Tips for Business Start Ups: 5 ways to act like a partner

There’s been an increase in recent years of large public sector organisations who, in developing all sorts of cultural initiatives from music to leadership to creative learning, identify themselves not only as funders but as partners too.

The notion of quite what they mean by partnership varies wildly from organisation to organisation and sometimes on a day to day basis within the same organisation too. Clearly, as perhaps the main funders of a project they have every right to be concerned and interested in how public funding is used – but this has always been the case with any public sector funder in the past.

No, the difference with these funder-partners is not only that they are concerned that the funding is used appropriately, but they also see themselves as having a hand in the messy business of delivering aforesaid projects. They want to work on both an arms length principle – and also be upto their elbows in the minutiae of delivery, and preferably control that as well as the cash flow, contractual agreements and at what time we take a lunch break.

This may of course be fine if those funder-partners had any skill in the delivery of those projects. But frequently they have been out of the sector for so long they have lost any touch they might have had in the past in delivering those projects. It’s like your great-grandad insisting that he get a stint on the turntables down at the local youth club to show everyone how it’s really done.

But more irritatingly, the funder-partner is less than helpful if they can’t get the basics right of partnership working. This means working within the following guidelines:

1. Liberty. Understanding that partnership works best when partners enter that partnership voluntarily and are not coerced into or into an arrangement that suits one partner better than the other.
2. Communicate. If we agree a communication protocol, then stick to it. Especially when times are getting pressured and deadlines are looming. Don’t pass off your communciation inertia with the excuse that you’re busy. We’re all busy these days, very very busy and your busy-ness is no more important than anyone elses.
3. Take responsibility. Don’t just point accusingly at one partner in the arrangement but share the load and take responsibility for what the partnership has agreed.
4. Respect language differences. Appreciate your way of knowing the world and acting upon it is not the only way of living the good life. Other partners might speak differently, use different metaphors and may not be hide-bound by your language (they’ll be hide bound by their own) – the value of your partnership is in appreciating those differences in language and not just railroading over them.
5. Realise your funding is not the be all and end-all. It’s not just your money that makes you a partner – you have to bring skills, knowledge and wisdom to this process not just a large bank balance. A decent partnership isn’t a forced marriage where you bring your ugly self and explain it away with the large inheritance you’re bringing to justify your place at the table.

All partnerships need the benefit of joint wisdoms and a commitment to talking and respecting each other. The funder-partner who manages to avoid all these guidelines in the name of accountability is nothing more than a control freak.

Author: drnicko

Awarded an MBE for services to arts-based businesses, I am passionate about generating inspiring, socially engaging, creative practice within educational contexts both nationally and internationally.

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