CNJG: Powerful Partnerships Lead to Stronger Organizations Serving the Sector

September 14, 2016


The value of working in partnership with others has long been a powerful strategy in the social sector. Non-profit organizations understand that partnerships can be highly effective given the right mix of trust, communication, and an understanding of the unique strengths each partner brings to the table.

While the Center for Non-Profits and the Council of New Jersey Grantmakers (CNJG) have long complemented and promoted each other’s work and collaborated on specific initiatives — for many years both our organizations worked laterally on programs and issues for our respective constituents.

The Center, as the state association serving the charitable sector, worked on behalf of all nonprofits throughout the state providing programs, services and advocacy. CNJG, as New Jersey’s regional association of grantmakers, provided programs and services to the state’s philanthropic sector. And while CNJG was a long-time member of the Center (and continues to be a member); and both our organizations communicated with one another regularly; and both our organizations met periodically to trade notes and keep up on policy issues — it was more of a symbiotic cooperation and not a partnership.

This began to change in the summer of 2012, when the Center provided a presentation to the CNJG board about policy trends and the Center’s work. The presentation was so well received, the CNJG board indicated they would like to see our organizations work more closely together on programming and advocacy. Skip to four years later, and our organizations had the pleasure of talking about our partnership on Aug. 30 at the 2016 Joint Policy Institute hosted by our respective networks, the Forum of Regional Assocation of Grantmakers and the National Council of Nonprofits.


This first-ever Joint Policy Institute was an opportunity for members of both larger networks to strengthen relationships; expand our understanding of policy issues of concern to the sector; and enhance the capacity of regional associations of grantmakers (known in the sector as RAs) and state associations of nonprofits (or SAs). The event was attended by over 100 RA and SA staff and board members from across the country, including staff and board representatives from both CNJG and the Center.

The nearly three-day agenda was jam-packed. Together we heard from national experts about the most critical state and local policy issues impacting the work of non-profits and philanthropy, shared effective policy tools for engaging members and policymakers, and learned how policymakers perceive our sectors.

A key objective for the Institute was for attendees to learn from successful partnerships between regional philanthropy associations and state non-profit associations. We were honored to talk about our own partnership work in New Jersey as part of a panel alongside our colleagues from the Colorado Nonprofit Association and Colorado Association of Funders, and the Council of Michigan Foundations and Michigan Nonprofit Association. Each set of partners brought their own unique voice and area/s of focus.

What we shared at the Institute differs slightly from our colleagues’ partnership work. A considerable portion of our partnership work has been focused on addressing systemic issues prevalent in the social sector.

Together we have a tackled the overhead myth, government contracting issues, and the true costs of providing programs and services. With an initial goal of ensuring that funders are well aware of the key issues facing the nonprofit sector, our early work focused on programming and education specifically for the philanthropic sector. Programming and education still feature prominently in our partnership’s overall strategy; however as the partnership has evolved, we find that we are able to meet this need in different and novel ways.

One example of this work is our ongoing work to come together on the need for full cost funding for non-profit work. Drawing from many great examples from our colleagues around the country, we are using Forefront’s (formerly Donors Forum) model as a starting point for drafting principles for New Jersey’s social sector. Stay tuned!

Another focus of our partnership has been on relationship building, particularly on public education about the non-profit and philanthropic communities.

One of our biggest successes has been our work with the New Jersey Office of Legislative Services, the nonpartisan research staff serving the Legislature. In 2014, CNJG and the Center jointly provided a two-hour briefing entitled Understanding New Jersey’s Non-Profit Community: Role, Impact, Myths & Facts, and in 2015 we provided another briefing, Non-Profit Startup and Compliance Issues: A Legal Review. CNJG wrote about this work in a January 2015 Dodge blog post.

We’ve also learned along the way some of the key components to the success of our partnership. While the partnership does not have a formal memorandum of understanding, there are agreements, practices, and a “partnership ethic” that provide a structure for the relationship. We serve on one another’s policy/advocacy committee, meet at the beginning of each year to discuss possible joint activities, and maintain an open line of communication regarding various issues and trends. Both boards are supportive of our partnership, and highly appreciate the depth and value of this arrangement for both organizations. Frankly, this “buy-in” from both the board and policy/advocacy committees is an integral component of the partnership.

It also bears mention that on advocacy issues, our partnership is strengthened by virtue of the constituency each organization represents. Working together amplifies the reach and power of our collective voice for the non-profit and philanthropic communities.

We’ve found that our collaboration strengthens and complements each organization in important ways. It helps to stretch the capacity and impact of our two small offices, resulting in a whole that is greater than the sum of our parts. Each organization can share insights and perspectives that provide additional depth and credibility to our work before public officials; and on occasion, one organization can give voice to an issue in a way that the other might not be able to articulate.

Even though four years have passed, our partnership between the Center for Non-Profits and the Council of New Jersey Grantmakers is continuously evolving. We understand clearly the many different attributes, skills, and voices that each organization brings to the table. What will not change as our relationship evolves is the foundation on which our partnership is built: mutual trust and respect as equal partners; honest communication; and a commitment to the ideals found in the social sector.

We were thrilled to share our partnership with our colleagues from throughout the nation at the 2016 Joint Policy Institute. And even more thrilled that New Jersey is often held up as national model because of the extent of our partnership! Together, we’ll continue to grow this partnership and develop new opportunities to work on behalf of the entire social sector.

Photo at top: From top left, Theresa Jacks, Council of New Jersey Grantmakers deputy director; Bill Engel, of the Hyde and Watson Foundation; Nina Stack, CNJG president. Bottom left: Linda Czipo, Center for Non-Profits president, and Marion O’Neill, of the PSEG Foundation.


Linda M. Czipo is president & CEO of the Center for Non-Profits, New Jersey’s statewide umbrella organization for the charitable community. Through advocacy, public education, technical assistance and member services, the center builds the power of New Jersey’s nonprofit community to improve the quality of life for the people of our state.



NinaNina Stack is President of the Council of New Jersey Grantmakers, the statewide association of more than 130 funding organizations working in and for New Jersey. The Council is the center for philanthropy in the state, serving the leading independent, corporate, family and community foundations as well as public grantmakers of our state.  CNJG supports its members by strengthening their capacity to address New Jersey and society’s most difficult problems.