Discernment… One of the most fundamental practices of leaders and a non-profit board is discernment. Considered a virtue, a discerning individual or board is considered to possess wisdom, and be of good judgement; especially so with regard to subject matter often overlooked by others like an affiliation or partnership.

Not that long ago, the idea of finding a strategic partner was uncommon and perhaps even the elephant in the room for some organizations. They needed the help, bandwidth or resources, but just didn’t know the path forward or they couldn’t admit their need. Today, relationship with others is mainstream and, in fact, mission critical. Specifically, more and more boards and management teams are seeking a partner or engaging in strategic discussions with other organizations. As the world gets more complex and solutions more elusive, the need for strong relationships, better resources, deeper benches, operating systems, senior leadership and resources become paramount to fulfilling your organizational mission.

The trouble is that most board and management teams are not well equipped to have the right discussions and do not understand the environment they are walking into. As I have directly worked in preparing organizations for affiliation (i.e. Affiliation Readiness), then actively in the affiliation process, there are some very consistent questions which continue to surface. So here’s a primer on the key things to think about as you begin to move into a process. Our hope is that these ideas will save you valuable time and resources as you move ahead.

Goals. Specifically and in written form: What do we need to thrive into the future? What are we hoping to gain from any new relationship? What are the areas which we just are unwilling to sacrifice? Is our reasoning for the non-negotiables understandable and valid?

Ideals. What are the ideal characteristics of a potential partner (geography, size, experience, leadership, etc.)?

Timeframes. What is the optimum timeframe? When will it be too late? When do we need this done?

Control. Are we hoping to be the affiliator or affiliate into the future? What are we holding onto much too tightly? How can we recognize our own need to control and how it may limit organization? How does control or the lack thereof influence our thought process?

Options. Scientifically, too many options, called “Overchoice” or “Choice Overload” (Google it, it’s real!) are impossible to process. Is our best path forward to look at multiple organizations before selecting a partner or are we comfortable with a smaller, more limited number of options?

Involvement. What is the plan for involving my board? What information can I share with them early in the process to be sure they are engaged and involved? Are there any sacred cows which we need to discuss sooner rather than later?

Corporate Models. Do we understand the different corporate structures and options which are available from joint venture, from management contracts to full affiliations? How and where are these options helpful in moving forward?

Process. Do we have a specific and workable process in mind to work forward? How will we identify the resources needed to move ahead? Are there discernable decision points? How will I create a strong team to be able to process all of the information we have before us?

So, yes. Plan ahead. Ask the right questions. WE strongly suggest that you WRITE out your responses as it helps to have a written record of the best thinking of you and your team BEFORE you begin. This will anchor you as you get into the web of detail and thought inherent in this process.

Finally, if you want to explore these ideas in depth, an Affiliation Readiness Study might be right for you and your organization. To discuss what is involved in an Affiliation Readiness Study, please connect with Steve Jeffrey on our website or via phone at 717.351.2500.

Now back to discernment… As we have wrestled with this question in regard to partnerships and affiliation two generative questions arise… What do we hold on to, because if we let go of it we stop being ourselves? What do we let go of, because if we don’t let go we miss out on an opportunity to fulfill our mission? Deep questions… What are yours?