Partnerships: A Pre-Nuptial Contract

Tom Linfield leads an annual workshop on best practices for nonprofits with agency endowment funds at MCF.

Thinking of collaborating with another agency on a project?  This document will help you have some important discussions as you determine roles, responsibilities and resources. It can be used in a fun, but important, way to resolve issues before they arise and is a great exercise as you design a memorandum of understanding (MOU).

The Proposal: I Think I’m In Love

Are the participants/decision-makers compatible? Will they be able to achieve resolution when potential conflicts arise? Are their cultures and missions in sync?

’Til Death Do Us Part

How long should the partnership last? Is this a monogamous relationship? How many partners will there be? What does each partner add to the project?  (Each additional partner adds exponentially to meeting time and decision-making time and effort.)

The Vows (Write Your Own)

What are the goals for each partner? Impact?  Efficiency? Fundraising? Publicity? Name value? Clout? Added resources? Extension of project visibility and public service? What is the project? Are there print, web, event components? What are the roles and responsibilities for each organization? (Be precise.) What is the process for finding consensus on issues and resolving conflicts? Who are the decision-makers for each organization? Is there a need for regular meetings?

Having the Marriage Blessed

Does the partnership need formal/informal buy-in or sanction from senior management, program staff, or the Board?

Will There Be Progeny?

Will there be secondary or limited partners? What are their roles, privileges, and obligations?

For Richer or Poorer

What are the financial obligations of each partner? What will each contribute in cash or in-kind? What are the roles in fundraising? How will funders be acknowledged?

Renewing the Vows

What are the check-in points to ensure that the partners are satisfied and that goals are being met? How will you determine whether to extend the term of the partnership? What are the criteria to critique project success?


Does the partnership have a name? How will each partner be acknowledged in print, on the web, in signage? How will organizational logos be incorporated?

I Want a Divorce!

What is the process for ending the partnership on amiable terms?


Adapted from the work of Mary Anne Alhadeff, Prairie Public Television