Despite growing emphasis within development policy on forging partnerships for development, very few development programmes designed to promote collaborative arrangements between state agencies and non-governmental organisations (NGOs) to ensure the efficient service delivery of basic services to the poor succeed. Examining three cases of state–NGO collaboration in Pakistan, this article identified two NGO-related factors as critical in helping create demand for their services within state agencies: (i) technical expertise and (ii) strong social and political networks. This article showed that attempts at collaboration are more likely to succeed if NGOs offer technically sound solutions to ensure efficient service delivery and have strong political and professional networks within the relevant state agencies to promote these solutions. Community-embeddedness of the NGO can further help turn instances of collaboration into long-term partnerships. Copyright © 2011 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.