Develop Partnerships to Expand Impact

Foundation_partnership impact February 23, 2021 By: Jenny Nelson

Associations frequently collaborate around a common cause. An ASAE Research Foundation study highlights how associations have leveraged partnerships to achieve greater impact than they could have on their own.

The pandemic has pushed association staffs to do more with less—to advocate for, communicate to, and educate their members while under pressure to transform their traditional sources of engagement and revenue. It might also provide the opportunity for leaders to work together and work differently on shared needs and challenges.

Impact Every Day, the ASAE Research Foundation’s forthcoming report on the role of associations in society, collected diverse evidence of associations’ positive impact. A surprising reveal, though, was the importance of partnerships and collaboration to successful association initiatives. The report suggests that collaboration is key to transformative thinking, and it provides a collection of case studies that illustrate varied approaches to impactful partnerships.

Collaborate to Transform

For the study, researchers interviewed leaders from business, education, government, and other fields for their perspectives on associations. When they were asked for recommendations to improve the value of associations to their fields, greater collaboration among organizations was at the top of the list. Participants noted that such collaborations would strengthen the association sector but also enable associations “to identify and promote areas of ‘synergies’ across industries.” They expressed particular interest in how organizations might foster exchanges with thought leaders outside their specific fields and industries to tackle shared challenges.

Associations that take a collaborative approach have the potential to advance transformative thinking in their fields and across the association sector. Interviewed leaders could not settle on a single definition of “transformative thinking”: A majority saw its purpose as addressing the current problems of their field, while a smaller group viewed transformative thinking as an imaginative and strategic consideration of future challenges. Though the interviewees did not see associations as active in advancing either form among their fields, many agreed that associations were well positioned to do so.

Associations that take a collaborative approach have the potential to advance transformative thinking in their fields and across the association sector.

Collaborate for Impact

Of the 20 initiatives profiled in the Impact Every Day case studies, 85 percent were developed through some kind of collaboration, often with other associations. The kinds of partnerships varied, and associations often engaged multiple partnerships at different junctures.

Collaborations among associations develop and amplify campaigns and programs around a shared community concern. For example, when Congress threatened to set caps on reimbursements for critical therapies, the American Occupational Therapy Association, Inc., the American Speech-Language-Hearing Association, and the American Physical Therapy Association organized an advocacy campaign to “Stop the Cap,” ultimately uniting 40 different associations and patient groups in a successful fight. Sigma Nu Fraternity joined forces with Zeta Tau Alpha, a sorority, to develop and implement sexual assault prevention training for their members. The initiative grew to include 10 other fraternal organizations and has delivered training to more than 20,000 college students.

Leaders also cultivated collaborations with organizations outside of the association sphere to advance their work. The National Council for Behavioral Health partnered with close to 50 organizations and individuals to promote their Mental Health First Aid program, resulting in more than 2 million people trained in mental health first aid and $23 million in funding from Congress for the initiative. The Sign Research Foundation convened city officials, sign fabricators, and other relevant stakeholders in an advisory committee to help define best practices for public wayfinding systems.

Not every partnership will—or has to—result in society-changing impact, but a collaborative approach will broaden an initiative’s reach and help leaders and members think differently about the challenges before them. The case studies provide numerous examples of effective partnerships and collaborations. Dive into the Impact Every Day study to read them all.


Jenny Nelson

Jenny Nelson is director, content and knowledge resources, at ASAE.