The Dance of the Key Partner

There is nothing more alluring than the dance of the key partner – you eye each other from across the dance floor, gauging the relative appeal of the opposing party, trying to understand if she’s worthy of your attention. And then the dance begins – who brings what to the table? what are your offering in return? how can I appease the other to get what I want? who will blink first?

In the social sector, the dance may not be about profit but there are other factors at work: status, prestige, impact, publicity, funding… I have to admit, the social sector does have a bit more openness, transparency than the for-profit world. Is it the innocence of those at work in the sector, or perhaps they are just less trained in the arts of corporate wiles and negotiation?

Sometimes the dance is like two mice trying to convince the other that they are actually elephants, fleet of foot on the dance floor. Sometimes only one of the parties is the mouse, and then we just try to discover who is deceiving who. In our case, I admit we are mice… but what are we trying to appear to be?

In the past few weeks we’ve started into the first throes of this dance with a large non-profit organization to co-develop our volunteering platform. Our goals are the same, i.e. increase the rate of volunteer activation in Turkey, we are both at relatively the same stage of idea development, and we generally agree on the main philosophical approaches to the subject but our relative strengths and areas of focus are quite different. Basically, we are attempting the attack the same problem from different angles. From a purely logical standpoint, it’s a solid match. But the dance must still be danced.

Given the limitations of social startups, specifically in regards to funding and resources, strategic partners are a must. It’s impossible to own all the resources and activities required during the startup phase, and even pretty difficult when they scale. But given the relatively politicized environment of the social sector, choosing the right partners, and weighing the relative gains and losses of the partnership, is essential. Don’t jump into the dance with any nice-looking mouse or elephant that comes along.

Questions to consider:

  • What are my Critical Success Factors?
  • What are the Key Activities and Key Resources of my enterprise?
  • Which of these can I achieve via a strategic partnership?
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