Are We Ready for this Relationship? Walking the Talk on Meaningful Partnerships by Julie Alsup, GPC

When you say you are going to “partner,” what exactly does that mean?  In today’s grant seeking world, it’s not necessarily enough simply to say you will “partner” with XYZ organization to achieve your objectives. HOW exactly will you partner? Agreeing to put another organization’s flyers on your front desk is not the same as allocating time and effort for full-time staff to participate in a stakeholder coalition, in order to develop a charter for collaboration that conducts joint fundraising and has a mission extending beyond that of any of the individual agency partners.

There are multiple models that demonstrate how partnerships exist along a continuum, ranging from low engagement/low risk to integrated/shared risk. Arthur Himmelman is credited with developing the continuum concept below, which is applicable to many sectors.

Source: Toolkit2Collaborate.com

Understanding where you fall is the first step to identifying methods for how you embark on your networked, coordinated, cooperative, or collaborative work.

Some key questions to ask yourself:

  • What information are you willing to share – and receive –
    • about the historical or other contextual factors that contribute to or perpetuate a social issue?
    • about potential solutions based upon evidence or experience?
  • How much risk are you willing to take to enter a dialog with other agencies that could test your beliefs and assumptions about needs or interventions?
  • Are you willing to offer your agency’s data, relationships, volunteer leadership, and stakeholder time and effort?
  • Do you feel threatened that other partners might “steal” your resources?
  • To what extent are you willing to change course or acknowledge that your initial assumptions might require altering activities? Are you willing to yield power and control of a project if another agency is more suited to address a need?
  • What kind of “skin in the game” are you willing to provide to advance an initiative or address a need that can only be tackled by agencies working together?

Grant funders expect a meaningful answer for the standard question, “How will you engage with partners?” They increasingly want to know how each entity is involved in the planning, the implementation, and the ongoing and final evaluation of a project. Acknowledging your organization’s appetite for stakeholder input and participation is an important first step in determining your methodology for building and facilitating partnerships.

Competency #3: Knowledge of strategies for effective program and project design and development

Skill #1: Identify methods of soliciting and incorporating meaningful substantive input and contributions by stakeholders.