© 2014 Audra Melton, www.audramelton.com
In 2007, WWF and The Coca-Cola Company announced a groundbreaking partnership that has since inspired global cooperation in more than 50 countries across the globe. Creating a solid foundation for partnership required several years of planning and relationship building. This journey began in 2000 with exploratory talks about how we might work together. Our relationship evolved from donor and beneficiary, to collaborators, and finally, to partners.
From our experiences, we have developed the Engagement Checklist below to help guide NGOs and corporations through the process of partnering together – from initiating the work through evaluating progress. We hope this information will be useful in understanding how to grow and evaluate partnership work, helping plan and structure new approaches, and training new employees.
The questions included are general guidance. You might need to consider additional questions that will help you evaluate and move forward with a partnership.
So you want to reach across sector lines to secure freshwater resources? The first step is identifying a partner that has enough shared interests to make progress.
At this phase, there is no formal partnership in place, though you might be having conversations with a potential partner. You should begin by understanding your own organization – its processes, strengths, goals (mission/business), capacity and how it is perceived — and then evaluate the potential partner for proper fit and added value.
In this phase, it is important to have a common understanding of what you want to accomplish together, the activities you will undertake and how the partnership will progress. It is essential that all parties commit to the shared vision, manage expectations and monitor success so that everyone feels a sense of accomplishment during the partnership. For new or hesitant partnerships, define ways to start small that immediately demonstrate success. Also, accept that relationships take time to grow and advance. Not every issue or opportunity will be undertaken at the start.
Throughout the partnership, but especially in the beginning, it is important that both organizations have mutual respect and can openly communicate with each other. The foundation for this trust has been set by the shared vision and goals of the partnership. You should openly share information, goals, objectives and potential roadblocks to success, and encourage the same from your partner.
A key to success is having well-informed staff in both organizations. Those who are managing the relationship or responsible for carrying out the work need to have access to and be informed of key successes, issues and new information. At this point in the relationship, the focus is primarily on ensuring that both parties are delivering the agreed-upon goals on time and as expected. An additional point of emphasis should be to monitor for trends/shifts that may impact the partnership or the partners. Opportunities to grow or expand the relationship can also be explored.
During project implementation, you should look for opportunities to expand the work and impact. Examples could include taking a small project and extending its reach or expanding it to a new region. Alternatively, you can consider addressing issues that you were not able to explore at the start of the relationship or, perhaps, given the history of work, you may be in a position to go “bigger” or “deeper.” In addition, with a history of documented success and specific progress, the partnership should also think actively about communications and how to tell conservation stories. A conservation story highlighting progress on the ground can be more powerful than statistics, and can be a strategic tool for communicating the benefits and complexities of conservation results.
The standard timeline for measuring progress can vary between a company and a conservation group. In business, resources are dedicated, a return on investment is calculated and results are deemed a success or failure. In conservation, targets are set and progress and impacts are monitored. Progress in conservation can take longer to measure, so it is important to establish agreed-upon metrics by which progress will be measured. Keep in mind that “perception is reality.” If you are not communicating progress and results to the partner, stakeholders and communities, then no one will not be aware that progress has been made and results achieved. Always consider how your partner perceives the relationship and project progress. This step can and often should be folded into the “Managing the Relationship” step on an ongoing basis.