Benefiting from Co-operation Partners: The Role and Responsibility of the Board of Directors


One way for Non-Profit organizations and agencies to make a bigger impact for their clients, patients and customers is to have successful Co-operation Partnerships. Benefiting from co-operation partners means that together with other organizations and agencies you can leverage each other’s skills, capacities and strengths to achieve your goals and be of greater impact to the people you serve.

Co-operation Partnerships need to be chosen carefully with other organizations that have a stake in the clients, patients, and customers doing well. Each party retains their independence and yet the explicit choice of entering into a Co-operation Partnership creates an increased collaboration and strategic alliance to get ‘the job done’. The Board of Directors has a key role in identifying who the organization should enter into a Co-operative Partnership agreement with. The Board has a responsibility through policy governance to create the best conditions possible for the Co-operation Partnership to be successful in making a positive difference that the organization could not have made alone.

I have recently been contacted by a leader in an organization that we assisted in 1997, almost twenty years ago. In 1997, the Non-Profit health service was in significant difficulty and was receiving a great deal of negative press coverage. They were not getting the results expected of them for their patients. One of the strategies we worked on together was to have the organization invite people to a meeting, including sister agencies to this one, that worked for the betterment of the same target population. Some hurdles had to be gotten through as trust between the agencies was at an all time low. And yet, after some apologies, those who met got on with the task of assisting this organization to find some solutions to their challenges.

An important outcome was the establishment of some Co-operative Partnerships. The call the other day was to let me know that the organization continues to do well, has increased in size and scope of responsibilities, and that the Co-operative Partnerships formed then continue to be productive, creating a far bigger positive impact on patients than any one of the agencies could have accomplished on their own.

Common barriers to a successful Co-operation Partnership include:

  1. The way that Non-Profits receive their funding causes them to compete with each other for funding resulting in some animosity usually prevalent throughout the organization
  2. Boards of Directors don’t sufficiently understand their critical role in choosing the Co-operation Partners and negotiating a workable partnership agreement
  3. Boards of Directors haven’t included Co-operation Partnerships within their meeting agendas and policy governance work.

These barriers to success can be worked through as you create co-operation partnerships, provided that each organization is aware of the barriers and is committed to working through them to increase the likelihood of successful working relationships.

Benefiting from Co-Operation Partners: Getting Started

If you give your time and energy to a particular Board of Directors because you want to make a positive difference, you may want to consider getting the topic of Co-operative Partnerships onto an upcoming meeting agenda. As you lead the conversation at the meeting, it is helpful to:

  1. Get a sense of whether the Board perceives value in entering into Co-operative Partnerships
  2. Agree on a common concept of what a Co-operation Partnership is
  3. Discuss and explore how you as a Board believe the organization could be benefiting from co-operation partners
  4. Be prepared to offer names of possible Co-operation Partners based on agencies and organizations that are in service to the same target population

This conversation is enough to move things forward, unless of course there is no perceived value in doing so. Even knowing that makes the conversation worthwhile.

Now, before running too quickly to form those Co-operation Partnerships, the Board has more work to do. Assuming that the Board has some form of Policy Governance model that it operates from, you will need to get some policies into place including about the role of the Board with Co-operation Partnerships, the role of the staff, and of course the responsibilities of each. Don’t forget to include mention of how accountability for the Co-operation Partnerships will be carried out.

If as a Board, you don’t yet have a Policy Governance model to carry out your business as a Board, you could benefit from shifting to a Policy Governance model before heading into a Co-operation Partnership. The Co-operation Partnership will have a greater chance of being successful if every organization involved has greater clarity of its own policies and how it is governing its organization via these policies.


Photo Credit: Philippe Put |

Birgitt Williams
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Birgitt Williams is an international management and organizational solutions consultant, author, meeting facilitator, teacher, keynote speaker and executive coach. Her business focus is to create inspiring work environments that are highly effective in achieving their purpose and fulfilling their vision.

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