ATLANTA—The nation’s smallest nonprofits—those reporting less than $500,000 in annual gross receipts—who have at least one full-time staff member are much more likely than those without any full-time staff to be involved in formal collaborations that can help them obtain funding and meet client needs, a new Georgia State study finds.
However, few nonprofits this size have the staffing required to garner these benefits.
Mirae Kim, an assistant professor of public management and policy in the Andrew Young School of Policy Studies, and Shuyang Peng of the University of New Mexico researched human resource capacity and collaboration among small nonprofits. They found prior knowledge in this area was scant, despite the overwhelming presence of smaller organizations in the nonprofit sector. Their analysis is based on 2016 survey data from 229 small human service nonprofit organizations.
“Nearly 75 percent of the nonprofits in the U.S. are small. They make crucial contributions to building vibrant communities and addressing localized needs, with most constantly stretching themselves to meet demands,” said Kim.
Nonprofits of all sizes have turned to collaboration as a viable solution to addressing internal resource constraints. Partnering with other nonprofits, government agencies and businesses allow nonprofits greater opportunities to obtain resources, enhance visibility, improve service quality and build strong communities, a number of prior studies have shown. Formal collaboration, as compared with informal collaboration or networking, provides more tangible financial benefits.
“A certain level of managerial capacity is crucial for any organization to successfully partner and collaborate. Its people need to be able to foster relationships and track tasks consistently,” said Kim. “However, small nonprofits often have very few paid staff and rely heavily on volunteers who don’t have the time they need to manage these collaborative efforts.”
Herein lies the dilemma, Kim and Peng conclude: small nonprofits want to enter collaborative relationships to gain their benefits, but to do that, they must invest in full-time staff who can form and maintain these collaborations.
“Our study is the first of its kind to explore how two prevailing trends in the nonprofit sector, collaboration and professionalism, relate to one another. Understanding the subtle relationship between these two strategic approaches to nonprofit management could help practitioners and policymakers improve the service capacity of our smaller nonprofits,” said Kim.
The findings also encourage small nonprofits to be more tolerant of the costs associated with employing full-time staff. “Those not able to hire full-time staff in the near future should maintain and expand their informal networks with other organizations. These partnerships, too, can serve as pathways to creating formal collaborations later on,” she said.