Designing Powerful Partnerships: What do your philanthropic partnerships look like?

(This is the first in a series of three blogs on designing internal and external partnerships for development staff and institutional executives.  Please continue to visit!)                                             

Written by: Susan Holt

Written by: Susan Holt

How are powerful partnerships created?

The great late anthropologist, Margaret Meade, made the case for the power of partnerships and people working together years go in her famous statement, "Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful citizens can change the world; indeed, it's the only thing that ever has."  Certainly, philanthropy is no exception.  In fact, the success of your philanthropy program will be a reflection of the strength of your partnerships with internal and external constituents'.  Yet, they are fraught with challenges.  The Harvard Business Review article, Eight Ways to Build Collaborative Teams[1], points out the many challenges and opportunities of creating effective groups.  Creating strong social relationships, a visible "gift" culture (versus "tit-for-tat") that promotes collaboration and trust help to establish an environment where partnerships and collaboration can flourish.

If you work in health care philanthropy, think about this.  According to the Giving USA 2016 Report:

  • Giving by Americans to all philanthropies last year again hit an all-time high, $373.25 billion, an increase of slightly over 4%!
  • In 2015, contributions to the health sector comprised 8% ($29.81M) of all of these gifts received by charities. 
  •  However, giving to the health sector only increased by 1.2%, when adjusted for inflation, between 2014 and 2015.
  • And, gifts to the health sector have not yet returned to their all-time high in 2010 of $30.09M.

If you work in the health sector, or for that matter any sector of philanthropy, you have not only an opportunity, but an obligation to take stock of your partnerships, internally and externally.  Whether you're the CEO, the Chief Development Officer, or Board member, now's the time to make sure they are working for you and your philanthropy program.

Michael Eisner, probably best known as the CEO for over twenty years of The Walt Disney Company, tackles the importance of partnerships to success and life in his book, Working Together:  Why Great Partnerships Succeed, and other writings[2].  He gives many examples of successful partnerships in business and sports, from Microsoft to Berkshire Hathaway, to Imagine Entertainment to Home Depot and the Yankees.  Eisner goes on to describe the traits of these successful partnerships and the values they promote:  a common sense and purpose; a shared belief in ethics and integrity; an ability to recognize weaknesses while drawing on the others’ strengths; and a trust in each other that permits vulnerability.  Good partners help each other through dilemmas.  They share the highs of success and the lows of challenge.  They are in the trenches with each other and they make each other better.  When you think about it, these characteristics are the keys to any successful partnership.

Besides contributing to successful ventures, Eisner also points out that successful partnerships also make people happy.  Long, successful partnerships enhance a good and satisfying life.  Happiness and the role happiness plays in the psychology of giving has been the subject of several recent VPG blogs.

Mark Zuckerberg and Dr. Priscilla Chan

Mark Zuckerberg and Dr. Priscilla Chan

The recent announcement by Facebook founder, Mark Zuckerberg and his wife, Dr. Priscilla Chan, of their $3 billion investment with a goal of curing, preventing or managing diseases within their child’s lifetime is another landmark partnership. But that partnership goes well beyond Zuckerberg and Chan. Like Bill and Melinda Gates and Warren Buffet, Zuckerberg and Chan are catalysts for the creation of other new partnerships.  If successful, these partnerships will have a profound impact not only on health, but on the way science and collaboration is conducted.  The Zuckerberg/Chan partnership spans across science, engineering and medicine.  It has the potential to change life as we know it. The Chan Zuckerberg Initiative[3] is already fostering partnerships between institutions and among scientists to connect the dots faster and move the needle forward to make discoveries in basic science that will advance human health.  The power of those partnerships will hopefully begin to be unveiled in the coming decades.  But, the founders wisely acknowledged that the journey will require patience along with future philanthropy.

So, let’s turn from business and science partnerships to think about what your philanthropic partnerships look like.

Each organization, no matter how small or large, has the potential to create powerful partnerships.  In the development world, we probably think more commonly about partnerships with our external constituents:  donors, board and development committee members, alumni, grateful patients, the community we serve, or the other institutions our organization is aligned with.  But, just as importantly, partnerships need to be intentionally formed within the organization.

In this blog, we're going to start with your internal partnerships.  Although the thoughts that follow are aimed more for the CDO and development staff, they are certainly applicable to a CEO or Board Chair:  When was the last time you took stock of the strength and nature of your internal partnerships?

Ask yourself these three questions:

  1. Can you name five people, or maybe even ten for larger organizations, who you have identified as partners with your philanthropy program and intentionally cultivated relationships with them?
  2. Are you being strategic in nurturing and stewarding those relationships in order to advance the institution’s mission through philanthropy?
  3. Are you keeping the philanthropic agenda in front of them so that they are equipped, comfortable and even enthusiastic about being effective partners with the development program?

