In an age of partnerships, collaboration, and leverage we are increasingly reliant on other organizations and partners to play vital roles in our work. But we partner with people, not organizations. It's important to take a moment consider who within the organization we are partnering with, if they are the right people, and who else must be engaged.
It is critical that top decision-makers, often the CEO and board chair, fully understand and support the project, and are involved at some level. After all, if things start to go south, these senior leaders could jettison the project before you have a chance to rescue it. More significantly, their insight, expertise, and connections can be leveraged advance your impact and effectiveness.
Here are a few questions to ask to find out who's in charge (Hint: Sometimes you need to ask the same question a few different ways to get the information you need):
* Who else will you need to talk to before you can agree to participate?
* Who has the authority to approve your organization's partnership today?
* Who approves the budget for this project?
* If your organization were to issue a press release about its involvement in this project, who would be quoted?
You want to talk to these leaders and understand from their perspective - and from their lips - the value they see in this project, as well as their concerns or hesitations. This is best done in-person where you can also observe their body language. You do not want to rely on someone else (e.g., a program officer or project manager) to interpret this for you, as they might downplay concerns.
Armed with this insight, you can make sure the project provides this value to this partner. You can also directly address the concerns during the conversation and in an on-going matter ("Yes, we are also concerned that the success of this effort long-term depends on the bond levy passing. However, polling indicates likelihood of passage and we have a Plan B in case it doesn't. I will personally keep you appraised of this periodically over the next 6 months.").
You can also use this opportunity to suggest ways that senior leaders who aren't involved in the day-to-day work can stay informed and engaged in a way that is convenient and meaningful to them. For example, this might be:
* Monthly or quarterly CEO breakfast briefing
* Periodic email updates
* Regularly scheduled 20 minute phone conversations
* Participation in key events
* Speaking opportunities
* Involving this leader in making introductions to other key leaders
* Special access to thought leaders and decision-makers engaged in this project (e.g., special reception with a nationally-known speaker; roundtable discussion with state legislators).
Kris Putnam-Walkerly is a philanthropy expert and speaker. For more ideas on effective grantmaking, visit her website, download an article, or subscribe to this free weekly newsletter.