Elements of Effective Partnering

In our work with public sector / not-for-profit organizations, we deal with a wide range of environments related to engaging the private sector through various forms of partnerships. For some of these organizations, it is their first foray into this area and they are naturally cautious towards working with the private sector. For others, there are varying levels of sophistication towards using partnerships to achieve objectives as well as approaches used to manage these partnerships.

Based on my experience working with dozens of organizations on their partnering efforts, the following are critical elements that help determine if an organization’s partnering efforts are going to be successful. These are not new, revolutionary ideas but in my view, one or more of these key elements are often overlooked which results in partnering arrangements that never get off the ground or never reach their full potential.

  • Clearly Defined Mission and Objectives Any public organization considering partnering must be clear in its mission and objectives for partnerships at the institutional level. These elements will provide the framework within which partnerships can be created. Where the mission of the organization and the partner are too diverse, the partnership opportunity should be passed. If the high level missions are compatible, then an analysis of the mission and objectives at the project level should be conducted to ensure compatibility from an operational perspective.

  • Develop a Partnership Policy that Positions Your Efforts and Encourages Partnerships An effective Partnership Policy provides an element of transparency and is seen as a crucial step in developing a positive internal culture. An effective policy needs to encourage consistency but allow for flexibility to assess risk and respond to opportunities. It needs to be written in a way that encourages partnerships and does not inhibit the ability of your organization and for-profit private sector businesses to build relationships based on mutually beneficial goals. Any conflict of interest statements need to be simply stated without being over-dramatic and at the same time, practical so that industry sees value in working with you.
  • You Have to Start with a Plan Prior to seeking partners, you need to have a clearly defined marketing strategy that helps you define your current situation, your target audience, specific objectives you want to achieve and the types of partners that will help you address the gaps in your strategy (e.g. reaching a specific audience, building credibility, offering value-added service, etc.). If you don’t have a road map, how can you possibly know where you are going?

  • Choose the Right Partners If you are like most organizations, you probably have limited resources to manage partnerships, so you want to ensure that the partners you work with are the ones that are most suitable to the goals you’ve outlined in your strategy. Prior to initiating discussions with potential private sector partners, initial research should be conducted to help determine / prioritize partners that can help you best achieve your objectives. A quantitative checklist can help you assess different opportunities and rationalize why certain partners are more desirable than others.

  • Determining the Value and Benefits of the Partnership To create a “Win / Win” situation (as any good partnership is), each organization at the outset must have a clear understanding of the value and benefits that the partnership brings to the table from both a tangible and intangible perspective. In order to create real “buy-in”, both parties must benefit from the arrangement, otherwise there will be lackluster commitment.
  • Governance All partnering arrangements should have a defined governance model that ensures there are checks and balances through the partnering process. These processes should be stated from the onset, so that there are no surprises or unrealistic expectations.

  • Minimal Bureaucracy A bureaucratic and complex process to review and ‘approve’ partnerships will likely undermine any real efforts to secure partners for an initiative. Long approval process can take away any momentum that is developed between potential partners. The key is to get internal approval on partnership concepts, potential benefits that will be offered through these arrangements and agreement templates so that when you move forward on a partnering arrangement, the approval process will be timely and efficient.

  • Evaluation Process Consistent with effective marketing, every partnering arrangement needs an effective evaluation strategy where ongoing progress can be tracked and results measured against objectives. Evaluation can include both quantitative (e.g. audience reach, exposure to messages) and qualitative (organization image, audience satisfaction) measurement criteria. If an arrangement is not working or living up to expectations, it is important to address issues as they arise and not at the end of an agreement when it is too late to make any changes.