The partnership continuum: lessons learned

The partnership continuum: lessons learned

Posted on June 11, 2012 by Michael Corley

By: Michael Corley, The Patterson Foundation and Mary Ellen Grant, Share the Care

You know when you want something to work so badly, but over time, you realize it wasn’t meant to be?

That is how Mary Ellen and I feel after two years of Share the Care and The Patterson Foundation (TPF) working together. We were able to admit to ourselves that our visions for this initiative no longer aligned, and that it was better to part early as friends than later.

Two years ago, TPF reached out to Share the Care, an Orlando-based nonprofit dedicated to helping caregivers, to learn more about their caregivercentral.org web platform. At that time, TPF was seeking an opportunity to close the gap along the dementia continuum. We learned of Caregiver Central from the Center for Technology and Aging and the Senior Resource Alliance. We then also heard about the online platform from Michael Marcus, a program director at the Harry and Jeanette Weinberg Foundation. (Yes, this was a living example of connective tissue.)

After learning about the Caregiver Central online platform and speaking with Share the Care CEO Mary Ellen Grant, we (TPF) became excited about the prospect of partnering with Share the Care to expand the capabilities, use and business model of the online Caregiver Central. Mary Ellen and her team were equally excited and eager to begin working with TPF.

At this point in the formation of the partnership, TPF was in its infancy and had not yet formalized a long-term partnering process. We were learning on the fly. Likewise, Share the Care had not experienced working with a funder like TPF and really wasn't sure of the protocol. What we lacked in structure and formality, we made up in interest and desire to work together.

LESSON LEARNED:  At the inception of a partnership, it is important to discuss and document goals, objectives, expectations and general understandings. This should be a formal meeting between potential partners. While we did discuss these topics throughout our "courtship" we didn't do so in a formal, intentional manner.

Over the two years, the partnership evolved and grew and ebbed and flowed. Both Mary Ellen and I believed this was inevitable for a loosely defined partnership operating on best of intentions. What made it easy was that both organizations were operating on best of intentions.

Over time, and as Mary Ellen and I grew into a trusting relationship, we began to realize that we had different visions for the direction of the initiative. Neither of us was wrong, and the differences were less about the vision for the initiative and more about the roadmap for getting there.

The decision to wrap up the partnership was a non-event. We both determined that the best approach going forward was to part ways and move on. We’ve done this very amicably and collaboratively.

LESSON LEARNED:  Enter into a partnership recognizing that building trust evolves over time, and only when trust is built can candid conversation occur.  (This is an incredibly liberating feeling.) Because we had built trust with each other, we could have an objective discussion about the future of the initiative and “agree to disagree”.

So after two years, The Patterson Foundation and Share the Care have mutually decided to wrap-up their formal partnership focused on further developing the Caregiver Central tool. In that time, TPF has invested more than $100,000 plus consulting time and expertise, and Share the Care has developed a solid, functional tool that will help caregivers in Central Florida and beyond.

While The Patterson Foundation and Share the Care are parting ways because their core strategic philosophies about the process for moving the tool to other communities no longer aligned, both organizations enjoyed a mutually beneficial partnership and are committed to maximizing the positive lessons learned during the partnership.

The Patterson Foundation is honored to have worked with the Caregiver Central team and looks forward to Caregiver Central’s future success as it explores bringing the tool to other communities. Share the Care will continue its work to maximize the Caregiver Central online caregiver assessment tool and help connect caregivers with the information they seek.

LESSON LEARNED: Creating partnerships is an intentional and methodical process, and should not be taken lightly. Once created, partnerships need to be nurtured in order to grow and for trust to develop between the parties. Once trust is developed, all topics of discussion are available, and the difficult discussions become much easier.

Are both The Patterson Foundation and Share the Care better off having experienced this partnership? We think the fact we are jointly writing this blog provides the answer.


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