Bringing change to a rapidly changing global society demands intentional partnership.

According to Brian O’Connel, the purpose of partnership is: “solving larger problems by bringing to bear multiple resources, improving efficiency, and promoting increased ministry innovation.”*

What jumps out from this statement are four key components:

  1. Shared focus – “solving larger problems”
  2. Contribution – “bringing to bear multiple resources”
  3. Participation – “improving efficiency”
  4. Creative thinking – “increased ministry innovation”

The way I see it is that each of these above mentioned components align with O’Connel’s Partnering Continuum diagram’s four phases of partnership, namely CONNECTING, CO-OPERATING, CO-INVESTING, and COLLABORATING.

This diagram has really helped us at Mergon to define the levels of partnership within our funding model. Each level of partnership holds different levels of commitment and expectation.

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For an organisation to have a shared focus (1), it must be able to define the problem within the larger sphere of transformation. For instance, a concern for the spiritual transformation of youth in a community is intertwined with education and the socio-economic environment of the community. This requires engagement with all the stakeholders in the community with whom different levels of partnership can be considered.

According to the Partnering Continuum diagram, this component would fall in the CONNECTING phase of partnership.

At Mergon, we are always open to new connections and relationships. Within this CONNECTING phase, we are willing to share information, experiences and insights, but make no formal funding commitment.

After the CONNECTING phase, an organisation needs to make decisions on their levels of contribution (2), participation (3), and sharing in creative thinking (4).

This obviously varies from partnership to partnership depending on:

  • The level of involvement in a project in terms of time, funds and resources.
  • The level of relationship and trust in the partnership.
  • The level of commitment and risk in terms of the project.
  • The level of joint ownership in terms of decision making and planning.

These levels of consideration depend on the organisation’s commitment to address the “larger problem”, its willingness to share resources, and its preparedness to develop trust relationships.

At Mergon, as a relationship develops and a higher level of alignment in terms of the “shared focus” becomes evident, we might make smaller amounts of discretionary funding available, reflecting a low level of commitment and funding exposure. This CO-OPERATING phase allows us to assess the relationship for possible increased levels of engagement.

The continued growth in the relationship may lead to a CO-INVESTING phase with an increased financial commitment to a particular project or initiative. This allows the team to gain a thorough understanding of the organisation’s vision, mission and operations.

In cases where the trust relationship and alignment grows, we may decide to form a COLLABORATIVE PARTNERSHIP. This means a commitment to a deep relationship with a high level of trust and a significant resource commitment from Mergon in a typically longer-term partner funding. We may also agree with a partner to closely collaborate on a specific strategic initiative, jointly committing to certain resource contributions and outcomes.

We find that the level of strategic partnerships of an organisation is often indicative of its impact. The development of a partnership engagement strategy becomes essential for long-term sustainability and relevance. Let’s encourage each other to rediscover the strength of partnership.

*Getting Past the Myths of Partnering, Brian O’Connel, Mission Frontiers: Networks are changing the shape of the world, Issue 39:2, March – April 2017, P31-34

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