Partnerships and strategic alliances can help to make an international program more successful. These partnerships can be informal, such as using the expertise of a counterpart organization or government agency to strengthen your association's own capacities such as attracting international attendees to a meeting you sponsor. Or, they can be more formal (and perhaps on-going) alliances to help distribute, for example, one or more of your association's products on a worldwide basis. Potential partners include counterpart associations, government agencies, publishers, association management companies, universities, or other for-profit entities.
In Global Imperatives: 12 Attributes of Effective Decision Making and 9 Dimensions of Success for U.S.-based Associations published by ASAE in 2011, the author, Mohamadouu Hayatou states that the most common way to grow internationally is through the formation of a strategic partnership network. Strategic alliances can take different forms and have different objectives depending on the nature of the association, its products, services, and resources. The nature of a strategic alliance is also highly influenced by the local market conditions including the state of the competition. By and large strategic partnerships are designed to achieve one, or a combination, of the following goals:
- To distribute products or services to a set of customers. This represents a straightforward distribution or licensing deal.
- To jointly develop products and services for the local market. In this model, the association will find organizations that have products, services or skills complementary to theirs and join forces to develop products for the local market. Although it is not uncommon to see this model apply to content-based products, it is more often seen in the organization of events such as a tradeshow.
- To work with local or regional counterparts to drive a common agenda. This model, also known as co-opetition (collaborating with your competition), is often seen when the two associations are joining forces to push forward an aggressive advocacy or legislative agenda for the benefit of both association’s members.
In general, here are some of the most common benefits and cautions of strategic alliances and partnerships:
- Can capitalize on the individual strengths of each participating organization.
- Can provide local contacts and links to local communities/stakeholders who may be critical to the success of the program you want to launch or implement.
- Involves shared responsibility for the development and execution of a particular program or service.
- Limits a participating organization’s liability to the scope of project involved.
- Provides reduced-cost opportunities and expertise for each participating organization.
Some cautions or challenges that an organization may encounter in pursuing strategic alliances or partnerships include:
- Usually limited in scope to the objectives of the alliance or partnerships
- Can become ineffective if one partner doesn’t perform at the expected level or fulfill its obligations to the agreement.
- Can consume more human and financial resources than were anticipated.
- Can require a significant time investment to develop an effective alliance or partnership.
- Can result in a loss of flexibility for the organization to take quick action in another area that may be in the organization’s better interests than the area they are pursuing with a given partner.
Before entering into a strategic alliance or partnership, ask:
- Does it extend the association’s reach by opening up and developing new markets?
- Does it help members gain access to additional industry intelligence and knowledge of other markets?
- Does it increase the association’s revenue? Will it contribute to the bottom line?
- Will it amplify the association’s resources? Will it leverage or reuse an already existing resource?
- Does this alliance have relevance for the association and its mission? Will it increase the value of the association within the industry or profession?