Partnerships are essential building blocks in the non-profit sector. Strong partnerships enable organizations do more than they could alone, become more diverse and innovative in their thinking and have the potential to reach a far wider audience.

In the Partnership Handbook, by Flo Frank and Anne Smith, “a partnership is defined as a relationship in which two or more parties, having compatible goals, form an agreement to share the work, share the risk and share the results or proceeds.” The idea of sharing of workload, risk and results is an attractive prospect to most non-profits; however, partnerships are often hard work, and require commitment, planning, nurturing and compromise to be successful.

According to Frank and Smith, “before agreeing to be involved in a partnership, it is important to determine personal readiness to participate, the organization’s interest and ability to be a good partner and the preparedness of the community in which the partnership will operate.” A clear, definite purpose for the partnership is important to ensuring all parties are on board for the right reasons.

There is no single model of partnership. Most partnerships are as unique as the people and organizations involved. In her paper Partnerships: The Good, The Bad and The Uncertain, Sherri Torjman, writes about several types of partnerships: Preemptive partnerships are created to attempt to defuse a situation that is currently or potential hostile. Coalescing partnerships bring together parties that depend on each other accomplish their goals but typically compete for projects and resources. Exploration partnerships research or investigate issues of joint concern; these collaborations often involve parties that have not worked together in the past. Leverage partnerships are mutually beneficial arrangements that allow each party to make a modest investment in return for relatively high social, political or financial return. Partnerships can also be advisory, contributory, operational and collaborative.

Advisory/consultative partnerships: receive public input around change, or to gather ideas for future policies

Contributory partnerships: formed to benefit a specific organization or the community more generally.

Operational partnerships: work-sharing arrangements in which the components of a given task are delegated to specific parties.

Collaborative partnerships: set up to share resources, risks and decision-making.


A positive partnership will include:

  • Agreement that a partnership is necessary;
  • Respect and trust between different interests in the partnership;
  • Leadership of respected individuals;
  • Commitment of key interests developed through a clear and open process;
  • Development of a shared vision of what might be achieved;
  • Time to build and nurture the partnership;
  • Shared mandates or agendas;
  • Development of compatible ways of working;
  • Flexibility by all parties;
  • Good communication, perhaps aided by a facilitator;
  • Collaborative decision-making, with a commitment to achieving consensus; and
  • Effective organizational management.

A successful partnership values and openly acknowledges the different types of power that each individual or organization brings. Partnership should, and does, serve our self-interests. It is important for us to acknowledge that self-interest can be a primary motivation. Still, working together in partnership does provide possibilities of more than just the sum of the individuals or organizations working together. When working well, partnerships have tremendous potential to accomplish outcomes one party could not do on their own.


Vision – A common picture for the future

Goals – The desired outcomes

Membership – Deciding who will be involved

Commitment – An agreement to work together

Action Plan – What it will take to reach the goals

Roles & Responsibilities – Who will do what?

Communication – How will information be shared?

Resources – People, time and funds to make things happen

Evaluation – Knowing when you are successful

Revision and Closure – Understanding how to adjust and when to move on.

*adapted from The Partnership Handbook, by Flo Frank and Anne Smith, Caledon institute of Social Policy, 1997.

Other links:

Partnerships: The Good, The Bad and The Uncertain, by Sherri Torjman.  Caledon Institute of Social Policy, June 1998.
The Partnerships Handbook, by Flo Frank and Anne Smith, Labour Market Learning and Development Unit, Human Resources Development Canada (HRDC), 2000.
The Partnership Toolkit, by Collaboration Roundtable, Spring 2001. Involve BC, Community Development, Cooperatives and Volunteers.