Five Principles of Partnerships

The Hartford Foundation has adhered to a set of core principles that have guided its partnership decisions. Not all of these principles are embodied in every successful partnership. But we have found at least some combination of them in those that flourish.

These principles include:

Shared Vision

Shared Commitment

Mutual Trust

Clear and Frequent Communication

Measurable Results

Let’s take a closer look at each:

Shared Vision

When entering into a partnership, both parties need to have a common vision of what they are working together to accomplish. The organizations don’t necessarily need to share the same mission in big-picture terms—but it helps. For example, it certainly is a plus when Hartford is able to partner with others, whether in the public or private sector, who share its focus on improving health care for older adults. It provides, as a basis, shared or similar passions, interests, knowledge, and experiences. And the Foundation has been fortunate over the years to partner with many other foundations, organizations, institutions, and government agencies that focus their efforts in the health and aging field.

That’s not to say that partnering with an organization that has no previous focus in health and aging won’t work. In fact, when done right, it’s an excellent way to bring new resources—financial and otherwise—to the field. Through the Social Innovation Fund (SIF), for example, Hartford has partnered with the Corporation for National and Community Service (CNCS), a federal agency, to bring the evidence-based IMPACT model of depression care to treat older adults in the rural Northwest (Making a Lasting IMPACT on Improving Mental Health). The SIF program had not previously awarded grants focused on older adults, mental health, or these rural areas.

What is essential to making a partnership work is agreeing up front on a shared vision for the specific project or program. The goal has to be clear, and all partners need to agree what success will look like in the end. “Collaboration is a dance,” says Laura N. Gitlin, PhD, director of the Center for Innovative Care in Aging at the Johns Hopkins School of Nursing and member of the new Hartford Change AGEnts initiative leadership team. “Participants need to come together with a shared mission, vision, and set of goals. If participants or partners do not develop a shared mission and set of goals, the trust or the other elements essential for an effective collaboration will not happen.”

Shared Commitment

A true partnership means sharing not only in a project’s successes, but in its challenges as well. All participating partners—regardless of their level of funding on any given project—must be committed to the project’s success. And in most cases, that requires flexibility and creativity.

When a project’s circumstances change or obstacles arise, partners need to find creative ways to work through issues in a way that acknowledges and respects different and even conflicting imperatives.

“You have a honeymoon phase at the beginning of a new project where everybody’s excited about it,” says W. June Simmons, MSW, a longtime Hartford grantee and president and CEO of the Partners in Care Foundation in San Fernando, CA. “But the real depth comes when you start to hit challenges. Do people stay the course? I think people get much closer and trust each other a lot more when they’ve had something go wrong and they’ve fixed it, than if everything just chugs along in a happy state all the time.”

Getting over bumps in the road also goes back to a shared vision. If partners are in alignment on what success looks like, it greatly increases the odds that they will similarly understand problems they encounter along the way and—most importantly—find common solutions.

“You need to know they’re going to deliver, that in a pinch they’re going to tough it out and figure it out and be willing to contribute, and to really have that deep, abiding commitment to the long-term outcome,” Ms. Simmons says.

Mutual Trust

Any successful partnership is built on trust. Not blind trust, but one based on due diligence, mutual respect, and—over time—experience.

“Trust sounds kind of soft,” says Dr. Gitlin, who has studied and written on collaboration. “But partnerships can collapse when people don’t trust each other and respect each other’s expertise or what each partner or participant brings to the table.”

Trust means knowing that those with whom you’ve entered into partnership will do what they say they will. It means they will respect and meet deadlines. It means they will share information freely, not hoard it. And it means they will roll up their sleeves and work with you to find solutions to problems that threaten to derail your common project.

Going hand-in-hand with mutual trust is mutual respect. Ann F. Monroe, president of the Health Foundation for Western and Central New York, says that is especially true in collaborations between national and local funders.

“We might be small, but I believe we are very mighty here,” Ms. Monroe says. “So the idea that we should go to the mountain and get the word from a big, national foundation doesn’t fit with the way we work. First of all, it’s not a way to treat a partner. And secondly, you don’t learn from that because there’s no real give and take. I think particularly when organizations have different scopes, they have to come to each other with a general openness to learning and a general openness to share, and not be too worried about who gets credit for the idea.”

Of course, developing a track record with a partner takes time. So when considering potential partners, it’s important to do your homework. Do a thorough check with other organizations or grantees with whom they have worked, and take the time up front to discuss in detail your relative roles and obligations. You can’t trust someone to fulfill their commitments if there’s not a shared understanding of what those responsibilities are.

“The trust and collaboration doesn’t happen overnight,” says the Archstone Foundation’s Ms. Kullman. “It happens over many years of working together.”

Clear and Frequent Communication

Communication is not just about providing updates and exchanging information on a joint project. It’s fundamentally about building relationships.

At the Hartford Foundation, that applies not only to partners and grantees, but to a wide array of individuals and organizations interested in learning more about health and aging.

Full disclosure among partners is essential. Few things can sour a partnership faster than having one partner feel like they’ve been kept in the dark on important developments or decisions. In the fast-paced world in which we live, it is tempting at times to move forward on a project, figuring that you can bring everyone else up to speed later. But any time saved can be quickly lost in repairing strained relationships.

The Foundation stresses frequent, open, and clear communication. Staying in contact with partners on a project, even just touching base, can bring potential problems to light earlier and head off some altogether.

It is equally important to forge relationships with key counterparts in the field, something the Hartford Foundation has done for more than three decades by allocating scarce time to meet with partners and potential partners, as well as maintaining an aggressive national travel schedule.

Rani E. Snyder, PhD, program director of health care programs for the Donald W. Reynolds Foundation, has collaborated often with Hartford, although the Reynolds Foundation tends to avoid the entanglements of co-funding specific projects. Through the years, Ms. Snyder has found that sharing knowledge, experience, and coordinating efforts is definitely a two-way street.

“I think that the cooperative and complementary relationship we’ve built with the Hartford Foundation over the years has helped us all be more effective in our work,” says Ms. Snyder.

Measurable Results

While it’s important to agree on a shared vision for a project at the outset, it’s just as critical to agree on how outcomes will be measured—both along the way andin the end. Partners often bring different processes, standards, objectives, and even definitions to a project, so explicitly working through these measurement issues is vital.

A lack of agreement on what constitutes a successful outcome—for example, feasibility or successful implementation versus clear health benefits versus financial savings—can drive potential partners apart. So can a lack of common objectives—for instance, one may focus on local outcomes while the other seeks to build national models.

But as the Foundation’s partnerships with Virginia G. Piper Charitable Trust, the Archstone Foundation, the Fan Fox and Leslie R. Samuels Foundation, and several others demonstrates, national funders and local funders can successfully collaborate when their visions for a project align and they agree on how to measure success.

A Collaboration, Not a Competition

Adhering to the principles outlined above has helped Hartford’s and others’ resources go further and created more movement on important issues than otherwise would have been possible. In the pages that follow, we will examine the many different kinds of partnerships the Foundation has forged through the years and highlight the real differences they have made in the field of aging and health.

James C. Appleby, RPh, MPH, executive director and CEO of the Gerontological Society of America (GSA), says he has found a kindred spirit in the Hartford Foundation in terms of its approach to collaboration and growing the field. Just as he believes that strengthening the field of aging and health will help GSA thrive, Hartford takes the approach that if the field is healthy, the Foundation will continue to be successful.

“In terms of how they interact with other aging organizations, it’s not a competition, it’s a collaboration,” Mr. Appleby says. “They want as many people at the table helping solve the problems of the day as we can possibly find.”

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