Partnerships play a vital role in the nonprofit sector. They can change lives within communities by pooling resources and services that are impossible for any organization to manage on its own. 

However, for partnerships to be genuinely effective, you need a relationship built on mutual respect, communication, and a broader understanding of the collaborative goals beyond any one person’s role. 

How Partnerships Help Nonprofits Thrive

You can’t be everything to everyone. If you try to, you risk spreading yourself too thin, experiencing mission creep, and providing lower-quality service to your clients.

That’s where partnerships come in.

These mutually beneficial relationships help broaden the umbrella of support organizations can provide.

For example, a workforce development program can help people learn how to write a resume and appropriately function on the job site. Still, they do not have the resources needed to help their participants find stable housing, which is a critical component to a person successfully maintaining employment.

Partnering with a housing program or organization can help the workforce development program further support its clients. The housing provider can also serve its mission and call on this partnership if one of their participants seeks workforce development support. 

What Makes a Partnership Work

Partnerships should be transformational, not transactional. When working with other humans, you need relational connections to keep the train moving in a trusting, transparent and mutually beneficial direction.

When programs notice that none of their clients are being successfully referred to a partner provider, it’s important to reflect on the relationship with that partner provider to figure out where the disconnect lies. 

For example, suppose you are providing your participants with your partner provider’s phone number and physical address and not making a “warm handoff.” In that case, this is most likely where the gap is: in the relationship between you and the partner provider. Do not underestimate the power of relationships and where partners can shine with their strengths so you can best support your participants.

In addition, partnerships should always be mutually beneficial. If you consistently shove your organization’s needs to the wayside to help out your partner, it’s time to evaluate whether a partnership makes sense.

Regular check-in meetings and partnership agreements are great and easy ways for both parties to help manage these relationships.

How to Leverage Partnerships for Maximum Impact

It’s common to view a partner as someone who serves just one role and leave it at that – usually this is their specific job at their organization.

However, you can explore the untapped potential within existing connections when you think beyond conventional partnership roles.

For instance, does your board member happen to volunteer for a community center where a future event could be hosted? Don’t shy away from having these conversations – you won’t know the resources partners are willing to share until you ask. 

Another great way to leverage your partnerships is to make them formal through written agreement and report that out in your communications, funder reports, and funding proposals.  No one thinks an organization can do it alone, so it’s always a great way to highlight partnerships and their roles in supporting your mission.

Remember to explore the full possibilities of your connections to get the most out of your partnerships.

Transparency and Communication in Partnerships

Accountability in partnerships is essential. Clearly define roles to avoid relationships souring or commitments not being fulfilled.

A simple partnership agreement is easy to do and is helpful for many different types of partnerships. Whether for a contractor you’ve hired or a referral partner, a written agreement helps formalize your partnerships and ensure all parties are on the same page.

It’s also an attractive document you can leverage while applying with funders to prove you have real, solid partnerships in place.

Looking Forward: Nurturing Sustainable Change 

Partnerships are a cornerstone in the work of nonprofits. So, let’s nurture them and learn to communicate openly, leverage diverse strengths, and think beyond traditional partnership roles to create sustainable change for our communities.

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