updated daily. This calendar function now offers a few new features to make it even easier to find the right fit.

First – and most importantly to our New Mexico peeps – all of the opportunities are screened for eligibility in our home state. (For those of you outside of NM, the bulk of them are open to you as well.) In NM, as a flyover state facing a deep philanthropic divide and a low corporate presence, many of the grant search engines turn up opportunities for which our nonprofit community is ineligible. So we cut through that static right here at the beginning.

Second, the opportunities are categorized by funding priority so you can find what you’re looking for most efficiently.

Third, for only $5/month, you can save the time of proactively going to our calendar and instead register to have grant opportunities in as many categories as you want pushed directly to your inbox. One alert comes per day for each category.

Finally, for those of you who are potential super-users of this grants calendar, or who want additional grant writing resources, consider subscribing to our nonprofit arm’s Cooperative Network of Nonprofits ($50/month). This Co-op focuses on bridging the philanthropic divide in NM by helping nonprofits secure national and federal funding and contains a wealth of grant-related resources. In addition to the deadlined grants calendar, it also lists open-call opportunities (rolling submissions) and forecasted opportunities. Plus it offers other grant related resources, opportunities to network and connect with other like-minded professionals, current news in the grants world, insider tips, and more.

How else can we help you meet your grant seeking goals? Let us know at [mail@ thegrantplantnm .com].



Alone We Can Do So Little; Together We Can Do So Much

September 19, 2017

As funders at the national, state, and local levels require a deeper level of regular collaboration from nonprofits, it is important to consider the motivating factors behind collaboration and what makes some collaborations successful and competitive. A way to begin building strong partnerships is to assess collaborations from every angle to determine what is right for your organization. Collaborations have a long history in the United States, including state versus federal jurisdiction, the growth and expansion of social services, and nonprofit development as a solution to market failure.

Collaboration in the Modern Era

It was not until the late 1960s that the U.S. federal government began acknowledging the role that funders and programs outside of state and federal government could play in addressing community needs. Many of these groups had been active for decades, but had not been recognized nationally as contributors to government or social efforts. As they became better known and collaborated with governments at the state level, the federal government ramped up its partnerships with nonprofits to include increased grantmaking and contracts. Services, including job training, physical and mental health, disability, child and family welfare, and substance abuse, were now being provided through government partnerships and agreements with nonprofit organizations.

In the early years of the 21st century, relationships between federal government, state government, and foundations have become even more prominent. Our current era of collaboration is characterized by strong connections between organizations and accessible networks, including social media, information exchange, in-person interactions, and more, which allows funders and nonprofit organizations to “enhance one another’s capabilities, to smooth services interactions, and to solve policy/program problems.”[1] Significantly, this increased connection is characterized by an ever-growing emphasis on inter-agency collaboration.


Nonprofits as a Response to Market Failure

Nonprofit organizations make the decision to collaborate with each other and with government agencies for several reasons, including service overlap, community needs, and, of course, funding opportunities. Ultimately, nonprofits are flexible enough to step in and provide services in response to specific market failures, including providing goods or services that are not lucrative for for-profit channels. Further, nonprofits are frequently quicker than the government to respond to changing needs in the community.

An unintended consequence of this move toward collaboration is a belief on the part of funders that collaborations always yield a deeper impact for fewer dollars, which has led to many funders requiring collaboration as a precondition of grantmaking. However, this requirement can be limiting, as collaborations are complicated and involve a blending of missions, objectives, and services, and funders often require rigorous reporting. So, when is collaboration necessary, rewarding, and worth the risk for your organization? With the growing number of grantmakers expecting collaboration as a prerequisite to funding, is important to consider the costs of collaboration, whether those costs outweigh potential benefits, and whether collaboration will honor your agency’s mission and vision.


The Pros and Cons of Collaboration

Today, avoiding collaboration is not an option. Collaboration is a deeply intertwined piece of U.S. governance, nonprofit operations, and the delivery of many goods and services. So how do you make it work in a way that makes sense for your organization?

There are pros and cons to collaboration, some of which may not be obvious, so it is important to determine whether the potential for positive outcomes outweighs the potential for frustration. Cons include possible loss of territory, increased time commitment due to inclusion of additional actors, difficulties in trying to reach consensus, power imbalances between partners, potential for resource hoarding,[2] difficult personalities, hidden agendas, failure to commit, failure to share information,[3] and difficulty evaluating results.[4] Recognizing potential costs, especially those specific to your organization and partnerships, is vital before embarking into collaborative territory. Once you have addressed them, you can effectively map out a collaboration that avoids or tackles costs while working toward benefits.

The benefits of collaborating can be many, and include “economic efficiencies, a more effective response to shared problems, improvements in the quality of services delivered to clients, the spreading of risks, and increased access to resources.”[5] One important benefit that pertains specifically to Albuquerque and New Mexico comes with having a diverse population—addressing the many needs that come with diversity can be a challenge, but is also a tremendous opportunity for collaboration. A greater and more diverse need gives organizations more opportunities to collaborate, solve pressing problems in the community, and serve a larger population.


How to Make Collaborations Work for Your Organization

According to Russell M. Linden, a management consultant specializing in organizational change, there are seven key collaborative factors that will take your organization down the right path. Collaborating organizations must:

  1. Have a shared vision that neither can achieve as well on their own;
  2. Want to collaborate and be willing and ready to contribute to the collaboration;
  3. Make sure the “right people” are involved in making the collaboration happen (i.e. those with the power and expertise to make the vision a reality);
  4. Be transparent and reliable;
  5. Maintain at least one “champion” for the cause who will see it through to the end;
  6. Utilize “collaborative leadership” rather than drawing power lines between organizations; and
  7. Maintain and nurture a trusting relationship.[6]

Remarkably, successful collaborations can often highlight the individual talents of your team. Humans have an inherent desire to connect with something bigger, “and, when that ‘something larger’ is a collaborative team, team members can meet both the ‘me’ and ‘we’ needs as they contribute their special talents and unique knowledge and experience to a successful group project.”[7]

Collaborations can be successful and rewarding, as long as they honor the missions and visions of all parties involved; you assess costs and benefits; build a strong, sustainable, and truly cooperative program; and seek funding that is well-aligned with your goals and objectives. By combining these strategies with an understanding of the potential pitfalls of collaboration, your organization will not be doomed to repeat past failures!


Contact: Melissa Leonard, Resource Development Officer, 


[1] Agranoff, Robert. Collaborating to Manage: A Primer for the Public Sector. Georgetown University Press, 2012, p. 29.

[2] Agranoff, Robert. Collaborating to Manage: A Primer for the Public Sector. Georgetown University Press, 2012, p. 156.

[3] Russell M. Linden. Leading Across Boundaries: Creating Collaborative Agencies in a Networked World. Jossey-Bass, 2010, p. 59.

[4] Feiock, Richard C. and Hee Soun Jang. “Public Versus Private Funding of Nonprofit Organizations: Implications for Collaboration.” Public Performance & Management Review, vol. 31, no. 2, 2007, p. 178.

[5] Id.

[6] Russell M. Linden. Leading Across Boundaries: Creating Collaborative Agencies in a Networked World. Jossey-Bass, 2010, p. 38.

[7] Id., p. 23.

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