Busting the myths about partnership success

History books are full of things we once thought to be true but are actually false. For centuries people believed that the earth was flat and that beyond the outer edge there were sea dragons. 

It wasn’t a great incentive for sailors, who baulked at exploring too far in case they fell off the edge into the dreaded abyss.

In 2023 there is still a diehard Flat Earth Society, as part of the new anti-science movement but the majority view has moved on. Still, the T-shirts are favourites with my son’s cheekily ironic science and engineering cohort.

Holding fast to myths or beliefs can hold you back as much as mindless positivity. The author Daniel Helder advocates ‘useful beliefs’ that help you deal with your current challenges and create an action plan to take you where you want to be.

flat world

Here are some ways to reframe common partnership myths and turn them into useful actions.
We’re too small

It’s easy to get partnership envy when you see big non-profit brands winning multi-million dollar partnerships. You think that partnerships aren’t possible for your small, grassroots organisation. But size isn’t always an asset. Sometimes corporates think the big brands don’t need their help as they’ve got plenty of other options. Size is less important than clarity on your value proposition and what you need from a partner. During the devastating bushfires the Goongerah Wombat Orphanage were struggling to rescue injured wildlife. Their partnership with RACV Solar enabled them to upgrade their entire operation and keep baby wombats warm and safe. A wonderful example of a volunteer led, grassroots organisation knowing exactly what it needed and finding the perfect partner.

We’re not national

Not every corporate wants a national partner. If you’re state based only or have a small footprint, you probably have strong relationships with local communities and a deep connection to their needs and challenges. When the Sydney Film Festival wanted new partners, they looked for businesses that matched their values and footprint. The partnership with Mountain Goat Brewery was a great fit because the brewery had already supported other arts events and were looking to extend their operations into Sydney. It’s not helpful to focus on what you don’t have and limit your options. Focus on the depth of knowledge, credibility and connections you actually have within your location and you’ll have a strong proposition for the partners who want that alignment.

My board doesn’t have any contacts

You board may not have a magic address book to offer you hot prospects. But maybe their connections aren’t the right ones for your organisation anyway. You need to be clear on your organisational needs, your strategic priorities, what you’re willing to offer and what will help you achieve your mission. That’s where the board adds value for you, especially if they’re willing to speak for your non-profit and support partnership prospecting. If your board had the private mobile number of every ASX listed CEO, what would you do with it if you couldn’t answer these fundamental questions?

If you don’t want to invest in building cold connections, then create a corporate advisory group. This could be businesses within your orbit who can act as a sounding board for partnerships and help you with introductions. They are not a board and there’s no pressure to offer anything but advice, but you’re tapping into their extended networks.

I just need to get out there

Out where, exactly? For partnership executives and their bosses who’ve had sales experience, it’s a common mantra. There’s an expectation that more sales calls equate to more partnerships. Whilst it’s true that few partnerships have been won whilst you’re just waiting for the phone to ring, the focus on volume of activity can lead you down a blind alley. Without a plan you’re just a tourist, with random experiences during your rambles. It’s more useful to define your destination and then figure out which corporates can help you get there. When Beyond Blue partnered with Australia Post they identified the need to reach more Australians with their mental health messages. Aus Post was a perfect fit because they have a bigger national presence than any business. Willingness to go prospecting for partners is great, but it’s more useful to figure out where you want to go first.

Myths and unhelpful beliefs can hold you back when you’re embarking on corporate partnerships. Some of them are not even beliefs but procrastination borne of fear. Don’t use the common myths as an excuse for progress; reframe them as challenges that can be overcome with a different approach. The opportunity is waiting.


Linda Garnett
25 October 2023

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