Not All Partnerships are Created Equal

In Partnerships by Shelli Bischoff

(This post is part 2 in a month-long series on partnerships)

In Part 1 – When is a Partner Not a Partner?, I explained that nonprofit organizations that work in collaboration with others often have partner relationships that fall into different segments. And we reviewed how developing an understanding of what segments your partner relationships fall into can help you manage each relationship more effectively and appropriately.

In this post, we’ll explore the different levels of partnerships and why strategic-level partnerships – those that are required in order to meet your organization’s goals – are a special type of partnership.

Partnership Levels

Consider your friends on Facebook (or in real life, if you prefer). Of the 100’s of people you could call “friend” there are some who are really just acquaintances. Others are friends you socialize with regularly, friends you have been close to since childhood, family members, or significant others. Each one of these could be considered a different level of friendship, marked by real differences in the type of relationship, the amount of energy you expend to maintain the relationship, and level of intimacy between you and that friend.

What would happen if you treated your family members or significant others the way you treat acquaintances? They wouldn’t consider you too significant for very long, would they? And what if you treated a casual acquaintance like a significant other? There would like be a restraining order in your not too distant future!

In our personal lives we understand intuitively that friendships come in these different levels. Indeed, none of us has enough time or energy to maintain every friendship in our lives at that highest, most intimate level.

Strategic Partners

Yet in our work, we often operate as if every partner relationship is of equal importance when in reality they aren’t. Some are of your partners are more like acquaintances; others are friends; and some are like family or significant others – your organization’s life just wouldn’t be the same without them. These are your strategic partners.

It is necessary to define your strategic partners – those partners that are absolutely necessary to your ability to achieve high-level strategic outcomes – and invest in those relationships accordingly. Successful strategic partnerships require a solid commitment, ongoing relationship-building efforts, and an investment of time and energy from both parties. And just like how in our personal lives we have a small number of those most significant relationships, your organization should only have a few, deliberately selected strategic partners.

Note that having a limited number of deep, productive, strategic partners does not mean that your organization can only have those few partners. You will most likely also have a number of partners who are “acquaintances” or “friends” in addition to your “significant others.” Take a look at our “Partner Relations Continuum” to see more details about these different levels of partnership.

Next Week

If your organization does a lot of its work in collaboration with others, taking time to understand both the segments and the levels of your partnerships will help you to make better decisions about how to invest your relationship-building time and energy and make your partnerships more productive. In next week’s post, we’ll review the approach to partner relations that we recommend in our full-day Partner Relations Training. If you are hoping to cultivate a new strategic partner or have an existing partnership in need of a revamp, the partner relations approach post is for you.