Your friend has decided that you need help with your social life so she sets you up with a blind date….a friend of a friend of a friend. You, foolishly, accept. Now there you are. It’s less than one hour since you were introduced. You are sitting in a Thai restaurant and you hate Thai food. The entrée has not yet been served. His idea of enlightened conversation is who will be in the final four…you aren’t into sports. He knows the weekly TV schedule verbatim….you haven’t sat through a movie in months because you run marathons and volunteer at the local food bank. He says, “Volunteering is a waste of time because you can’t help ‘those people’ anyway.” You look at your watch; see that it’s only been 10 minutes since you last looked at it the last time and wonder how long it is before you can gracefully remove yourself from the situation. Been there?

Now imagine a date with someone you met through internet dating and have been chatting online with and exchanging emails with for quite some time. First, you don’t need to be introduced. You already know this man. You are sitting in an Italian restaurant enjoying a delightful meal because you both know that the other’s favorite is Italian. The conversation flows easily as you discuss common interests. He runs marathons and loves history just like you do. You happily discuss the volunteer work that each of you is involved in. You look at your watch and discover that it is late…very late…where Has the time gone.

There is a big difference between a well-intentioned friend “setting you up” and choosing a man for yourself who shares your interests and tastes, isn’t there? Now which one would you rather have?

Based on my experience with YMCA of the USA, here are considerations if you, as an ALR researcher, wish to develop more partners in your work.
1 Understand the strengths and weaknesses that your organization brings to any partnership. A decade ago, they did not fully appreciate the value of having more than 2000 Ys serving nearly 10,000 communities; a majority of U.S. households within three miles of any; a national system to train and certify Y staff; a system to advocate for state and federal public policy.

2 If you seek more partners, you need to make partnership development a fundamental part of your strategy. Many organizations have a fundraising strategy. Many researchers have a strategy to get published. But how many have a partnership strategy? Partnerships will develop haphazardly or not at all without such a strategy.

Even if you have a partnership strategy, it is important to recognize that developing partnerships take time. In my experience, it takes on average 1½ years to develop a robust partnership. development process, you are looking for many partners—not just one!

3 With a partnership strategy in place, it becomes necessary to find suitable partners. At the risk of belaboring the courtship metaphor, when you are just starting out, do not underestimate the power of the internet to find a match! Conducting research about people or organizations with shared interests can be a great first step. One of the YMCA of the USA’s partners was discovered by surfing the web looking for a university faculty member with specific research interests. Once discovered, we placed a call to express our admiration of the research and to determine the value in aligning the faculty member’s research interests and our organizational strategy.

4 Assuming you are making partnerships a fundamental part of your strategy, you have factored in the amount of time it takes to develop them, and you have found partners in multiple ways, the opportunities and challenges become more evident. The biggest opportunity is reflected in the saying, “If you want to go fast, go alone. If you want to go far, go together”. In my experience, partnerships have created far greater impact than going it alone. The YMCA’s Diabetes Prevention Program, for example, would not currently be helping thousands of people prevent type 2 diabetes in hundreds of locations across the country were it not for our partnerships. Partnerships also bring reputational value to both parties. The partnership between the LIVESTRONG® Foundation and the Y on a group-based physical activity and well-being program for adult cancer survivors illustrates this point. The Y has benefited because it has not historically been a top-of-mind resource for cancer survivors to achieve their holistic health goals.

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