Sunday, May 16, 2010

Mutually Beneficial Partnerships

Today, I am pleased to announce the launch of our new Arts Enterprise website. Check it out! This site would not be possible without a partnership with TwistUp Media. For the last year we have worked with owners Kyle and Wes to develop the AE site and we are thrilled with the finished product.

What is interesting here is that we accomplished this with an incredibly small budget. In fact this website was essentially built at no cost to the Arts Enterprise organization. How did we do it? Instead of saying to TwistUp that we want you to build a site for us for free and, in exchange, we will list you as a supporter of the organization, we said this: In exchange for your services we will give you access to our rapidly growing network of chapters, members and supporters. Instead of establishing a four year payment plan for the website, we have given TwistUp the ability to work directly with our chapters as they build their own websites. Additionally, we have provided a way to deliver their services directly to our membership. A membership that we predict will serve close to 1,000 students by the end of the year.

As a person coming from the non-profit sector, it seems to me that we need to think about ways in which we can make our partnerships more mutually beneficial in nature. Techies who volunteer to do this work are amazing people, however they are also strapped by time with their own projects. Further, there is often a lack of understanding on both sides of the aisle in regard to everything from mission of the organization to the effective utilization of the technology itself. Often, it seems that the partners on both sides of the aisle are not considering the menu of services that could be provided as a way to better leverage the partnership. Consider an incredible blog entry by Ayça Akin from In her entry she talks at length about ways Techies and Nonprofits can better work with one another. Here's an excerpt:

These challenges should come as no surprise, since any designer/client relationship has its built-in (if clichéd) limits: Designers are asked to step outside themselves to see the world in a new way, but can never, by definition, be the client or the user. In pro bono projects—as time becomes expensive—paying attention to the unique perspectives of nonprofits is the only way for volunteers to develop sound working relationships toward making social change products effective and sustainable.

Here we have very different people trying to collaborate around a common goal, and points of friction are increased by differences in culture, language and preconceptions about one another. Like so many problems in the world, many of these differences can be overcome by simply trying to understand each other's priorities and world views.

Her blog entry goes on to speak at length about the common issues these partnerships face. I might offer a few suggestions to organizations interested in entering their own mutually beneficial partnership:
  1. Mutually Beneficial Understanding—Take the time to talk at length about your organization. This is not just about your technology needs, this is about explaining your organization to your partner. Then, listen to what they have to offer. This seems all too simple, however it's amazing what this small suggestion can do for your partnership.
  2. Find the Right Partner—It's so important to find a partner who's values align with yours. This will only strengthen the partnership. For us, TwistUp was the perfect fit. They too were a startup entity, they value entrepreneurship and they have an appreciation for the arts. We were aligning with one another practically before the partnership even started.
  3. What's in it for them—Can you, as the non-profit, provide value to the partnership? For example, can you bring three to four good ideas to the table in exchange for the services you're about to receive from the techies? This type of partnership can really help your organization grow.
So, what's missing? What can cash strapped non-profits do in order to continue to generate mutually beneficial partnerships for their organizations?

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