Building Strategic Alliances

Many organizations develop working relationships or partnerships with other organizations in their community.  It can be a wonderful way to increase visibility for your organization and/or programs, provide a new professional learning experience for your staff, get exposure to a different kind of audience, and provide a different kind of experience to your loyal audience. As with anything, when you are bringing two different cultures together, you are going to need leadership, good communication, patience, and negotiating skills.

  • Choosing an organization with a complementary mission:. Collaborating organizations should have complementary missions. Without common goals, organizations may never build the deep connection needed to foster mutual commitment. The alliance between Poet’s House and the New York City Public Library, for example, is based on a shared commitment to fostering the appreciation of literature and recognition of each institution’s distinct strengths and mutual needs. 
  • Know that one organization will always do more of the work: Workloads just aren\’t equal when doing collaborative programs. It is important to keep in mind why you are working together. Identify the long-term and short-term goals for your collaboration from both sides. Be sure your staff understands this, too. If one organization is new or not as visible in the community, typically, they will end up doing the majority of the work. Understand this is part of the dynamic going in, so you don\’t end up feeling bitter about the partnership. 
  • Choosing organizations with complementary assets and strengths: It is important to find organizations that can contribute skills, expertise, connections, audiences, physical locations, and material assets that are complementary. 
  • Building trust: Relationships must be perceived as mutually beneficial. Unless arts institutions make the effort to build trust in the relationship, they run the risk of being seen as “users” by collaborating organizations. It is important for institutions to identify the right people to cultivate this relationship, both on their own staff and within the collaborating organization.
  • Maintaining commitment over the long term: Organizations change over time—missions alter, people come and go, budgets shrink and grow. Good relationships with outside organizations can quickly deteriorate if key people depart or financial support disappears. Many of the exemplary arts organizations mentioned the fact that short-term funding undermines ongoing collaborations. They suggest a steady investment of staff time in building relationships that can weather such uncertainties in financial support.

Adapted from A New Framework for Building Participation in the Arts