Building Productive Partnerships

In Partnerships by Karen Buck

(This post is part 3 in a month-long series on partnerships)

Whether because of decreases in funding or increasing demand for results, more nonprofit organizations and government agencies are turning to partners than ever before. Our clients look to partners to..

  • Help meet goals that they cannot achieve on their own.
  • Broaden or deepen the reach of their efforts.
  • Fill in gaps or provide supplemental skills and expertise.
  • Improve or heighten the visibility of their organization and its work.

In a resource-strapped environment, building a partner relationship that can deliver that kind of leverage can be a very effective strategy. We define a partner as an association with another individual, organization, group, or agency that exists in order to accomplish something together.

Partnerships can create value. But working collaboratively takes time and effort, and things don’t always work out. I don’t know about you, but I spent hours in school doing the lion’s share of what was supposed to be a “group” project. Sound familiar?

The truth is that most people in nonprofit organizations and government agencies have limited time. So, if you are going to devote precious resources to partnerships, let’s make it count! Partner relations is a body of knowledge that provides best practices, tools, and a clear step-by-step process to help make partnerships stronger, more effective, and more productive.

Step 1: Know Yourself

Key Concept: Define your role and responsibilities

  • How does partnership fit into your overall operation?
  • What do you bring to the table as a partner (skills, time, resources, style, etc.)?
  • What do you hope to get out of a partnership?

Step 2: Know Your Partner

Key Concept: Deliberately identify and select your partners

  • What are their skills, styles, interests, temperaments?
  • Who has decision-making authority? Who are the key influencers?
  • What are their needs, goals, and obstacles?
  • What motivates their interest? What are their non-negotiables?
  • Then, check for congruence.

Step 3: Develop/Define the Relationship

Key Concept: Create an explicit agreement

  • Goals and parameters
  • Contributions and expectations
  • Systems, structures, and practices to support the partnership
  • Roles and relationships are consistent and equitable

Step 4: Manage the Relationships

Key Concept: Actively and regularly manage

  • Manage differences and conflicts openly and promptly
  • Set up clear decision-making processes, communication protocols, etc.
  • Use project management to organize work on shared goals

Step 5: Evaluate and Adapt

Key Concept: Stay engaged and pay attention

  • Share information, data, and skills
  • Regularly monitor progress (goals, processes, working relationship)
  • Identify problems and make corrections
  • Reinvent stalled partnerships
  • Let go of partnerships that don’t work any longer