Perfect Partnerships – philosophy & practicalities for association success

European Association Summit 2021

Perfect Partnerships – philosophy & practicalities for association success

Derived from education session designed & facilitated by Martin Sirk, International Advisor to Global Association Hubs

This document is a practical, packed-with-ideas, long-term resource for any association that is planning to re-think its partnership strategy and philosophy.

“Wisdom of Crowds” check-lists  

The following check-lists are the amalgamation of results from the Dubai Association Conference workshop session (held Dec 2019) and the EAS 2020 session (held in March 2020) on this same topic.  They represent the collective wisdom of over 100 association leaders.

These sessions challenged international association delegates to widen their perspectives on where and when to apply partnership thinking, which institutional and individual (and often surprising) partners can be recruited as collaborators, what types of value each partner can potentially bring to the table, and how to identify and overcome the many barriers that prevent partnerships from being successful.

Individual associations are frequently blinded by their own narrow historical experience, their business culture, perhaps the shadow of past failures, and institutional inertia.  By bringing working together in a custom-designed, friendly, competitive environment, our delegates at these past events were able to identify a vastly larger range of opportunities and creative ideas than they could manage on their own, which we are sharing here to help any associations trying to navigate the new “Era of Uncertainty” that Covid-19 has ushered in. 

One thing appears certain, working solo is a recipe for failure in today’s market!  Global Association Hubs believes that partnerships are the future for associations that want to thrive.

A: OBJECTIVES, CHALLENGES & PROJECTS                            

Imagine a much wider range of purposes towards which you can apply partnership solutions!  How many of these are you currently attempting to deal with only using the resources of your own association’s staff or volunteers?

Stronger advocacy impact – policymakers     

Stronger advocacy impact – population                    

Increase membership                                                 

Spread knowledge more widely                                 

Increase certification adoption                                  

Increase event attendance                                         

Increase event profitability
Develop new events                                       

Attract new sponsors/partners & fundraising opportunities            

Appeal to new generations                                        

Deliver content in new languages
Access new or improved content
Joint creation of new content                        

Reduce overhead % (eg by sharing support services)            
Overcome missing IT skills                                          
Reduce direct competition                             

Launch a new product or service                                           

Re-engineer an existing product or service                

Obtain support during a crisis                                    

Respond to increased competition

Respond to market disruption
Improve future-proofing/scenario planning
Improve/launch market surveys
Diversify revenue streams
Develop new networking platforms
Boost status via partner’s reputation
Alignment with UN Sustainable Development Goals

Increase profile/visibility
Complementary offerings opportunities
Increase talent pool/scouting options

Accelerated growth

Economies of scale/market size/critical mass
Opportunities for cost cutting or efficiencies
Energy efficiencies

Capacity building
Risk sharing

Leverage assets
Increase influence

Create excitement
Build motivation
Improve waste control/recycling
Incite curiosity
Increase opportunities for new combinations/synergies

Trigger desired change
Obtain access to expert opinions
Access to specialist knowledge or understanding of target clients/customers

Expand networks

Improve inclusion

Link financial & human resources – resource efficiency

Exchange best practices

Increase time efficiency

Combined or co-organised events

Co-creation across multiple areas

Identify/access new leadership



It’s amazing how many new potential partners might be willing to team up with you, once you understand their objectives, values, and capacity.  And don’t forget, some partners may be for life, but others are for specific projects, regions, or timeframes.  Be promiscuous in your partnerships!

Your own membership (all or sub-sections, eg Chapters – rethink your relationships)
Other complementary associations

Other competitive associations
IT companies (eg App producers; registration software)
Existing sponsors
New potential sponsors (who may be attracted by “partnership”)
Trade show and/or conference organisers
City authorities & agencies
Convention bureaux
EU/UN agencies

Media companies (trade & general)
Bloggers & influencers
Your own critics
Association Management Companies (AMCs)

Research institutions
Consultancy companies


Destination suppliers (eg venues)

Venture capitalists/angel investors

Certification, accreditation & standards agencies

Hospitals/Medical schools

Ambassadors/consular bodies & officials

Students (high school/university) & teachers



HR/Employment agencies


Airports/transportation companies

Chefs – F&B leaders/institutions

Start-up communities

Police/fire/emergency services (eg when dealing with crisis)

Tax advisors

Speakers/Celebrity experts

Local thought leaders (eg in your congress destination)

Licensing bodies

Social influencers

Photographers & videographers

PR, Marketing & Digital agencies

Display companies; florists; decorators

Telecoms companies

Printing companies

Office supply companies

Office rental companies


Have you ever comprehensively audited the value your association could offer to potential partners?  Or undertaken a “gap analysis” to identify what assets you would love to take advantage of but don’t possess within your own organisation?

Staff expertise                                                             
Member expertise
Mentoring skills                                                          

Access to audience/community         
Cultural interpretation or access                                            

Unique content
Data & data analytics                                                 

Existing events programme                                        

Tech skills or systems
Design thinking skills & experience
Project management skills & experience
Training skills & systems                                                         

Existing government relations                                    

Existing communication channels & media relations                        

Reputation & status & track record
Brand values & recognition                            

Existing certification programmes                             

Existing products & services                                       

Money – access to liquidity or cashflow
Financial management expertise       
Fundraising ability/skills
Access to Foundation funding
Bulk-buying opportunities
Cross-selling opportunities                                                     

Relationship with sponsors/partners                         

Shared risk/shared reward                                         

Use of buildings/offices/equipment                                       

Patents/Intellectual property
Award programmes 


Legal expertise & advice

Feedback platforms

Training events & workshops

Crisis management skills & expertise

New career path opportunities

Exchange programmes

Market trends/trend analysis

KOL engagement (??? – not sure what KOL stands for?)
Digitisation/change management experience

Access to a younger membership/community

New business models

Health & Safety expertise
GDPR expertise

Access to specific geographical or sectoral markets



Most new businesses fail; many partnerships also end in divorce or acrimony – understanding the risks, limits, barriers and other “failure factors” in advance is vital if you’re going to design partnerships that deliver the results you hope for!  Experiment and be bold, knowing that some projects may not work out, but enter new partnerships with your eyes wide open.

History & past practices                                             
Board conservatism & inertia
Leadership turnover                                                               

Lack of negotiating experience
No shared vision/mission                                           

No shared cultural values
No articulation of value offering
Failure to define boundaries
Failure to articulate goals
Failure to articulate roles & responsibilities
Failure to adequately prioritise project
Money – eg insufficient liquidity or cashflow
Fear of time required
Insufficient time allocated
Suspicion of partner’s motives
Unwillingness to experiment
Potential loss of association’s unique culture or identity
Risk of moving away from specialisation
How will partnership be perceived by insiders/outsiders
Ego battles/power games
Existing contracts & legal constraints
Stakeholder conflicts
Fear of increased bureaucracy
(Perceived) lack of innovative capacity
Fear of “mission creep”
Geographical distance

Political environment

Economic environment

Non-profit vs for-profit clashes

Insufficient trust

Unclear project governance or management

Overambitious goals/unrealistic expectationsl

Lack of balance between partners’ capacity

Reputational risk

Technological limits/constraints

Incompatible branding

Failure to agree governance of partnership

Lack of leadership

Excessive workload

Time zones

Different languages

Differing priorities

Inability to deal with criticism

Lack of competency or capacity

Wrong timing

Lack of clarity of objectives


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