Is This A Good Partnership? Five Questions to Ask

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August 14, 2013

Nonprofit leaders face heavy pressure to partner. Funders include partnering as a requirement for grants. Tight budgets beg for savings from shared administrative or program costs. Complex issues need more than one organization’s expertise to make significant progress.

But while the pressure grows, so does the caution that nonprofit leaders use when approached about becoming part of a collaboration. And for good reason. Too many leaders spend inefficient hours in well-intentioned meetings where their hope for coordinated action is dashed by inspired talk with few results.

Strategy Arts has worked with numerous partnerships in a wide range of nonprofit fields, and we’ve heard folks asking good questions as they consider partnering. We’ve honed these into five key questions to help you determine if you want to enter a partnership.

1.What is the purpose of this partnership?

Clearly articulate the proposed purpose and check that it aligns with your organization’s mission, even if you are just in an exploratory phase.

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2.What is the anticipated structure of the partnership?

Develop your initial thoughts on the long view. There is a wide spectrum of partnership types – from simple dialogue groups to partnerships that involve programming, funding and memoranda of understanding. Be sure that the proposed structure supports the partnership purpose and also meets the needs of your organization.

3.Who is leading the partnership, and have they led or been part of successful partnerships before?

Effective partnerships are built on honest, transparent dialogue and solid infrastructure. Leaders of partnerships need skills in these areas.

4.Who is investing in the convening of the partnership? What staff time and other costs will be involved in convening?

Pre-meeting work and clear agendas are good signs of a strong start. The effort that goes into planning the initial meeting is often indicative of the commitment the convener has in the partnership.

5.Given what I’ve learned, how much do I want to invest in exploring this further?

Be clear upfront about how much time you and your staff are willing to spend, even just as part of exploring the idea of partnering. Be sure you invest enough time and effort to explore the potential partnership thoroughly. Balance that investment with a clear evaluation about whether or not you want to continue to pursue the partnership.

Asking these questions about purpose, structure, and your organization’s willingness and ability to invest in exploring the partnership will help ensure that the time you put into a partnership pays off for your organization. Asking these questions will also help raise the bar on the practice of nonprofit collaborations and in the end, help create better solutions to complex issues.