Nine Rules of engagement for community partnerships

So you are planning to work with others for a community joint venture. Or you maybe considering working more closely with other groups to share resources and services. Everything seems fine at the start, but things can get complicated very quickly and you may end up disappointed or worse still, left holding the proverbial baby.

Here are nine steps that you should follow to reduce the risk of your community partnership falling over.

1) Never enter a partnership arrangement without being clear as to the need:

a. For the project

b. For a partnership

If there is not a strong need, it will be difficult to get buy-in from the community or the partners.

Each partner must be able to see the benefit for their own organisation and must be clear on their roles and responsibilities as well as investment in time, finances and resources. Overall, the project must be of mutual benefit to all partners.

2) Engage with partners who are committed to the partnership, that you can trust (there are different levels of trust required for different levels of partnerships), that relate to your organisation’s values and philosophy, and understand your culture.

An absence of any one of these could adversely impact on the foundations of your partnership.

3) Be mindful of agendas and ensure that the partnership project has a common vision, clear objectives and expected outcomes which reduce the risk of the project being deviated to meet the needs of one partner. The vision and objectives should be supported by strategic directions and priorities, and should be visited on a regular basis to insure that the project stays on track.

4) Ensure that the committees or boards of the partners are fully supportive of the partnership venture. This will involve submitting a business case and business plan to be monitored at the organisational level. In some projects, committee members may be involved in a governance group for the project. Keeping the committee fully informed will ensure that the project remains supported, especially when the partnership is endorsed by an Agreement/Memorandum of Understanding signed by all partners at the start of the project or collaboration.

5) Be clear as to the level of partnership you are engaged in – networking, cooperating, coordinating, collaboration or integration. Each level requires different levels of engagement and trust as well as impacts on the operations and governance of each organisation.

6) If your joint venture leads to a sharing services arrangement, then create a longer term timeline that allows you to integrate over time, starting with templates and resources, then to policies/ procedures and/or processes, introducing organisation systems across all partners once a sustainable high level of trust has been established alongside a plan for continuity.

7) If your partnership involves change, make sure you have a change management plan in place that is supported at the committee level, has a clear communication structure, encourages people to get involved, can be evaluated, recognises successes, keeps things flowing along and builds in the celebration of achievements. Engage change enablers such as access to expertise, time, funds, IT/communication platforms, systems and organisational policies and procedures. Short term performance management plans encourage employees and volunteers to carry out small, manageable, projects to assist with the change project.

8) Manage risks before they manage you. Prepare, implement and monitor a risk management plan to reduce the impacts of changes to partners, commitment and activities, as well as to address potential conflict.

9) Benchmark the need for the partnership and evaluate the partnership to give you the skills to do things even better next time.

And finally… Never, never lose sight of the need. Never lose sight of the vision and objectives and never forget that you are not the only person or organisation involved in the partnership – be flexible, play your part, consider others and plan the partnership to be inclusive and to succeed.

There are also a number of partnership resource kits on the internet that you can use and apply accordingly. These include advice from government departments who commission guides to support community organisations and groups.
The Community Entrepreneur has developed a 60 minute audio and video presentation that support this guide which can be found on
We also offer one-day face-to-face workshops and a mentoring program to guide partnerships.
Contact us at or call us on +61 (0)3 9005 5889 to discuss your needs.

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