What is a Partnership Specialist?

July 25, 2023 4 minute read

Partnership Specialist

Drawing on our experience in cross-sector partnerships with USAID, catalyst organizations, and private sector clients, we wrote an Insights piece on the most important questions to ask potential candidates when hiring a Partnership Specialist.

That piece was widely shared across socials, with many people from an array of organizations engaging in comments, likely given the growing number of companies creating and filling positions under the “partnership” banner.

One comment included accolades for the advice, followed by “Is this what we are calling this role?” accompanied by the poster’s tag of their fellow colleague.

So, What is a Partnership Specialist?

A Partnership Manager. A Partnership Strategist. A CSR Leader.

There are a variety of titles for this varied role, but they are all by design leading, managing, or a tour de force member of teams charged with designing collaborations and partnerships internally and externally in the face of breakpoint change.

Given specific organizational goals, directives, and commitments, these roles include forging innovative partnerships with other companies and local businesses, trade and professional organizations, NGOs, funding entities, research groups and universities, local communities, governments and agencies, suppliers, customers, and an array of other stakeholders. Wow. That's a lot of potential partners. 

It’s important to distinguish here that partnership development in this context is not focused on traditional business functions associated with engaging partners who can provide beneficial goods and services or maintaining business client relationships. 

Rather, we are discussing the roles and functions of partnership specialists engaged in the Impact Sector – those tasked with looking for opportunities to collaborate with partners to reach targets and goals that have social, environmental, and sustainable impact.

According to Shannon Houde, career coach in the impact sector and whose new book, “Good Work: How to Build a Career that Makes a Difference in the World,” we featured in our recent Insights,  these types of roles are diverse, creative, and growing.

Roles and Functions of Partnership Specialists

If today’s Insights timestamp is a snapshot of the occupational outlook for ‘partnership specialist’ roles as defined in the context of this discussion, the profession is promising.

  • For example, Barclays has a partnership specialist opening. As a Barclays Vice President of Partnerships and Special Projects, the professional selected for this role will support the Director, Strategic Partnerships and Engagement with all senior relationships, both internal and external. This will include maintaining big picture, strategic oversight of ongoing engagement with cross-sector and industry groups to ensure the many activities of the team are coordinated and aligned in a way that maximizes strategic opportunity and builds pathways for future progress. In addition to exceptional interpersonal and diplomacy skills, with a proven track record of managing business relationships and developing internal and external networks, the person who fills this role must demonstrate excellent technical knowledge/experience of Sustainability and ESG issues, particularly in relation to financial services.

  • The World Wildlife Fund (WWF) is seeking a Manager, Private Sector Engagement (PSE) to harness the power of business as a force for driving positive environmental change. The Washington, DC organization maintains partnerships with 100+ leading companies on engagements spanning from sustainable commodities, emission reductions and watershed management to reducing the impact of packaging and single-use plastics to employee engagement and consumer education campaigns. This partnership specialist will serve as a key contributor on the PSE leadership team and collaborates closely with PSE’s transformational partnerships team and WWF’s conservation teams – shaping the impact framework and metrics for WWF’s corporate partnerships. The Manager is responsible for developing and managing global partnerships that support WWF’s work with companies. This position also drives special projects assigned by the CEO or SVP as needed. The organization also has an open position for a Senior Program Officer of PSE. 

  • The Global Fund for Women is seeking a dynamic Sr. Director, Participatory Approaches (US Based only) reporting to the Assistant Vice President, Global Partnerships and Engagement. This is an exciting role - serving as the lead for the Participatory Approach pod within the Global Partnerships team. The Pod Lead will primarily be responsible in this partnership role for advancing the strategic priorities assigned to the pod by working with Global Fund for Women’s movement partners, resource partners, peers, and strategic advisors.  With an ultimate vision of advancing gender and climate justice globally, the Pod Lead is an expert at cross-pollinating insights and coordinating strategies towards the mobilization and deployment of funds in response to movements’ needs. The person in this role is a highly skilled resource mobilization/fund-raising expert and program manager with 15+ years of experience and a track record of successfully leading strategic planning, strategizing, budgeting, and supervising teams. They embrace Global Fund for Women’s ideals of centering social movements in all our work as a global feminist fund while successfully developing and executing a responsive and effective fundraising strategy.
  • Save the Children is hiring a Senior Director, Climate Partnerships (M2). Working in close partnership with technical climate leads across Save the Children US (SCUS), Save the Children International (SCI) and the organization's global movement, the Senior Director, Climate Partnerships will lead climate-related efforts to mobilize private resources from US donors, build strategic influence and external positioning on climate, and contribute to internal climate initiatives within SCUS and the global movement. Leading transformative change as a partnership specialist within SCUS and in the market, the Senior Director, Climate Partnerships will bring the expertise and ability to knowledgeably influence leading actors in the climate sectorposition SCUS to maximize its impact for children in the face of the climate emergency.

These are but a few partnership specialist roles that either focus wholly, or as one component of the role, on partnership development, nurturing, and management for social and sustainable impact.

In addition to following career coaches like Shannon who have depth in the sustainability and impact space for partnership specialist opportunities, there are many influential voices on LinkedIn who share information related to partnerships, careers, and even ongoing position openings globally. This includes Amanda Ponzarm, Chief Communications & Marketing Officer; CSR, ESG, Social Impact Leader, who shares with her more than 11k followers featured professional opportunities, as well as tools, research, and other information. 

How to Partner with Purpose

As companies tackle pressing challenges related to climate change, ESG, Scope Emissions reductions, UNSDGs and other sustainability undertakings, most recognize they cannot do it alone, especially regarding the complexities of challenges upstream and downstream in their supply and value chains. Pre-Competitive and Cross-Sector partnerships are among the most promising approaches. Resonance also fills a number of positions related to partnership management and strategy given in these areas given our track record in designing and implementing collaborative, cross-sector partnerships.

Resonance founder Steve Schmida wrote the book on partnerships, focusing not only on why partnerships and collaboration are necessary, but citing specific case examples detailing the ways partnerships can achieve greater impact for all partners involved.

He also dedicates an entire chapter to the roles of partnership specialists on collaborative teams and requisite soft skills that make a difference in partnership outcomes. Regardless of the official position title, professions engaging in partnership development and execution in the social and sustainable impact space are valuable changemakers in organizations.

That’s why attracting the best Partnership Specialist to your team is of critical importance in the coming years.

And yes; those interview questions we outlined? Those will go a long way in helping you attract the ideal candidates to those roles.

Editor’s Note: This post has been updated for accuracy and current best practices.

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If you are a corporate leader and would like to be a part of a discussion about these and other issues in the presidential transition, contact Resonance Strategic Partnerships Manager, Seth Olson.