Partnerships between non-profits can be a great way to take your organization to the next level. Sharing resources lowers costs and increases personnel who share a similar passion and working towards a common goal. Like a romantic relationship, both partners need to put relatively the same amount of effort into the partnership. Also, both or all partners should be receiving an equal amount of benefits from the agreement.
In non-profit partnerships communication is essential. What are you putting in to it? What is the other organization putting into it? How are you benefiting from this partnership? How are they benefiting? Who will be making sure that all sides stay on target and accountable?
When partnerships fail, however, things can get toxic. One sided partnerships will only lead to disaster; all organizations will be left with bitter feelings and not much accomplished. Like romantic relationships, ‘sticking it out’ doesn’t work if both parties aren’t willing to fix the problems. Both sides can become resentful, and most likely aren’t getting what they are supposed to out of the partnership. Even if it seemed convenient or was working well in the past, if a partnership is no longer working it is time to end it.
Ending partnerships can be extremely difficult. My organization fell into a trap of entering a partnership of convenience without properly evaluating how we were going to benefit. When we did end it, things became personal and nasty very quickly. Sadly these things happen. I’m infinitely grateful that my organization was able to maintain composure and respect, because in the long run, our common constituents took our side.
If possible, you need to not burn bridges. In my case that was impossible, but you need to maintain a level of respect and composure throughout the situation. The non-profit sector can be like a small town. Burning a bridge or being nasty could set off a chain reaction you weren’t even aware of. Even when it’s difficult, stay classy.
Through my experience the best advice I could give is to write everything out, and assume nothing. Whether you are best friends or colleagues, writing out all of the terms of the partnership will help you maintain healthy, respectful, mutually beneficial goals. Also, allow you and your partner(s) to reevaluate the terms of the partnership after a set period of time. Organizations change and evolve and so should partnerships; nothing has to be stagnant nor permanent.
Be open-minded, communicate, and stay respectful. Good luck!