Partnerships and collaborations are more than just ways of making the ends meet on an artistic program or a creative project.
They can be a great way to promote work to new audiences, and connect your creativity with new markets. They can be hard work for everyone involved, but they can also be enormously rewarding, and not just in the financial sense.
Strong partnerships are built on strong communication and common goals, and equally can fall apart or not get off the drawing board due to some common mistakes (at both ends).
If you are the one initiating the relationship, it is good to spend some time thinking about what your funding partner may want – be it government, corporate or philanthropic.
From making the ask to after the project ends, here is what your funding partner wants from you, but may be too polite to ask.
Do your research
Even if you are applying for a grant, make sure you not just read the guidelines. Find out what has been funded in the past, what sort of projects and what sort of amounts. That way you can make a reasonable ask for support.
If developing a new relationship, again find out as much as you can about the organisation, its aims and objectives, and how decisions get made. Ask your networks to support you in your information gathering and think laterally about how you might work together.
Again, make sure you know where the company or organisation already has partnerships and what these might look like. You don’t want to copy these, but gives you a sense of what your potential partner is looking to achieve.
Listen first and ask questions second
Take the first meeting as a get to know each other session, rather than a direct ask for support.
When you get to meet with someone from either government, foundation or corporation, make sure you listen at least as much as you speak.
Be curious and ask questions that will connect you to the motivations and values of the people speaking.
Above all, don’t assume because someone works in a place different from you that you don’t share common motivations and values. If you come with an open-mind you will be pleasantly surprised by how much you might share.
Provide creative ideas and solutions
It goes without saying that potential partners are looking for more than logos and tickets.
The most valuable partnerships are those that respond to the needs of the funders and provides a creative solution to their challenges.
The magic of true partnership happens when you find a partner who can provide the resources to take your creative idea and mission further, and that delivers them the outcomes and impact they want.
Your value is in finding a creative solution that your partner cannot deliver on their own or with someone else.
Your challenge is to believe that your work can be that answer or answers, once you look at it with fresh eyes.
Be very clear about how you will work together before you start
Before you start working together, take the time to thrash out your agreement and confirm it in writing.
Start with a bullet point “heads of agreement” of the arrangements you have made, and then confirm in a more formalised contract (if needed).
Set up regular project check in points so that there are no surprises and everyone is in agreement about how to move forward.
If it is your first time working together, take time to work out the details of this new working relationship and take it one step at a time. Be honest and acknowledge if something isn’t working, and take the initiative to find a solution together.
And remember, to communicate the needs of your partner and what has been agreed to your project team. That is your responsibility.
Be respectful and acknowledge support
This should be a no-brainer, but it is surprising how often there can be slip ups at the last gate.
A missed acknowledgement in writing or in person can unfortunately damage all the hard work you have put in to make the relationship work. So can a missed appointment or a withdrawal from communication from either end.
Don’t muck up the easy bits of logos and tickets (if part of the deal) and if you have the chance go a little bit further just because you can. A bit of generosity will be appreciated.
Be open to feedback and suggestions
Everyone can learn from every experience, and your partnerships and collaborations are no exception. Take time out after the end of your project to do a full debrief and ask for honest and constructive feedback.
This may, in the end, be some of the most valuable learnings you gain from the experience.
Finally, as an artists or arts company, if you are authentic and stay true to your creative vision and mission, you can inspire your partners to be better human beings.
This might sound a bit too much, but research has shown that when we inspire others to connect to our shared intrinsic values of universalism, self-direction or creativity, we are motivated to act in a more pro-social way and have higher sense of wellbeing.
So think about your partnerships as being much more than a solution to fixing your bottom line.
Take time to establish your relationships and be the person with who you would want to work.
And remember that it is always easier to keep a relationship (if it’s working) than find a new one, so value and recognise those you have as the platforms that they are to build your work in the world.