Power of Partnerships Extra

By: Mark Athitakis

The Power of Partnership, a collaboration between ASAE & The Center and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, has a wealth of information about partnerships. Read about the book's key takeaways and how to partner better.

No two partnerships are exactly alike, of course. But common themes and best practices are connected to successful ones—an especially important point, considering that half of all partnerships fail. The Power of Partnership, written by Plexus Consulting Group, LLC, and published cooperatively by ASAE & The Center and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, covers the ins and outs of association partnerships, be it with fellow nonprofits, for-profit entities, or government agencies.

Chelsea Killam is manager, research strategy for ASAE & The Center and has discussed The Power of Partnership for ASAE & The Center's Speakers Bureau. She recently sat down with Associations Now to talk about the book's findings and some of its main takeaways.

Learn More About Partnerships
The Power of Partnership, a collaboration between ASAE & The Center and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, has additional insights into partnerships. For more on partnerships, read "The Right Path to Association Partnerships" by Bryan Ochalla in the June 2010 issue of Associations Now.

What are the main reasons why associations choose to enter into partnerships?

For associations, it's primarily an ease on their resources, allowing them to advance their mission in ways that might not otherwise be available to them. They can accomplish a lot more in a partnership than they may be able to accomplish on their own. So they'll partner with a similar association that maybe serves the same industry for lobbying efforts. Or they'll partner with a for-profit organization. One of the examples in the publication is a for-profit organization that publishes a magazine in the industry, and they partnered for a tradeshow. They had similar audiences, which sometimes but not always overlapped, so they could attract more people to the tradeshow, therefore introducing more people to the resources offered by both partners.

It's a win-win for both sides.

Yes. One of the keys of the partnerships that this publication discusses is that both organizations—or as many as are involved in the partnership—have to maintain individual identities. It can't be a merger or an acquisition, and they both see benefits and losses in the partnership. So if there's any money lost, they both lose money, and if there's anything gained, they both gain.

The book mentions early on that about half all partnerships fail. What can cause a partnership to go south?

Lack of commitment to the initial vision of the partnership is a big one. One partner may have different goals than the other does, so they're advancing their own mission rather than the mission of the partnership. More logistically, another reason is lack of communication and not sharing responsibility for the day-to-day tasks of the initiative.

What questions should an association leader be asking before pursuing a partnership?

The study reported that most associations—over 65 percent—preferred to be in a partnership with a similarly structured organization—another association or nonprofit organization. That's because there's an understanding there that a government agency or for-profit organization might not share with the association. So if you are partnering with a government agency or for-profit, make sure that they understand what your industry is about and how you operate as an organization with your board—even that you have a board.

Leaders should also be sure that they're willing to give up a little bit of control, and also that they're willing to take on a fair share of the responsibility for the work. There are things that an organization has to do to prepare before pursuing a partnership. But once you find a potential partner, a lot of the conversation revolves around making sure the partners have the resources to participate and have equal responsibility—and the ability to absorb losses if the partnership fails. Organizations need to understand each others' missions and make sure that their goals for the purpose of the partnership are in line.  That's one of the biggest contributors to failure: One organization had one idea of what they were going to get out of it that wasn't in line with the other organization.

Should the partnership be formalized contractually?

As the publication puts it, a partnership can be formed on something as simple as a handshake. Partnerships, such as joint ventures, often require very little legal footwork, and can be a lot smoother and happen a lot quicker than something like a merger. But you're also setting yourself up for a potential backlash if you don't formalize an agreement.

One of the strengths of each of the four case studies in The Power of Partnership is that each group involved in the partnership agreed to revisit the terms on a regular basis to evaluate its success in terms of its mission, and also to ask if each side was holding up its end of the bargain. If you have a written agreement, you can include a cancellation clause, and it shouldn't favor one group over the other—the decision should be by mutual agreement.

Chelsea Killam is manager, research strategy for ASAE & The Center and coordinates the ASAE & The Center Speakers Network. For more information on the Speakers Network, visit www.asaecenter.org/speakersnetwork.

Mark Athitakis is senior editor of Associations Now. Email: [email protected]