Panel Paper: The Impact of Collaboration on Nonprofits' Human Capacity

Thursday, November 6, 2014 : 8:50 AM
Dona Ana (Convention Center)

*Names in bold indicate Presenter

Khaldoun AbouAssi, Texas A&M University and Suyeon Jo, Syracuse University
Inter-organizational collaboration is a common strategy to deal with complex problems in today’s intricate environment. In this sense, many nonprofit organizations are currently engaging in collaborative relationships—within and across sectors—to achieve organizational missions and to better serve clients, in terms of in terms of service delivery, program outcomes, and client satisfaction.

These collaborative efforts can have significant effects on participating organization. Some effects are positive, in terms of sharing and creating knowledge within these organizations and offering innovative solutions to problems an organization is currently addressing. Other effects can be negative, constraining the organization’s autonomy, and pressuring the management.

Extant literature has looked at nonprofit collaboration and its impacts on organizational practices. To date, understanding of how collaboration affects human resources capacity of nonprofits is limited. Human resources management is crucial in any organization but more critical in nonprofit organizations. Nonprofits are also labor intensive; the costs for human resources usually accounts for over half of their entire budget. Therefore, the role of capable human resource is crucial for effectiveness of nonprofit organizations and their management is critical.

This human capital comes from both paid staff and volunteers. Therefore, considering that inter-organizational collaboration influences each collaborator’s management capacity, these two different types of nonprofit workforce can be highly affected by the development of collaborative relationships.

In this paper, we focus on partnership as a form of collaboration. A partnership is a working arrangement among diverse actors based on agreed-upon objectives, specific projects, timeframes and resources. Utilizing data from a subsector of nonprofits, this study examines the impact of inter-organizational collaboration on nonprofits’ human resource capacity. The focus is on partnerships, and their impact on the collaborators’ paid staff, volunteers, and their development capacity. We draw several hypotheses. Partnerships increase the number of staff since nonprofits secure additional resources and can then recruit and hire more staff. Handy et al (2008) put forward this concept of “interchangeability of staff and volunteers”:  as organizations grow, they hire more paid staff and depend less on unpaid volunteers. This depends on the organizational culture and the budget health. Brudney and Meijs (2009) add that this is possible if we treat volunteers are a pool of natural resources. Thus, we hypothesize that as the number of staff increases due to partnerships, partnerships will lead to a reduction in the number of volunteers. Finally, collaboration in general facilitates training during the implementation of joint projects to learn skills and techniques necessary for conducting tasks; resources acquired from collaboration push toward professionalism. As such we hypothesize that partnerships will increase the professional development of staff.

Using seemingly unrelated regressions (SUR), the paper empirically tests the impact of engaging in partnerships on three aspects of nonprofits’ human resource capacity: paid staff, volunteers, and the professional development of staff. The results indicate that organizations engaged in partnerships have more paid staff and volunteers; the professional development of staff is contingent on the financial resources acquired from the partnerships.

Full Paper: