Future proofing your association’s partnerships is not only about your existing or potential strategic partners. It’s also about your partners’ partners! Because the partners of your partners are your partners.
Is that confusing enough?!
Think of it this way: when you found your spouse, they came with in-laws. Whether you love or hate your in-laws, they are part of a package deal. And they can dramatically affect your life, even though they are not your primary partner. When you engage in a strategic partnership, you are indirectly partnering with your partner’s partners.
This article explains why this tenet is so critical to association leaders as they develop their partnering strategy.
Let’s explore this using the “partnership ecosystem.”
The Partnership Ecosystem
In the context of a larger environment, your association exists within the imaginary boundaries of an ecosystem. This ecosystem provides the resources that your association requires to be successful (e.g., financial, human, technology, educational, social). Within your ecosystem, you have existing stakeholders, strategic relationships, and partnerships.
These relationships form an invisible web connecting you to multiple organizations and key individuals your association needs for survival.
These relationships provide access to the previously mentioned resources, but they also give you access to critical information about the environment that surrounds your ecosystem (the environment of your ecosystem).
This critical information helps you anticipate and adapt to changes in your environment—changes that will affect your association's future and survival.
Why is the Ecosystem Analogy So Effective?
- Your association doesn’t exist in a vacuum. It exists in an interconnected web of relationships, information, and power.
- All changes in an ecosystem affect the entire ecosystem. This means that changes affecting your partners directly affect your association. It also means that changes that affect your partners’ partners indirectly (or directly) affect your association.
- All ecosystems are dynamic -- they self-organize and adapt to change, seeking homeostasis for survival. If your association stops providing enough value within the ecosystem, or fails to adapt, eventually it will become extinct.
Let’s look at an example. An association has four key primary partners: its members, funders, vendors, and sponsors (as general categories). Each one of the four partners exists in its own specialized ecosystem and has its own partners (your association's secondary partners), as illustrated in the diagram below. Through each primary partner, the secondary partners have a direct or indirect impact on your association.
How Partnership Ecosystems Influence Associations
Associations depend on recruiting, retaining, and growing their membership consistently. Let’s consider the potential impact from a member’s perspective.
If we assume, generally, that association members may partner (formally or informally) with education organizations, their employers, regulatory/licensing bodies, and insurance companies, any significant changes made in these relationships could impact the thinking, decisions, behaviours and actions of association members. Which, in turn, could impact their recruitment and retention patterns as they relate to being members of your association.
What would happen if changes in licensing practices suggest that professionals require additional specialized education before becoming licensed, prolonging the licensing process and increasing costs? Or, what if changes in the insurance premiums or packages significantly affect a member’s annual budget, requiring cutbacks of optional professional development activities?
Association members are not immune to the changes in their specialized ecosystems.
Associations and Sponsors
Associations depend on quality sponsor relationships to enhance the value and services provided to members (which leads to better retention). Let’s consider the potential impact from a sponsor’s perspective. Every interaction an association leader has with a sponsor either strengthens or weakens the relationship because sponsors are always measuring their return on investment (ROI).
What happens if a supplier of a key sponsor is acquired by a company and the integration goes poorly? This could impact the quality or consistency of the products or the services the sponsor is able to provide.
What happens if the market conditions of your supplier change, forcing them to increase their fees and cut back on their sponsorship activities? Sponsors will quickly reassess their investments and, in some cases, end sponsorship contracts early.
Bottom line: when your sponsor's world transforms and their priorities change, how is your association staying relevant to their emerging priorities?
Who Are Your Secondary Partners?
Secondary partners are critical to future-proofing your association. Are you noticing the potential ripple effect when the partners of your partners change their business habits and behaviours? Secondary partners can have a direct or indirect effect on the success of your association. Yet, if you are not connected to them or even aware of them, your organization could easily be blindsided.
Three key actions you can take right now to become better prepared:
- Make a list of your three most important partners or strategic relationships.
- Identify the partners of your partners (i.e., your secondary partners).
- Ask the question, “How is our association tracking the priorities of our secondary partners?”
Defining Value-Based Partnerships
- Value-based partnering enhances the ability to partner with those you know, like, and trust, and the ones you don’t.
- Value-based partnering puts purpose before people, and people before power.
- Value-based partnerships focused on shared highest priorities for mutual benefit.
- Partnership resiliency is the ability to adapt to your partners emerging, changing, and competing priorities.
- The “partnership ecosystem” is a dynamic, self-organizing system that seeks homeostasis of both competition and collaboration.
Enette will be presenting at this year's CSAE National Conference & Showcase in Ottawa. Click the following to learn about her and her session, Future-Proof Your Most Valuable Partnerships. Her Conference session will address how associations can take steps to future proof their partnerships (or dissolve them safely.)