By combining forces and making a united application for grants, small organisations are often able to win better financial backing. However, forming and maintaining a successful partnership is not easy. Here are five tips.
1. Work out the goals and how to achieve them
All parties must establish exactly what the aims of the partnership are and how they will be reached. Each side of the partnership should understand clearly what their responsibilities are. The South London BME partnership is a group of six black and minority ethic organisations that teamed up to bid for funding and won a £500,000 grant from infrastructure organisation Capacitybuilders. Nero Ughwujabo, director of Croydon BME Forum, which is the biggest partner in the group, says it's vital to declare at the outset what your intentions are and what you want to achieve to make it work. "You've got to pick your partners wisely," he says. "And you must all be clear on your roles before you start, or people can become disenfranchised and the partnership will break down before you get started."
2. Get the support of key stakeholders
This is a major element in building a successful partnership. Nottingham Council for Voluntary Service teamed up with management consultancy N2 Consulting to produce a free guide on planning and managing successful partnerships in the not-for-profit sector. Jon Stevens, co-author of the guide and commissioning manager at the Nottingham CVS, says stakeholder support is vital to the success of the collaboration. "It's key to any partnership," he says. "You need to understand what they want and have open and transparent communication with them so they can fully understand the aims of the partnership." Ensuring stakeholder support is listed in the guide as phase three of a six-phase process.
3. Put your money where your mouth is
Nicola Davis, a director at N2 Consulting, who wrote the partnerships guide with Stevens, says that once you get the backing of stakeholders, it's time to commit the resources that will be needed. "It's a commitment of your finances and manpower, but as well as the increased funding opportunities it will open up, there are strategic benefits," she says. "You can share ideas and become more innovative together. You are essentially part of a new business, which could open up areas and opportunities that you couldn't previously get into."
Ughwujabo thinks all members should commit what they can from the beginning and be treated equally throughout a partnership. "It doesn't matter who controls the money," he says. "We always make sure we share resources with our partners. We also share premises for meetings and workshops; we share ideas and generally support each other."
4. Sort out any niggles
Once the groundwork has been done, it's time to get the partnership up and running - but at this point it is vital to look back over the planning stages and make sure goals are being achieved. Stevens says some key questions need addressing at this stage because the partnership is moving onto a different level. "Among other things, they'll need to make sure communications are working effectively and the budget is being controlled well," he says. "This is the time to make sure any issues are ironed out."
5. Keep communicating
You should review your partnership development strategy and have regular meetings as you go forward to ensure you stay focused and deal with problems as soon as they arise. "It's all about making your services more efficient, more accessible for service users and more saleable to funders," says Stevens. "Good communication will help all parties work more smoothly together and complement each others' work. This is what the funders are looking for and, at the same time, it creates a continuity of care by linking your service users into a network."
Ughwujabo says members of the South London BME partnership have bi-monthly meetings, which are invaluable. "They are absolutely essential because otherwise there would be complete disarray," he says. "That is the place and time we can resolve issues, plan future developments and talk about operational difficulties. It makes the partnership stronger."