Date of Award


Degree Name

PhD Leadership Studies

Dissertation Committee

Afsaneh Nahavandi, PhD; Mary B. McDonald, PhD; Hans Peter Schmitz, PhD


Collaboration, Collective impact, Multiple capitals, Nonprofit, Philanthropy, Resources


Throughout history people have joined together to improve their individual lives. In the modern era, organizations often work cooperatively to enhance their efficiency and effectiveness. Collaborating organizations in the nonprofit sector are increasingly expected to produce system-level change as well. This collective impact approach is under-theorized and therefore not consistently actionable. A central puzzle is how formal nonprofit collaborations acquire resource inputs and transform them into outputs, outcomes, and impact while producing financial returns to sustain the backbone organization. Resource dependence theory is sometimes proposed as an explanatory framework, yet it does not explain the generation of a double bottom line (simultaneous production of social and financial returns).

To address this gap in the literature, this study examined the role that resources play in a 501(c)3 collaboration of 29 arts and culture organizations in California. Using an informed grounded theory design with mixed methods of data collection and analysis, the investigation researched the anomaly of how a formal collaboration established in 2001 has been able to survive and grow when many similar organizations struggle financially. Through process tracing, the study identified resource inputs and documented their flow and transformation to discern the mechanisms of their mobilization and conversion. Process tracing was also used to assess seven rival hypotheses to explain the successful anomaly.

Findings indicate the collaboration deploys multiple forms of capital (financial, physical, human, relational, symbolic, and structural) and generates some of these forms itself. The mechanisms for this endogenous genesis are catalytic processes (especially communicating, leading, connecting, learning, and investing) that activate and transform the latent potential of tangible and intangible resources into productive forms to help sustain the collaboration. Six of the rival hypotheses were found to be only partially or not supported. The seventh, termed resource interdependence theory, was supported. Six affiliated propositions are presented. Beyond these theoretical contributions, the study systematically maps the currency of civil society, creating an actionable typology to serve as a framework to guide the design of collective impact strategies and philanthropic decision-making. The study suggests that the construct of capacity building may be more usefully thought of as capital building.

Document Type

Dissertation: Open Access


Leadership Studies