Department of Management, Marketing and Entrepreneurship Seminar Series

Navigating the challenges of change: Nonprofit–business collaboration from the non-profit perspective


Ann Brown


Management, Marketing and Entrepreneurship PhD Candidate

Time & Place

Wed, 29 May 2019 14:30:00 NZST in Room 236, Meremere

All are welcome


Nonprofit organisations (NPOs) operate in environments characterised by increasing resource constraints and escalating service delivery demands. At the same time, these organisations face mounting pressure to radically adapt and transform the way they operate; a challenge with which many struggle to contend. This environmental turbulence, along with wider political and societal shifts, increasingly drives NPOs to seek opportunities through collaboration with business. The problem is, however, the existing literature provides only limited insight into how engaging in this type of collaboration, affects how NPOs navigate within, or adapt to, environmental turbulence.

This research addresses part of this gap in knowledge by exploring nonprofit–business collaboration (NBC) through the non-profit experience, a perspective that has remained largely absent from academic research. This study asks: How do the dynamics of nonprofit–business collaboration, relate to how non-profit organisations are navigating turbulent environments? An embedded multiple case study was used to examine the experiences of twenty-eight senior decision makers from both sides of thirteen partnerships, at the organisation and relationship level. These experiences were examined in the context of how ten focal NPOs navigate the challenges they face. This research employed inductive, emergent analysis methods to analyse interview data and archival documents.

Using a number of emergent relationship characteristics, this research explores how collaboration dynamics are manifest in practice, and examines how relationships with business relate to the way NPOs navigate in turbulence. This study found nonprofits engage proactively in their relationships, primarily to address financial uncertainty. The focal organisations employed a tactical approach to NBC, leveraging individual relationships often in a strategic way as part of complete portfolios. By accommodating commercial realities, some NPOs were performing a sophisticated balancing act, accommodating requests from business partners as a means of accessing the resources required to sustain programmes, and support organisational infrastructure.

This study contributes a new perspective on NBC with implications for practice, particularly for non-profit decision makers orchestrating increasingly large portfolios. Specifically, this study contributes to the nascent body of literature that explores NBC as a strategic issue for NPOs. At a time when nonprofit organisations are more crucial than ever, exploring that which affects the ability to pursue their missions is a critical issue for research and practice.