The Importance of Partnerships

I. Why Partner?

A. Organizational Capacity.

1. Partnerships also helped some grantees expand programming.

B. Engaging New Audiences.

C. Building Organizational Networks.

II. Where the Paths Diverge

A. Efficiency.

B. To Obtain Grant Funds.

1. Doing A to obtain B

III. Why Weren’t Partnerships More Successful?

A. Insufficient Resources and Funding.

B. Tangential to Mission.

1. Grantees clearly bore responsibility for entering partnerships that were tangential to their missions.

C. Logistical Difficulties.

D. Contention Between Partners.

E. Although misplaced incentives, inadequate funds, inappropriate objectives, and logistical difficulties certainly mattered, all pointed to a deeper problem.

IV. Lessons for Forming Partnerships

A. In theory, foundations are right: Partnerships can be a powerful tool for strengthening cultural participation and expanding audiences.

B. Foundations and grantees need to adopt a more hardheaded stance on whether partnering is warranted, given the objective at hand.

C. Planning.

D. Grantees contemplating partnerships would also be well advised to scrutinize the reality of partnering closely.

E. When planning, a nonprofit needs be honest about the level of commitment it can offer, whether the partnership really fits its mission, and whether the partnership justifies the resources that it will consume.

F. Account for Costs.

G. Foundations also need to recognize that partnerships are usually less of a bargain than they think.

H. Partnerships involving small organizations are likely to require additional funds to ensure that the organizations’ capacities are not strained by participation.

Summary: The most important thing foundations and grantees must keep in mind is what they want to accomplish substantively – and then think about what incentives and methods will truly bring those ends about. This requires relinquishing the hope that partnering – or any other method – will magically produce cost effective solutions to complex problems or reduce the necessity of making hard choices about accomplishing priorities with finite resources. Doing so will help foundations and nonprofits alike avert the ever-present risk of falling prey to “Kerr’s folly.”

National Trust, Working Together. 1996

Process of Partnership Development

Set expectations

Define initial goals

Select the right partner

Identify areas of mutual interest and define partnership goals

Involve the right people

Define partnership objectives

Develop an action plan

Implement a partnership project

Evaulate outcome and plan future partnership projects

Expand the partnership base.

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