Establishing Partnerships: A Basic Guide

Disabled Sports Eastern Sierra is a small, local organization with national roots. One of the most important elements in our organizational history has been our need and ability to establish healthy partnerships within our community. As a small organization, we can only achieve so much on our own, but by working with other businesses within our community, both locally and within the national adaptive and military communities, we have been able to have a greater impact and reach more deserving athletes in need. Over time, the types of partnerships and our role within the partnership has evolved. Just like any relationship, these partnerships take care and attention in order to thrive.

As our business has grown, so too have our partners’. Each partnership is different from the next, but it is important, just as in any relationship, to follow a few basic guidelines for success.

  1. Establish trust-Be true to your word. Whatever details are agreed upon by both parties, be sure and adhere to them. Be transparent. Create a contract if necessary to spell out the details clearly and openly.
  2. Keep communication open-both good and bad! If a partner is doing a great job or a poor job-tell them! Don’t assume your partners know how you feel, even if the relationship is relatively informal.
  3. Create mutually beneficial partnerships-You won’t stay partners for long if only one side benefits. Understand and communicate the benefits and consequences of the relationship.
  4. Set clear goals-if you are looking for a specific result or benefit from a partnership, spell that out. Be clear on both what the desired result is and what alternatives are acceptable. If you don’t know what you are looking to get out of the partnership, why are you partners?
  5. Use existing relationships/develop relationships-Partnerships are about people! Build on existing relationships to cultivate a partner or reach out personally to develop that relationship. After all, it is the people that actually make a partnership work, not just a contract or handshake.


While this is clearly an oversimplified guide to partnership development, these tips can help an organization begin to explore the opportunity. With strong partners, a small organization can have a large impact. But just as importantly, partnerships that are not providing benefit must be recognized and dissolved.

It is never easy to end a relationship, but just as with toxic personal relationships, bad partnerships can have a far reaching impact on your life and business. It is best to recognize that circumstances have changed, professionally and calmly end the relationship. Then you can move forward with lessons learned and be an even stronger partner in the future.

While these tips are derived from my experience in establishing partnerships as a non-profit organization, almost all of our partnerships are with for profit organizations. These tips can be applied to either side of this relationship, or for establishing partnerships between two for profit entities.

Is there a way that your business can expand its reach by creating a mutually beneficial partnership within your community? Maybe start small, such as sponsoring a local recreational sports team or becoming the committed vendor for an annual event. Begin by making relationships; it can have a large impact on your business’ reach.


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