Partner Power: A Technique for Building More Authentic Community Partnerships Right from the Start

OF/BY/FOR ALL is all about changing the way you involve new communities in your work. Today, I want to share one of the most powerful tools we use to launch more authentic community partnerships. We call it Partner Power.

Partner Power is centered on the idea that our partner’s success is our success. It helps you shift from a mindset of transaction to collaboration, so your organization can become BY your community. If you can activate Partner Power in early meetings with potential partners, you’ll build a foundation of trust and understanding. And that builds stronger, more authentic partnerships for the long term.

Partner Power is one of many tools we’re sharing with the OF/BY/FOR ALL First Wave - a group of 21 organizations working to be of, by, and for their communities. We’re inviting them to use the Partner Power framework to change the way they hold their first meetings with new prospective partners.

Clare James, Head of Partnerships & Engagement at Techniquest told us that by using Partner Power, it “…100% changed the way we would approach this type of meeting and [we] would consider using this style for all stakeholder meetings from now on, including our big corporates and so on.”

Celia Morrison, Outreach and Volunteer Coordinator at ARTZ Philadelphia reflected, “this task prepares us to step in and step back and really listen to a partner. ...I think it's way better to get to know a person via their visions, their accomplishments, and the challenges...in trying to realize something together.”

Want to try it yourself? Keep reading for an inside look at exactly how we helped the First Wave adopt this framework.

HOW TO HOLD A PARTNER POWER MEETING
Think about your first meeting with a prospective partner. What are you trying to accomplish? When you use Partner Power, you’ll focus on understanding what success looks like for your partner so the projects you co-create will be successful for both of you. Here’s a video with more background about the framework, and a step-by-step guide on how to do it.


HOW TO DO IT

  • Set up a one-on-one meeting with a prospective partner. We suggest you meet at a time and location that is most convenient for them.

  • Before the meeting, review the worksheet. It provides a structure and sample questions to help you learn what success looks like to your prospective partner.

  • Pick a few questions you want to be sure to ask. Make a plan for how you want to the conversation to flow. If it's helpful, practice asking some of these questions out loud.

  • Show up to the meeting on time and ready to focus on your prospective partner. If you're meeting at a coffee shop, offer to pay for their coffee.

  • Plan to end promptly on time to honor their schedule. You should expect to spend 30-60 minutes on a Partner Power meeting.

  • During the meeting, take a few notes on what matters most to them. Write down anything you find compelling, and anything that relates to their challenges, values, goals, and commitments.

  • Remember to use active listening skills. Ask open-ended questions to get them talking more about themselves. Give yourself permission to mix the personal and professional to get insight on what they're passionate about.

  • At the end of the meeting, thank them.

    • Ask questions to confirm understanding, like: "In our conversation, I heard that success for your community looks like XX -- is this accurate?"

    • If you are ready, ask questions to set up a next step, like: "I noted that you're working on YY. I am really intrigued by that -- what are some ways we can help advance your goals?"

    • If you are not ready, you can always follow up later.

  • After the meeting, fill out the worksheet to keep and share with your team.

  • Once you've held all your one-on-one meetings, review them together with your team. Take note of similarities, trends, and potential opportunities this creates for next steps.

  • With your team, make a commitment to next steps to take or things to explore based on what you learned.

In our experience, Partner Power is a game-changer. It helps you build real human connection. It helps you build trust. It gives potential partners space to voice their values and passions without feeling pressured immediately into the practicalities of a project.

Emily Brough, Volunteering and Participation Consultant at Divis and the Black Mountain, an OF/BY/FOR ALL First Wave organization in Belfast, Ireland, stated that Partner Power has helped turn co-creative aspirations into reality. “It felt more equal...rather than appearing as though we were just trying to tick a box on community engagement.”

We invite you to join us in going beyond box-ticking by building new community relationships with Partner Power. If you do try it out, let us know. We look forward to hearing how you use Partner Power to become of, by, and for all.