I manage two funds: the SeaChange-Lodestar Fund for Nonprofit Collaboration and the New York Merger, Acquisition and Collaboration Fund. Both funds encourage and support mergers, acquisitions, and other types of formal, long-term collaboration involving nonprofits.

Denizens of the effective philanthropy circuit regularly ask me how this type of “collaboration” compares with the concept of “collective impact.”

Since contrasting two poorly defined terms (one of which—“collaboration”—is used in lots of different ways) is a recipe for jargon-rife disaster, for the purpose of this article I’ll use these definitions:

Collaboration: a merger, acquisition, joint venture, or programmatic alliance in which two or more parties (usually nonprofits though government or business can participate) combine some or all of their important activities in a long-term formal way. (Some call this a “consolidation,” “combination,” or “strategic restructuring”.)

Collective Impact: a strategy for creating a very particular type of collaboration whereby nonprofits, government, business, and the public coordinate around a common agenda to address a complex social problem. Led by a backbone support organization (an organization created to manage the collective), the parties continuously communicate, refine their common agenda, develop shared measurement systems, and pursue mutually reinforcing activities. (I’ve paraphrased this definition from FSG. Going forward, I’ll refer to this as a “collective.”)

The basic contrast between a collective and the other types of collaboration is clear—respectively: bottom-up vs. top-down, narrow-deep vs. wide-shallow, mission-driven vs. problem-driven, and micro vs. macro.

Read the full article about collaboration and collective impact by John MacIntosh at Stanford Social Innovation Review.