Does the type of formal organization matter?

by Joe Flower


This article appeared in:
the Healthier Communities Action Kit, Module 3, published by the Healthcare Forum.
Please see our free downloading policy.


These and other organizations we have looked at in building healthy communites use a variety of formal structures for their partnerships with other entities. The formal shapes include joint ventures, contract relationships, funding relationships, interlocking boards, and legally minimal, informal relationships that include donating space, holding meetings, and urging employees to volunteer.

Does any one of these shapes work better than others? Apparently not. In fact, in many projects, the formal structure is set fairly late in the game, long after substantial work has been done -- and it can change. In the early stages of a collaboration, it may be hard to tell what shape it will take eventually, so the effort put into setting up formal, legal structures can be wasted. Often the formal structure is set up only when it is legally necessary, for instance, for the project to receive funds or hire employees.

Elizabeth Mooney, executive director of Planned Parenthood of Northern Indiana, says, "The governance of the UrbanCare project fell together very late in the process. In fact, it was practically the last thing we did."

It does seem important that the formal shape be appropriate to the project, that it express the informal relationship, that it share the risk appropriately, and that it not overly encumber the fledgling project with rules and legal requirements

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