See yourself as a partner - Guide to Community Partnership Development: Developing a partnership in five-phases

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We have identified five phases to developing a partnership. These include in-depth questioning about the organization itself, its partners, its environment and its clients, and a number of steps to follow. Also included are some tips, helpful questions, best practices, examples, templates or tools to help organizations better understand its mission and to go through the process and considerations.

Ongoing reflection, assessment and readjustment mean that some steps (eg, obtaining information, setting objectives and planning) will determine what needs to happen next. These five phases are:

1. Preparing the organization

This first phase is vital to the success of established partnerships, but also guarantees the possibility of future long-term agreements. If you are at this phase in the partnership process, you will need to identify what services or supports are needed in your community. Clarify what your organization wants to achieve and with whom, determine your organizational needs and what resources are at hand. Reflect on your motivation to work in partnership as well as the benefits and costs to do so and, make sharing information with staff and potential partners a priority.

2. Identifying and meeting partners

The second phase should be completed meticulously. When properly done, the initial preparation work will help the organization to become thoroughly familiar with its environment and identify key decision makers, possibly even a champion who can help it contact prospective partners. To identify potential partners, you need to approach your community horizontally. This means starting to see that all concerned organizations contribute individually to the same goal by being complementary.

3. Developing and ratifying agreements with partners

The third phase involves giving the partnership a formal structure, which will be essential once it is time to assess the results. Various tools are available to help organizations ensure that the established objectives will be met and the consequent actions will be taken. For example, setting priorities and a timeline is key to realistic deliverables. There again, we should not overlook the systemic aspect of the process. For example, the ratification phase may send an organization back to the initial phase of looking for partners if ratification attempts reach a dead end.

4. Consolidating and expanding the partnerships

This phase enables the organizations to strengthen their ties with their partners and to use the experience they have acquired in order to expand their networks. It also involves supporting front-line workers, dedicating resources to nurture and expand the partnerships and, this can be accomplished by organizing study sessions or establishing a calendar of regular meetings.

5. Assessing the partnerships

The actions and decisions taken during the four previous phases must be reviewed from time to time. This phase does not necessarily mark the end of the process. The parties involved in a partnership are accountable and their actions must be assessed throughout the process. Sometimes, decisions to end the partnership, although difficult, must be taken.

Partnership development is not a linear process, it is iterative. Although it includes specific phases and steps, it should be reviewed or evaluated along the way as organizations make progress. Some phases need to happen before others, while some will need to occur throughout. Every phase is associated with a service development milestone. The milestones must constantly be assessed and reassessed as follows:

  • Does the need still exist?
  • Are there gaps or shortcomings?
  • How should the partnership change?

Phase 1 - Preparing the organization


1. Identify the trigger

  • Observe your environment: Are there problem situations, anomalies or gaps that affect your clients (for example, death, increased stress or fuss in the community, complaints from clients)?
  • Listen to your environment: Are there organizations or colleagues who are unhappy with the support that clients receive? What are clients telling you?
  • Listen to your funders: Do you hear rumours of budget cuts or, conversely, budget increases for new joint initiatives?

2. Clarify your objectives

  • What do you hope to accomplish? Create a clear definition of what the concern is; draft a clear, exhaustive list of all the needs and objectives you identified in the first step.
  • What are the goals of a potential partnership? List the goals you hope to meet by partnering with another organization (such as a unified approach, development of a working group or task team to address a particular issue, the trigger for example).
  • Prioritize the identified goals in order of importance (this may vary by community or even by neighborhood, sector or population, for example, finding meaningful daily activities for clients).
  • Involve all concerned people in the process (your team, employees, clients).

3. Assess your needs

  • What are your organization’s needs? This step is as critical as the previous step. Be honest with yourself regarding the current status of your organization’s needs (identify where you are falling short, staff turnover, clients complaints, lack of satisfaction from survey results).
  • Do not waste time considering all the different ways to assess your needs! An assessment of your needs can focus on very specific elements or on the system as a whole, depending on your organization’s situation.

4. Identify your motivation

  • What motivates you to work in partnership? (current processes are not as effective as you would want, need to leverage resources, strength in numbers, seeing value in a community wide approach, etc…).
  • Identify the elements that encourage you to work with partners (needs, resources, constraints, opportunities, people and client groups).
  • What would prevent you from getting involved in a partnership (past negative experience, groups that bring their own agenda, inability to work in a collectively, etc…)?

