We often hear stories of mergers and acquisitions emanating from the private sector, but do they also happen in the non-profit sector?

Non-profit organizations collaborate to survive. Benefits of collaboration include being able to share resources, talent and knowledge, create an even larger impact, and further leverage funding in a resource-strapped environment. Most importantly, collaboration is often cited as the secret sauce to innovation. But are there innovations in collaboration? Are there new models emerging that are worth watching?

If you’re running a non-profit and are wondering about the options available to you to grow your organization, collaboration is one of the most useful—if not essential—strategies. Read on for some notable examples of organizations that are taking collaboration to a new level.

Many of you will have heard of collective impact, but below I’ll highlight some other innovations in collaboration, including amalgamations, acquisitions and donations.

Amalgamation: Safe Communities Canada, Safe Kids Canada, SMARTRISK and ThinkFirst Canada join forces to create Parachute

Created in July 2012, Parachute is the result of the amalgamation of four national injury prevention organizations. Parachute has a vision of an injury-free Canada where Canadians live long lives to the fullest.

The amalgamation process started in 2009 when the leaders of Safe Communities Canada, Safe Kids Canada, SMARTRISK and ThinkFirst Canada were looking for more effective ways of working together to advance their collective missions. The organizations had a long history of collaboration, including hosting an annual conference together, but they had a sense that they could be more impactful if they upped their collaboration. The four organizations applied to and successfully received funding from the Ontario Trillium Foundation to explore how they might “jointly identify, integrate, and approve shared initiatives in knowledge management, stakeholder engagement, fund development, and marketing.”

The result was the “One Voice, Safer Canada” report, which recommended that a new entity be formed to reduce preventable injury and its impact on Canadian society. The structural form was up for debate: would this new entity be created through full integration, confederation or joint venture? Each option posed different financial, legal and staffing implications.

In the end, the four organizations—who deemed maintaining the status quo as individual organizations as suboptimal, as it had high costs and tied them to a structure that would not enable the “game-changing” results they sought—opted to fully integrate and form a new organization, with a new CEO. That organization is called Parachute. Through this process, these four organizations realized that working as one would enable them to be more impactful in reducing catastrophic injuries in Canada.

Acquisition: St. Elizabeth acquires Tyze

We don’t often hear of non-profit organizations acquiring for-profit ones, but that’s what makes this story so innovative. In January 2014, Saint Elizabeth Health Care, an entrepreneurial Canada-wide non-profit charity, purchased Tyze Personal Networks, a private for-profit company.

Saint Elizabeth is Canada’s largest non-profit charitable home and healthcare service provider, while Tyze is a secure web-based community network centred around individuals. Drawing on a person’s support network—including family members, friends, neighbours and healthcare providers—Tyze helps to connect and care for that individual. After five years of affiliation, it was a very natural succession for St. Elizabeth to acquire Tyze. The new ownership offers endless opportunities for growth and further development of Tyze’s services. Tyze is the perfect fit for Saint Elizabeth’s Aging Well @ Home program and will provide the care required to support families. This form of collaboration has numerous benefits, but most notably it leverages the existing networks of both organizations and exponentially multiplies their impact.

Donation: DreamCatcher Mentoring is donated to Big Brothers Big Sisters of Canada

In July 2014, Josh Silvertown, the founder and executive director of DreamCatcher Mentoring (DCM), donated the program he founded to Big Brothers Big Sisters of Canada (BBBSC). This is the perfect case of two non-profits coming together for the betterment of Canada.

Established in 2005, DCM has been credited with decreasing the high school dropout rates in Canada’s Northern communities. The e-platform bridges Canada’s vast geographical distances by connecting 1,500 students in 29 schools in the Northwest Territories, Nunavut and Yukon to mentors all over the world. Keeping with the theme of mentorship, BBBSC provides quality mentoring services for more than 42,000 children and teenagers. The overlap between these two organizations provided the groundwork for this collaborative donation.

According to Josh, a major advantage of this altruistic gift is that DCM took “a concept, developing it to a point where it has some traction and clear positive outcomes, and then donate[d] it to a credible, national organization with similar values and the infrastructure and resources needed to grow the program and reach more people. This model protects the initial investment of time, effort and government funding, reduces competition between similar organizations and delivers better value to tax payers and communities.”

These innovations in collaboration were all led by the non-profit organizations themselves. As the non-profit sector is often strapped for resources and striving to be more impactful, these cases stand out as examples of how to create innovative solutions to many of the complex social issues we collectively face.

Amy Weinrieb

Amy is the Associate, Entrepreneurship Programs at MaRS. Amy helps co-ordinate the planning, execution, marketing and development of all workshops within Regional Innovation Centres and Campus Linked Accelerators in the Ontario Network of Entrepreneurs (ONE) network. See more…