Associations are in the partnership business – they bring people together. No matter the structure or level of formality of the relationship, successful associations facilitate and build strong partnerships for the profession or industry they represent, for their members and for their stakeholders. As well as those partnerships that associations are designed to create, associations can also benefit from other less typical alliances.

Partnerships Between Associations

One key type of partnership is partnerships between associations. These partnerships can be among related associations, associations in different geographic markets and even with associations representing competing professions or industries. The important thing is that the partnerships are structured as a true win-win.

Like any partnership, association partnerships can fail for a variety of reasons:

  • When one side feels that they are the dominant or the more successful partner
  • When partners are not truthful with each other or hold back information

As an association management company (AMC), we have watched our association clients build successful partnerships with other associations. A few examples include:

  • A national association working with a smaller international niche association to jointly host a conference. One association brought a strong track record of an annual conference while the other brought deep connections to multidisciplinary thought leaders.
  • Two national associations working jointly to lobby a government department to change policy that impacted members of both associations equally.

Structure is Important

The structure of the partnership depends on the goals of the relationship. If a joint project involves money, then a memorandum of understanding should be drafted. For a partnership involving a goal to change government policy, a jointly approved white paper might be enough. It is critical to ensure that both associations are clear on the goals and objectives of the partnership. When it comes to partnerships that involve the exchange of funds, be crystal clear on the parameters.

Make Sure the Partnership Is Clear to Association Staff

Defining roles and responsibilities on joint projects for both volunteers and staff is important. Knowing who is doing what and who they are reporting to can reduce strain. Dividing responsibilities based on organizational and personal strengths is the way to go.

When working together, whether on a single project or in the long term on many joint projects, communication is key. Someone needs to take the lead on ensuring that there is regular two-way communication. Good communication keeps projects on track and avoids surprises so avoid the trap of having everyone in charge and make sure someone in one association or the other owns the responsibility for clear communication.

A national association we manage was blindsided when a long-term association partner in another country announced that they were opening a competing local chapter. This announcement brought a partnership that had developed over many decades to a screeching halt. No matter how good the communication may have been, the relationship would have been damaged by the decision, but the fallout could have been less severe.

Is Partnering Right For Your Association?

Bringing people together is core to what associations do and extending this to having associations partner with other organizations for the benefit of their members is a natural extension.

In addition to partnerships with other associations, also consider partnerships with government, private businesses and academic institutions. The same rules for successful partnerships apply to these as well.

Look around the perimeter of your association’s space and consider who you can partner with to better meet the goals of your members and your association.