5. Identify the available resources

  • Your organization is not limited to the needs you identified in the previous step. It also has resources. What can it bring to a partnership? You must consider your organization’s contribution to be added value, but be realistic about the number of commitments you can make!
  • What are your competencies and abilities?
  • What are your human, financial and time resources?
  • What are the various roles that you and your organization can play?

6. Assess the costs and benefits

  • Entering into a partnership brings benefits, but there are also costs. Is this type of commitment cost-effective for your organization?
  • Entering into a partnership should not become a burden for the organization or undermine the quality of its day-to-day work. What are the anticipated consequences of a potential partnership?
  • Remember: be realistic with what you can do!

7. Share information with prospective partners

  • This is an essential step. Do it as soon as possible!
  • Sharing information goes both ways: providing information and being receptive to learning from your partners.
  • Information should also be shared within your organization. This will gradually encourage your employees to think in terms of systems rather than silos.
  • Give and receive information to and from your directors, managers and front-line workers before contacting a partner (for example, share the content of the potential letter of agreement).
  • Sharing information encourages us to ask ourselves how we could approach a prospective partner, what to include in our communication plan or outreach strategy, what it represents, what should be said, etc.

Case study

Pat’s agency mostly serves adults over 18. Pat noticed that when his night outreach workers circled the streets, they encountered young adults. Pat knows that Agency X in the community is specialized in serving youth 18 to 25 and provides services that are more tailored to the needs of these young people. However, Agency X only provides intake services during regular business hours. Pat’s agency would end up taking youth in even though their services do not specifically target young adults.

Pat is convinced that there is a better way to serve these clients. There may be areas for potential collaboration. Before initiating a meeting, Pat prepares a list of the services and programs offered; observed gaps in service delivery, and; motivations and value added for working in partnership with other agencies.

Words of wisdom

As you prepare your organization, here are some key elements to keep in mind you may find helpful.

Assess the needs (this can be incorporated every step of the way)

Stop, start and continue

  • What are the actions/activities your organization should stop doing? (for example, having too many meetings)
  • What are the actions/activities your organization should start doing? (based on lessons learned; successful practices from a conference; based on evaluation or feedback)
  • What are the actions/activities your organization should continue doing? (What is it that we do well?)

Your clients can inform this process!

Plan in small groups

Does your advisory committee include too many people? Create a small/manageable decision-making body that will liaise with front-line workers to stay on course.

Learn from others

  • Make provisions in your process to import some level of support from other communities that have “been there and done that”. For example, visit organizations that are similar to your own, even if they are located outside your service area, even out of province. This will help you to revitalize, validate an idea, make interesting discoveries, meet people and learn a bit more about how the organization manages its partnerships.
  • Consider establishing a staff-exchange program or job shadowing opportunities with other organizations. Staff can share their learnings with colleagues. Your organization may have money for training or travel to support these initiatives. When attending conferences or other, make sure staff bring back what they have learned to the rest of the team. Make learning part of regular staff meetings.
  • Can’t visit? Consider inviting someone from another community who can be a mentor, help you in your efforts, and share their lessons learned and resources. Engage them in a meaningful way (for example, ask them to be on your Board of Directors), make them part of your process and invested in your success! This may be particularly important in communities that are more isolated.
  • Use a coordinated approach to offer training. Some communities pool resources to offer joint training to staff across agencies. Needs are assessed at the community level and learning opportunities are provided based on the priorities identified. The whole community benefits!
  • Don’t let money be a limiting factor. Consider connecting virtually. Some communities have used Skype or FaceTime to organize virtual walking tours or knowledge sharing sessions with agencies from across Canada.

Rate yourself on a scale

On a scale of 0 to 10, with 10 being a solved problem or a successful project, what is most like you? Then backtrack and rate yourself on the same 0-to-10 scale. If you give yourself a 3, for example, what does this 3 look like? Instead of wondering how to go from 3 to 10, discuss how you can move from 3 to 4 or even from 3 to 3.5. In other words, set realistic goals. Breaking big objectives down into manageable tasks can help you track your progress, feel you are making headway and sense that you are really fostering change.

Make checklists

It is important to identify your capacity to take action, to do an asset mapping exercise, to draft a list of the resources available in the community and the gaps to be filled. You can hire a consultant to help you in this process!

A good example is the System Mapping Survey developed by the St. John’s Housing First System Coordination Initiative that divide the mapping process into different parts:

  • Program inventory (to map the general characteristics of the program).
  • Service provision (to map the specific information about the services offered by the program, its goal and targeted participants).
  • Data and research (to map what data [financial and other] need to be collected about the program).
  • Participation in system coordination (to map how actions are coordinated across service providers and level of commitment to improve coordinated efforts). You can find the document in Annex A.

