The Partnership Pathway to Strategic Relationships
26 May 2016 at 9:18 am
Hot Topic: One of the most common reasons charity partnerships don’t work out is that they weren’t a cultural fit in the first place, writes marketing specialist Fran Connelley who offers her top tips for successful relationships.
What does it mean to be entrepreneurial? Some people think it’s sufficient to simply spend a lot of time networking, but it’s so much more than that. It’s about being open to new opportunities to solve your customers’ problems and meet their needs; it’s about being first in a market niche and finding the right partners to help you make it happen.
Being entrepreneurial is about creating strategic partnerships. By “partnerships”, I mean all the different forms of relationships you may have with people outside your organisation, because when you truly “share your cause” every relationship becomes a partnership.
Sometimes the very word partnership can scare people away. It can be a loaded term as it can carry with it the implication of a formal, binding legal arrangement. This doesn’t have to be the case. Partnerships come in all shapes and sizes. (Often in the Not for Profit sector, the word alliance is more readily adopted simply because it’s perceived as less threatening and formal.)
Local businesses, local clubs and community groups, other disability providers, local allied health professionals, your donors and even the families of your clients can all be included under the umbrella term of partnerships.
Many organisations are going to find this a challenging mind-shift, but if you want long-term financial sustainability, it’s an essential one.
One of the most common reasons partnerships don’t work out is that they weren’t a culture fit in the first place. This is why it’s really important to be clear on your vision, your mission and your values before you actively begin seeking out potential partners. If there’s no values alignment it’s never going to work out.
If someone steps forward with a bucket of money to donate to your cause and says they only want to put your logo on their marketing materials, take a few steps back and ask yourself: is this organisation a “brand fit”? Is our mission aligned with theirs?
If not, then back out. The last thing you want is reputational risk, so do your due diligence and learn to trust your instincts.
The steps below outline a partnership pathway. When it comes to building lasting relationships in my experience “slow is fast”. This process enables you to easily identify potential partners who might be a strategic fit with your organisation:
- Identify exactly what you’re seeking in a potential partner.
- Create a shortlist of potential mission”-fit partners. Think laterally. They could come from anywhere such as corporate partners, community partners, local businesses, disability providers, major donors or allied health providers.
- Identify the top three preferred prospects as well as those organisations where you may already have a contact. Especially consider those organisations already delivering services to your clients. Initiate the conversation. Pick up the phone. This stage is all about getting a feel for whether you could work with this organisation and whether there is a values fit. If they pass this test, and you feel there could genuinely be mutually beneficial outcomes from a long-term relationship, only then go to the next step.
- Start small. Try a one-off event or collaborate on a small, measurable project with clear project goals, timelines and project owners on both sides of the relationship.
- Evaluate the one-off project as thoroughly as possible.
- If you choose to pursue an ongoing relationship then decide on what form best works for both parties. It may simply be a willingness to collaborate or it may be a more formal, structured relationship.
- Either way, it’s worth considering a written agreement whether this is a heads of agreement, letter of intent or memorandum of understanding. These are designed to protect you both while you’re working this out. This agreement establishes mutually agreed non-negotiables, such as partnership goals and timeline, the partnership “owners” and the parameters to measure performance. And if you’re pursuing a legal agreement you should seek the appropriate legal and financial advice.
- Regularly monitor, review and evaluate the relationship. Is it achieving your agreed goals? How are the lines of communication working? Is the relationship on track? Is it still in line with your Mission? If not, communicate as early as possible. Otherwise, before you know it, you’ll be filing for a divorce.
About the author: Fran Connelley is a Not for Profit marketing specialist and director of FC Marketing. Over the last 20 years, she has worked with many organisations to help build their brands and diversify their income. Connelley is the author of the eGuide, Managing your Non-Profit’s Annual Report. This article includes excerpts from her new book, How to Thrive under the NDIS: A Pathway to Sustainability for Service Providers.