Partnership Q&A

Questions & Answers regarding partnering in the gospel:

What are the key features of successful partnerships?
From a practical standpoint, the essential elements of partnership are shared vision, mutually supportive and respectful relationships, and meaningful results. But the real power of partnership comes from connecting with the person and purposes of God. Communion with God is the means to communion with one another and faithfulness to a shared mission.

What do you look for in a potential partner?
In most cases, successful partnerships stem from relationships between individuals rather than organizations. So, in addition to investigating the organization’s governance, policies, and track record, we take plenty of time getting to know the values, vision, and character of the top leaders.

What are the first steps to building a cross-cultural partnership?
Getting started in partnership is somewhat like courtship. First, do a little dating. Engage in lesser forms of collaboration, such as jointly seeking grants or sharing responsibility for an event. Take your time; do a few things together before even hinting at partnership. Second, do your homework. This involves building a profile of the organization, its leaders and programs, and verifying your findings by talking to local and expert references. Talk to others with whom the prospect has partnered in the past. If you really like what you’re finding, look for common ground in beliefs, values, and priorities. Make sure you share the same overarching vision. Third, never underestimate the importance of actually liking your partner. Ask others to tell you whether you are good partner material. Examine your own potential strengths and weaknesses. If all signs are “go,” propose to explore what God is inviting you to do together.

How do you ensure fiscal integrity in a cross-cultural partnership?
Fiscal integrity in cross-cultural partnership is the function of three characteristics: transparency, governance, and financial accountability. Partnering organizations must be able to meet commonly accepted standards of financial accountability. Some of these standards include oversight by an active board of directors or equivalent, regular preparation of financial statements, willingness to share financial and operational information, access to senior management, and the opportunity to inspect programs. While cultural differences have to be considered, most organizations can achieve a contextualized version of the standards and best practices. For more on fiscal integrity, we recommend Cross-Cultural Partnerships: Navigating the Complexities of Money and Mission (2010) by Mary Lederleitner.

How do you craft a shared vision?
Cross-cultural partnerships rarely co-create a vision for ministry. In most cases, North American churches adopt part or all of the local ministry’s vision. This is because the opportunity to co-create a vision for ministry requires the characteristics of a mature partnership. That is not to say new partners can’t craft a shared vision. They can, if they have the level of honest dialogue it requires. Either way, shared vision emerges as you discuss the partnership’s purpose, tasks, roles, and rules. This is accomplished by answering five questions:

  1. What is the main purpose of the relationship?
  2. What results or outcomes does each partner want?
  3. What core tasks have to be accomplished?
  4. What roles have to be performed? Who will be responsible?
  5. What are the ground rules for partner behavior?

How do you avoid unhealthy dependency?
The first thing to understand about dependency is that there are two kinds: healthy and unhealthy. In cross-cultural partnerships, unhealthy dependency is reliance on outside resources at the expense of local autonomy, responsibility, and resourcefulness. The question of whether any situation represents a high- or low-risk of unhealthy dependency can be assessed by estimating the impact of foreign financial support on those three qualities. A careful look at the causes of unhealthy dependency reveals that the best remedy is more healthy dependency. In other words, the solution to unhealthy dependency lies within interdependency. A pivotal issue in interdependency is the tension between “doing for others,” and “others doing for themselves.” Doing for others what they can do for themselves is the root of unhealthy dependency. The key to fostering interdependency is to practice development. For an introduction to development, we recommend When Helping Hurts: How to Alleviate Poverty Without Hurting the Poor and Yourself (2009) by Steve Corbett and Brian Fikkert.

How do you get an unruly partnership back on track?
Partnership is all about managing expectations. When partnerships get wobbly, it’s often because expectations have become distorted. Changes in expectations are not unusual. Partnerships get wobbly when changes go undeclared or undetected. Managing expectations comes down to finding out what partners want from the relationship, putting it in writing, and using the record as a baseline in future conversations.

When is it appropriate to end a partnership?
Partnership in the gospel should be approached with the end in mind, that is to say, with the intention to finish together. Unfortunately, many partnerships that end do not end for good reasons. They end because of weak leadership, misunderstandings, inadequate funding, and on rare occasions, misuse of funds. Most of all, they end because of disinterest. The duration of a partnership is not the issue. It is entirely acceptable to enter a partnership for a limited time. At issue is the purpose of the partnership. The best time to end a partnership is when you finish together.

How do you know where to partner?
The answer is in what you know about the Church and its mission, what you value, and what you believe God is inviting you to do. The first question has to do with being informed about the priorities of the kingdom of God and the presence of the Church worldwide. The second question is about what compels you, for instance, reaching the unreached, fortifying the persecuted church, freeing slaves. For us at She Is Safe, it means looking for initiatives that address the greatest human need. Empowering girls against abuse and exploitation, for instance, is more compelling to us than sponsoring conferences. We prefer to focus on life-changing projects in the hard places of the world. The third question is about prayerfully acting on what you know. God uses our experiences to lead us into opportunities to make a difference in the lives of others. Also, find something where your resources can make a real difference. Don’t spread yourself thin by engaging in too many different things.

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