Four Lessons from the Experts for Successful Association Partnerships

I participated in a panel titled “Partnerships to Grow your Professional Development Offerings” on Friday, June 27th for the American Association of Credit Union Leagues (AACUL), Education, Training, and Meeting Planning Conference. In addition to sharing some partnership experiences and lessons learned over the years, I went to my association bookshelf to review what some association experts had to say on the topic.

Following are some of those partnership lessons on starting, maintaining, and in some cases ending a partnership. The lessons are followed by details on the resources I cited and a few other suggestions for partnership advice and assistance.

Alliance Building: When to Pursue a Partnership
In the “7 Measures of Success: What Remarkable Associations Do that Others Don’t”, the authors revealed that the associations they studied, formed alliances to generate revenue, raise awareness around a key issue, or to further strengthen the associations brand. The authors further found that successful associations “pursued alliances that related to existing strategies or that form a tight fit with their mission and purpose.” These successful associations consciously and deliberately ruled out partnering with organizations or other associations that offered short term gains, if the alliance did not align with their mission or purpose.
10 Questions to Ask Yourself Before Partnering
In “The Power of Partnership: Principles and Practices for Creating Strategic Relationships…” the authors offer ten powerful questions that should be asked of any organization before entering into a formal collaboration.

Three of the questions are:

  1. What assets, but also hidden liabilities, might the partner bring to the table?
  2. Does the proposed partnership help us achieve a worthy goal that we could not otherwise achieve on our own, with our current resources?
  3. Do we truly have the time, means, and interest to invest in managing this relationship?
Purposeful Abandonment: Know when to “fold em”, as well as “hold em”
In “Road to Relevance: 5 Strategies for Competitive Associations”, the authors lay out the critical importance and strategic value of knowing when to end an unsuccessful partnership. They go so far as to say that abandonment is a key to innovation. They say, “Abandonment is not just about getting rid of obsolete activities. It has an even more important role: providing critical resources for innovation and tomorrow’s relevance. It is about taking resources allocated to yesterday’s activities and redirecting them to the services that will add value tomorrow.”
Building Awareness: The Most Important Reason for Partnering
In “A Study on Partnerships”, a 2012 comprehensive study conducted by the ASAE and the Center for Association Leadership, association executives and convention and visitors bureaus shared their honest opinions and experiences with partnerships. When asked to name the number one reason for partnering, “Building Awareness” was far and away the most important reason and exceeded sales and ROI as distant runners-up. They also went on to define the difference between sponsorships and partnerships. They said that “partnerships offer more strategic, deeper, longer-term, and mutually beneficial relationships than sponsorships”, a term they associated with “one-off” deals.

Partnership Resources

The Three Books Cited Above

  1. “Road to Relevance: 5 Strategies for Competitive Associations”, Harrison Coerver and Mary Byers, CAE. ASAE: The Center for Association Leadership, 2013. This book and its predecessor by the same authors, “Race for Relevance: 5 Radical Changes for Associations” should be on every association’s bookshelf. In addition to containing some excellent advice on partnerships and collaborations, both books address the enormous environmental shifts taking place for associations and some rational and pragmatic strategies for dealing with these changes.
  2. “7 Measures of Success: What Remarkable Associations Do that Others Don’t”, ASAE and The Center for Association Leadership, 2006. There are few rigorously researched and comprehensive studies done on associations and what separates successful associations from the rest of the “pack”. This is one of those studies. This research and the resulting book was done by Jim Collin’s, the author of “Good to Great”, group in conjunction with ASAE and follows the same strict methodology that created Collin’s bestselling book. Of the “very successful associations” identified, the measures of success included alliance building (as cited above), but also a customer service culture, data driven strategies, and organizational adaptability.
  3. “The Power of Partnership: Principles and Practices for Creating Strategic Relationships Among Nonprofit Groups, For-Profit Organizations, and Government Entities”, Plexus Consulting Group, LLC and published by ASAE, The Center for Association Leadership and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, 2008. If you are in a partnership or considering one, this should be on your bookshelf. It is a straightforward and practical look at how to form, maintain, and grow a partnership. It has some illustrative examples (all from the association world), many suggested strategies, a number of questions and tips for approaching partnership issues, and a comprehensive set of templates and additional resources.


The Survey mentioned above or “A Study on Partnerships”, conducted by ASAE and the Center for Association Leadership, Feb, 2012. The study addresses types of partnerships, the reasons for partnering, ROI, and many other practical issues for associations considering partnerships.

Two additional Blog Posts

Full disclosure – These are past blog posts of mine, but I think you will find them helpful as you consider why and how to partner.

You will find them all at and they include:

Programs Get Results
Bruce Winner

Bruce Winner

Bruce Winner, MBA, has been a trainer, program developer, business owner, training manager, and active participant and consultant in the association industry during his professional career.

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