We’ve written and talked about partnerships a lot over the past couple of years (like here, here, here, and here). In large part, that’s because for most of our clients – whether land trusts, public health agencies, national trails, or human services agencies – are moving towards working in partnership more and more often.
Depending on the type of client, different things are driving this trend. Most of our public health clients have always worked with partners, but are starting to distinguish between their different types of partners and are taking their partner relations skills to the next level. Among land trusts, partnerships often spring up out of a desire to increase impact, like taking a more regional approach to conservation planning or coming together with partners to put together complex financing for a land conservation deal.
Regardless of what’s driving a partnership, there’s one thing that is important to keep in mind – developing a partnership is not a one-time endeavor.
Just like with individual organizations or agencies, circumstances change over time and these changes hold implications for partner relationships. One partner’s internal changes – like new leadership or a loss of a significant funder – can change their priorities and cause them to pull back from the relationship. Or unaddressed issues can fester over time, souring a partner relationship. Many times, partners never go back to the beginning to refresh and renew their partnership. This can lead to stagnation, mis-communication, and a decrease in partnership results.
Remaining relevant means never taking the partner relationship for granted. For most partner relationships, revisiting the first couple of steps of the Partner Relations process regularly is sufficient to keep the partnership relevant and productive.
We’ve found that for partnerships between managers of natural, cultural, and historic resources (e.g., national, state, and local parks) and the nonprofit “friends” groups with whom they often have decades-long partnerships – this approach is not enough. We designed our Partnership Reinvention process with these types of partnerships in mind. (Download Reinventing Public Lands Partnerships: The Florida National Scenic Trail Case Study to read more about this process.)
What are your most important partnerships and are those relationships as relevant as they once were? Whatever your field, working with partners is likely becoming a larger and larger part of how you do your work – so don’t take these important relationships for granted.