Boards and leaders are smart to consider whether a strategic partnership with another organization could support those efforts and unlock even greater potential for impact.

Understand your starting point: As your organization considers opportunities to expand its impact through innovation and scale, it’s important that board members and staff leaders have a strong understanding of the starting point.

  • What is our core purpose? What problem are we trying to solve or what new reality are we trying to create?
  • What other organizations are working in a space similar to ours? Do we have competitive advantages (or disadvantages) that should inform the way that we are thinking about the potential of a strategic alliance or restructuring? Are there organizations that have gone or will be going through major changes that might be open to partnership in a new way?
  • What is driving us to innovate or scale? Why is this a good time for us to think bigger about our potential for impact?
  • Are we looking to create something new (innovation) or expand or recreate something that’s already in existence, either within our organization or outside of it (replication and/or scale)?
  • What would happen if we didn’t innovate or scale our programming?
  • Do we have the resources and/or expertise we need to bring these ideas to fruition?

Consider the upsides and downsides of a “go it alone” strategy: Asking good questions that help strengthen and inform strategies about whether or not a “go it alone” strategy is the best way to serve the organization’s core purpose.

  • Is there an opportunity for us to innovate together in a way that we could not do alone?
  • Could co-creating with another organization make this innovation or scale strategy more affordable, achievable, or rapid than it would be on our own?
  • Is the innovation or scale that we seek something that could be shared or co-created with other organizations in a way that would serve our core purpose?
  • Are there others who are looking to innovate or scale in similar ways or who have already?
  • Looking ahead, is it reasonable to think that we can stay relevant and keep up with necessary innovations and growth to support our core purpose without partners?
  • Are there other upsides (or downsides) to working in collaboration with another organization (or set of organizations)?

Provide support for a collaboration strategy: If your organization decides that there are indeed strong benefits to strategically aligning your innovation and scale strategies with another organization, board members can be extraordinarily helpful in identifying and connecting with potential partners. Across all types of strategic alliances and restructuring, board members can be very helpful in two key ways:

  • Identifying Potential Partners: Board members often have strong networks and may be able to suggest strong candidates for partnership that are worthy of consideration. In some scenarios, this may be a part of a board-level conversation about potential merger or acquisition partners; in others, it may simply be a suggestion of a potential programmatic partner for the staff to consider.
  • Making Introductions and Connections: Board members may be well positioned to help connect the appropriate players, if a potential partnership is prioritized for outreach by the executive or the full board. Existing relationships and trust can be enormously helpful as organizations set the stage for a first conversation about a potential strategic alliance or restructuring, so it’s wise to consider how board members can be helpful. That said, board members should avoid initiating a conversation with a potential partner without being empowered to do so by the full board (in cases of mergers or acquisitions) or by the executive (in other programmatic partnerships).