Companies and global development organizations launch partnerships for many reasons, and not all of them are good ones. While you might easily whip up a spreadsheet full of different partnership opportunities or ideas, it can be difficult to prioritize the partnerships that are best suited to your particular organization, opportunities, and constraints.
Cross-sector collaboration works best when it yields more than the sum of its parts. Partnerships should address specific partner pain points, combining resources and filling gaps to catalyze impact. Their promised results—for each partner—need to outweigh their costs. And they should be built on a foundation that’s solid enough to weather bumps in the road.
So, as you consider partnering to solve your business or development challenge, we’re sharing a quick checklist you can use to assess the strengths and weaknesses of potential partnerships and prioritize the best opportunities. By remembering these key tenets, you’re well on your way to launching a transformative collaboration.
9 Criteria to Determine Whether You Pursue a Partnership, or Not
1. The Partnership Is Relevant to My Core Challenges or Goals
Always start with the problem you’re trying to solve. To what extent does this partnership idea align with this problem and offer a promising vision for solving it? Some partnership ideas will touch on your organizational challenges and objectives in tangential ways, or they may focus on lower-priority issues. While these could be interesting opportunities, they are less likely to be able—in the long run—to rally the commitment and resources you’ll need internally to see the partnership through.
2. The Partnership Has Good Chances of Success
Let’s say the partnership is very relevant to your core challenge. Now ask: Is this partnership idea a moonshot or can we expect—with reasonable certainty—that we’ll be successful if we set down this path?
3. A Successful Outcome Will Move the Needle in Solving My Problem
Next question: The partnership might be very relevant and its likelihood of success might be high. But is that success a significant step forward for solving your problem? The partnership’s results need to justify its costs.
4. The Partnership Offers an Efficient Way to Address My Problem
All partnerships take time and effort. That said, a partnership should be offering efficiency gains, letting you solve your problem better, more ambitiously, and with fewer resources than you could on your own.
5. There is Long-Term Potential for Sustainability and Scale
Some problems can be solved quickly, but, often, the true success of a partnership is whether it can create results that last. For each partnership idea, consider whether there is a viable and likely pathway for sustainability and scale. Is there a built-in partnership business model, for example, that could help you solve the problem in a lasting, self-replicating way? Are there one or more partners who might take on the solution for continued evolution and scale?
For example, we helped facilitate a partnership between USAID, Vodafone, and local insurance companies in Ghana, to innovate an affordable microinsurance and savings product for artisanal fisherfolk. When the USAID project ended, the local companies fully owned the solution, continuing to iterate the product offering for scale to other smallholder sectors in Ghana.
6. The Idea is Innovative or Game-Changing in Some Way
Partnerships are most valuable when they let you tackle something you wouldn’t or couldn’t venture alone. Allow the relationship to open up new ways of approaching the problem. Give extra points to those partnership ideas that aim to do something different—and hopefully better—than what has already been done.
Note that innovation can also mean a willingness to do things differently internally. Teams should be open to new ways of working together and with external collaborators. For example, Resonance supports a number of pre-competitive partnerships between partners who seek to address persistent industry challenges. In Pakistan, we’re working with SAI Platform member partners on pre-competitive collaboration to advance sustainable agriculture in overlapping company supply chains.
7. The Partnership Brings Real Value to My Partner
You know you want any future partnership to meet your objectives. But it is also absolutely in your self-interest that any partnerships you pursue deliver core value to your partners as well. If your partners are not sufficiently motivated, you risk investing in a weak engagement that will fizzle at the first setback.
The partnership idea should solve a key challenge for your potential partner(s) or unlock a substantive opportunity. If a partnership isn’t generating a return on investment—whether financial, impact-driven, or otherwise—that organization’s participation will inevitably wane.
8. We Have the Capacity to Execute
A partnership idea might be excellent, but if your team doesn’t have the staff time or resources to deliver on your expected roles, you’ll likely want to think again. For every partnership idea on your list, consider what roles your own organization will most likely need to play and weigh this against the level of investment, capacity, and internal buy-in you can expect. The first step in successful collaboration is being clear-eyed about what your own team can—and will—deliver. (That said, many teams benefit from engaging a third-party partnership builder, to help navigate, champion, and manage the partnership.)
9. The Timeline for Impact Is Compatible with Our Needs
Different partnerships yield impact on different timelines. Some are geared toward achieving near-term fixes, with fast results. Others strive toward long-term goals that may take years to realize. In assessing your partnership ideas, it’s important to be honest about your own organization’s expectations and time constraints. International donors like USAID, for example, usually operate in multi-year project cycles, while corporate partners can face pressure to show quarterly results. For partnerships that look to seed future impact, consider whether you could build in quick wins or interim milestones.
A Systematic Approach to Prioritizing Your Cross-Sector Partnership Ideas
At Resonance, we guide teams through every stage of cross-sector partnership development. And we’re emphatic about winnowing down great partnership ideas to the ones that are most actionable, practical, and strategic. After all, partners have limited bandwidth and great partnerships take time.
Not all partnerships are created equal. By taking a systematic approach to prioritizing your partnership ideas, you can help your organization focus on collaboration for maximum impact. The list above will let you pursue partnerships that’ll have the greatest chance at creating effective, lasting solutions to your toughest challenges.
And, when in doubt, companies and global development organizations can consult an experienced third-party partnership builder to help them uncover and implement strategic, shared-value partnerships that can advance their impact goals.