Those internal partnerships are part and parcel to the strength of your philanthropic culture and are crucial to the philanthropy program’s success.

Below are 10 tips for designing powerful philanthropic partnerships within your organization:

Pictured from left to right: Brad Welling, M.D., Ph.D, Chief of Otolaryngology, Irene Hammer-McLaughlin, Senior Director of Development, Otolaryngology and Melissa Paul, Chief Development Officer, Mass. Eye and Ear

Pictured from left to right: Brad Welling, M.D., Ph.D, Chief of Otolaryngology, Irene Hammer-McLaughlin, Senior Director of Development, Otolaryngology and Melissa Paul, Chief Development Officer, Mass. Eye and Ear

1.     First, make sure you’ve identified your best candidates.  Selecting the right people, with a high level of collaborative behavior, is very important! Sometimes, they are not readily obvious.  We all know that a partnership with the CEO, especially for the Chief Development Officer, is crucial, but who else in the organization should you align with?

2.     Determine the best roles for your internal partners.  There are lots of roles, but most importantly, your partners

  • Help the development staff navigate the internal landscape, especially for complex organizations
  • Understand, embrace and know how to talk about the philanthropic priorities
  • Help connect with your external constituents and tell your story from a variety of perspectives (emotional, leader, financial, programmatic, etc.)
  • With limited resources, help to expand the development team’s bandwidth
  • Champion the philanthropic culture!

3.     Create an inventory of the executive management team, the formal and informal leaders of the institution, the department heads, other leaders within the staff or faculty, and the communications, marketing and public affairs team.  Review this inventory at least quarterly with the development team and refresh it from time to time.

4.     Assess who the best connectors and story-tellers for your organization are.  You need to know your organization well in order to do this.  Enlist everyone’s thoughts from the development team.  Remember, people connect and tell your story very differently and with a variety of styles.  You will need partners who bring different attributes and talents to the table.  Some may be more high energy, while others may have a quieter and measured style.  You need many different styles that will work well with your audiences or simply serve as an informal advisor to the development program.

5.     Review your final list with the CEO.  As your “Partner-in-Chief”, the Chief Development will need the CEO’s input.  Be consultative.  Your CEO will have a different perspective to add and will also want to provide insight or steer you away from some.  We want the CEO to be aware of the importance of internal partnerships and be actively advising others on the team, reaffirming the importance of their role in philanthropy.

6.     Intentionally and strategically nurture the relationship with your philanthropy partners. Invite your new partners to philanthropy programs or events.  Share knowledge. Determine how the partner can be most helpful or what skills or talents should be enhanced. Identify ways the relationship can be mutually beneficial.  Perhaps the partnership may help to advance your partner’s career, elevate his or her stature within the organization, or simply provide gratification while advancing the organization’s future and mission.

7.     Build trust. Trust is tantamount to any strong, productive partnership. Not much will happen without trust on the part of both partners.  It’s a two-way street.  Your internal partners need to believe in you, trust your judgement and guidance and know that they are respected.  Trust doesn’t happen over night.  It requires positive experiences together over time.  So, make sure you are authentically instilling trust throughout these experiences.

8.     Evaluate opportunities to involve your partners.  Just like a portfolio or prospect review meeting, regularly include the portfolio of internal partners on a staff or major gift meeting agenda.  Treat these like you do your prospects and donors.  Determine where your internal partners are needed.  Perhaps information or advice on a gift strategy is needed, help may be required with a communications strategy, or participation in a major gift prospect meeting may be crucial to closing a gift.  Whatever the role is, make sure your partners' roles are meaningful.

6th Annual Sense-ation! Gala for Massachusetts Eye and Ear Infirmary

6th Annual Sense-ation! Gala for Massachusetts Eye and Ear Infirmary

9.     Say thank you!  Just like your donor relationships, don’t take these partnerships for granted.  Recognition and thanks go a long way in fostering and keeping the partnership vital!  Make sure your CEO is also aware of the contributions made by your partners to the program’s success and encourage his or her recognition of these individuals.

10.   Provide institutional recognition.  Success begets success.  Look for ways your philanthropy partners can be recognized in institutional forums by the institution’s leaders. There may be many appropriate ways to creatively acknowledge your partners:  in donor stories, through publications or in staff meetings or town hall gatherings.  Their recognition helps to reaffirm the philanthropic culture as a priority for all, not just the development staff!

So, like Eisner, Zuckerberg and Chan, think big, think strategically and remember, success is more likely the result of working together than alone, and probably a lot more fun!

Please return for our next blogs in the series: Designing Partnerships II:  Why Me? From The CEO’s Corner and Designing Partnerships III:  Engaging Donors