Decoding Partnership Opportunities Pt. 2: Fundamentals

By Karen Lehman April 24, 2024

The best outcome for any partnering strategy is when the plan is developed through a strategic process of evaluating your organization’s future...

In this article’s second part on decoding partnership opportunities, we will look specifically at the fundamentals for considering an affiliation or partnership strategy. In our article on Strategic Relationship Insights, we set the stage for considering partnership relationships through the lens of a strategic planning process; considering your organization’s future based on current strengths, opportunities, and aspirations. The best outcome for any partnering strategy is when the plan is developed through a strategic process of evaluating your organization’s future. Being clear, transparent, and honest about your organization’s current positioning will put you in the “driver’s seat” for affiliation discussions and considerations.

There are many reasons to consider partnerships, the most common being for survival, economies of scale, skills needed in executive leadership, frequent leadership turnover, access to capital, access to new or different programs and services, advancing technology, and accelerating a growth strategy. In a proactive stance, acknowledging your organization’s weaknesses and competitive challenges is critical. Do you want to protect your organization’s mission and history by looking at your strategic options or are you willing to take the risk of not looking at affiliation options and losing all that you have built?

An important step is to consider assigning a special task force to discern an affiliation strategy. This is a board-appointed task force that is given specific direction on their responsibility and authority. The organization’s CEO may also be included, particularly if they are retiring or will bring an unbiased and open approach to the process. The task force can begin to dig into the affiliation considerations and report on their work to the full board at appropriate intervals.

The task force can begin to work on establishing objectives for the affiliation. What is the driving motivation?  What is it strategically that your organization needs to continue to exist or to grow?  Those objectives could be access to capital or financial support, executive leadership, etc. It is also important to be clear about what you do not want to lose or relinquish in an affiliation. Maybe it’s your identity, existing leadership, governance control, or key programs. Clear objectives about what you want and don’t want will guide you to the best potential partner(s).

With those criteria in hand, the next step is to begin evaluating organizations that could be potential affiliate partners. Distance, size, faith affiliation, financial strength, leadership, and reputation are all ways to evaluate organizations you may want to consider. Many tools can be used to list and compare potential partners; it is usually better to start by casting a wide net in the early exploration phase.

Now you are ready to draft a letter of interest. Here’s where it begins to get harder to do this work on your own. A neutral party can reach out and solicit interest (without sharing your name) and give some general information for a potential partner to understand the opportunity. This process quickly narrows the potential candidate pool and then the real work begins!

We will delve further into the issue of an outside facilitator and the next steps in the affiliation process in the third part of this article series.

Article 3 coming soon!