A partnership is not something new or different:
It is an established business practice in both the nonprofit and commercial sectors. Partnerships between independent and autonomous nonprofit organisations – and between such nonprofit organisations and commercial entities – can be informal, formal or legal:
- a partnership can be a collaborative arrangement for a group of nonprofit organisations to achieve something that they couldn’t do – or do sufficiently well – alone.
- a partnership can be a formal arrangement, with one party fulfilling the role of lead agency, eg where the partnership presents a collaborative proposal, tender or submission.
- a partnership can be a preliminary arrangement leading to the creation of a new legal entity, with the participating organisations being the only members of the new legal entity.
- a partnership can be formed with the intention of a larger nonprofit organisation merging one or more smaller nonprofit organisations into its own legal and organisational structures: this would entail voluntary winding-up by the smaller nonprofit organisation/s. This type of partnership is better described as a preliminary to an acquisition or merger.
The fact is that once established, the challenge for any partnership is twofold:
- to achieve the purpose for which the partnership has been established, and
- to maintain the partnership relationship through to a successful conclusion of the purpose.
Maintaining a partnership relationship is even more time-consuming than establishing the relationship, and requires continual attention and care. Key people may leave, participating organisations may experience difficulties or change direction, the partnership ‘project’ may not proceed as initially intended, resources may become scarce, or the initial vision and commitment may fade away.
Jean’s Governance Kit No. 2: Partnership Relations
This Kit addresses the increasing practice in the nonprofit sector for independent and autonomous organisations choosing – or being required – to work closely with other independent and autonomous organisations to undertake a collaborative project. The purpose of a partnership relationship can be different or additional to, but must be compatible with, the purpose of each party in the partnership.
This Kit begins by defining a partnership relationship, and
- presents a 9-stage process for a nonprofit organisation to consider options for a partnership relationship,
- explains the importance of relevant policies, procedures, protocols and work practices to guide and protect the partnership, and
- presents a discussion worksheet for each of the nine Stages, to assist with internal discussion.
Partnership relationships can be designed for short-term and long-term projects – often for a 3-5 year period. Agreeing to form or join a partnership relationship is in itself a time-consuming activity.