February 20, 2019

6 ways to launch and maintain smart partnerships

For nonprofit leaders and social entrepreneurs, local and national partnerships can help elevate your mission.

As a new nonprofit, creating partnerships with the right people and organizations can be one of the fundamental pillars for sustaining your organization. When looking to start a partnership, it’s important to ensure that not only are business goals are met, but that the partners are aligned with your organization’s mission and vision.

Over the past two years, I have learned a lot about working with other organizations and companies, how to approach partnership conversations, and how to maintain a good working relationship—one where we are not compromising our vision as an organization. Here are some of the strategies I’ve learned along the way to create and maintain partnerships and collaborations with organizations.

1. Define a clear strategy and make sure that it aligns with your goals, values, mission and vision. This is likely the hardest step, as it really requires you to ensure that your business plan and goals are completed and fully developed. This is to make sure that when other organizations are learning about your work and how to work with you, there won’t be any holes to poke or gaps in your plan. That’s not to say that you can’t change and shift things along the way, but the more you solidify your goals and mission, the stronger your proposal and approach will be.

2. Your outreach strategy will need to follow your goals. Who can help you meet your current goals? Once you have a plan, you’ll need to align your outreach strategy with it, so that you’re reaching out to the right people who are also working to achieve a similar mission to yours in their organization. When I reached out to Katie Allen from Fiix Software, I was doing research about organizations that care about communities and people. When I connected with her, our conversation immediately confirmed that we’re both aligned to support communities, innovation, and inclusion. Even better, they were 10 minutes away, which means that they were close in proximity to understand our community.

3. Be patient but persistent. It’s definitely a balancing act to figure out the fine line between waiting patiently and being persistent, I’ve yet to nail it myself. It’s important that partners you plan on working with know that you want to collaborate with them. Don’t feel shy to follow up on a proposal you submitted. However, it’s also important to give people time to carefully consider your proposal.

Sharing your story, why you’re doing what you’re doing, and most importantly, sharing the impact of your work, can be a powerful way to build a strong network of partners who believe in your mission.

4. Think about what the other organization has to gain from a partnership or collaboration. Partnerships aren’t a one-way street. Both organizations should gain something out of it. When Parkdale Centre reached out to Rogers Communications, we learned that they’re making an effort in working and supporting underserved communities and youth to have access to STEAM programs. Because Parkdale Centre works directly with newcomer and refugee families in the community, it made complete sense to offer a program focused on grades 7-12 learning STEAM. Make the case to the organization on how they could benefit from partnering with you specifically.

5. Partnerships are about a long-term relationship, not short-term. Start with the intention of working with organizations on a long-term basis. It’s one way for both sides to get the most value out of a partnership. It’s also a way to strengthen both organizations’ role in the work you’re aiming to accomplish. When Parkdale Centre initially connected with Alterna Savings’ Community Investments Manager, Susan Henry, we decided to start with an agreement of Alterna providing micro-financing for women entrepreneurs at our nonprofit. In this way, we both learned about working with each other and worked to develop that relationship slowly overtime. A few months later, we got accepted for a Financial Inclusion grant, which supported the Women in Leadership program at Parkdale Centre. What this taught me that it’s okay to start small, and work your way up to larger partnerships.

6. Understand your own value and believe in your mission. Who better to believe your own value than yourself? It’s important that you first believe in yourself and what you’re looking to accomplish before you approach any conversations about partnerships and collaboration. This about why you’re doing what you’re doing, and what you hope to accomplish out of it. Tell your story in the most authentic way, and believe in it. Because your authentic story and your voice will be the reason why people will want to work with you. It can be hard to tell our own personal stories, especially when it comes to business conversations. Sharing your story, why you’re doing what you’re doing, and most importantly, sharing the impact of your work, can be a powerful way to build a strong network of partners who believe in your mission.

What are some strategies that you’ve used in the past that led to successful partnerships?

Rusul Alrubail

Rusul Alrubail is the Executive Director of Parkdale Centre for Innovation, a Canadian nonprofit committed to making entrepreneurial and professional skills accessible through inclusive programs, with a focus on equity and innovation. Alrubail is also a writer, educator, and social justice advocate.