Use existing resources

Why reinvent the wheel? Many organizations produce useful material that reflects lessons learned and best partnership practices. One example is the Community Workspace on Homelessness, an interactive site that allows you to consult other communities, ask questions and receive answers (consult the last section of this document for more resources).


a) Checklist - Organizational preparation phase

Identify the trigger(s)
  • (Checkbox) Problematic situations
  • (Checkbox) Anomalies
  • (Checkbox) Service gaps for your clients
  • (Checkbox) Organizations or colleagues who are unhappy with the support clients receive
  • (Checkbox) Rumours of possible cutbacks or budget increases for new joint initiatives


Clarify the objectives
  • (Checkbox) The organization's goals and needs
  • (Checkbox) Partnership objectives

    List the identified objectives in order of importance

  • (Checkbox) The hoped-for resources from partners

    List the identified objectives in order of importance

  • (Checkbox) Involvement of concerned people in the process

Identify the organization's needs
  • (Checkbox) Short-term needs

  • (Checkbox) Medium-term needs

  • (Checkbox) Long-term needs

Identify the benefits and drawbacks of working in partnership with respect to
Benefits Drawbacks
People involved
Identify the organization's resources and limitations
Resources Limitations
Organization's competencies
Time resources
Human resources
Financial resources
Roles the organization can play
Anticipated consequences
Assess the costs and benefits for
  • (Checkbox) The organization

  • (Checkbox) The quality of the day-to-day work

Have you gathered and shared information with prospective partners?
Have you shared and received information within the organization from/to?
  • (Checkbox) Directors
  • (Checkbox) Managers
  • (Checkbox) Front-line workers

Phase 2 - Identifying and meeting partners


1. Train yourself on the systemic approach

  • Working in partnership implies moving from vertical management to horizontal management.
  • Is there a person or organization you can consult to better educate you on systems thinking?
  • How can you assess your receptivity to change?
  • How much do you know about your community?
  • What are the visible and invisible links between the organizations that serve your clients?
  • Can you appoint someone within your organization who acts or will act as an intermediary to provide you with information on existing links?

2. Engage the community

  • Identifying potential and interested partners can be difficult? Start by asking someone in the community for help in obtaining information (such as on what services are being delivered; what are the different sectors and what they are doing, such as health and mental health agencies, correctional services, etc.).
  • What organization or key person in your community could give you an initial helping hand to launch your search for partners from different sectors (for example, organizations that may have resources, money, equipment, expertise, etc.)?
  • If there is such a person or organization, contact them to request assistance.

3. Identify the key decision makers

  • Another way to start building a network of partners is to identify your community’s key decision makers.
  • Who are the best known decision makers? Who are the decision makers working behind the scenes? Think creatively: put your natural reflexes on hold and contact organizations that you wouldn’t necessarily have thought of. Are there people from the business or industrial sector you could contact (schools or colleges, banks, IT, social enterprises, other)?
  • Do you know people who know people? Who in your community or organization has a well established network? You could ask this person to issue the initial invitations to partners.

4. Know and identify your partners and establish initial contact

  • The best way to get to know your prospective partners is to invite them to an informal initial meeting. Arrive prepared: have the list of various questions that came out of the preparation phase and be ready to talk about what you would like to accomplish through the partnership (consider having a handout to share).
  • Gather information about the partner before the meeting and identify possible areas of complementarity (vision, objectives, capacity, expertise, interests, difficulties, clients, etc).
  • Share information about your own organization (for example, your vision, objectives and strength)! Two-way communication is essential.
Example of a system mapping survey

In order to implement a coordinated community wide approach, End Homelessness St. John’s (EHSJ) felt that they first needed to have a better sense of the local service delivery landscape. To do so, they hired a consultant to develop a system mapping survey to share with agencies in the community. The online survey was used to: EHSJ.

  • “Identify the various programs and services currently delivered for homeless and at risk groups;
  • Classify these according to program types (transitional housing, emergency shelter, drop-in, health outreach, etc.);
  • Assess current capacity (number of beds, number of participants served per year, etc.);
  • Identify program funders and their expectations;
  • Analyze programs’ funded (formal) role versus actual operational functioning (in other words, funded to provide transitional housing, but functions as long-term supportive housing in practice);
  • Identify points of articulation between programs and public systems (in other words, hospital, jails, etc.);
  • Evaluate current data management processes; and
  • Clarify target populations, referral processes, prioritization and eligibility criteria”.
  • Ask questions about possible joint actions (for example, coordinating outreach effort and directing clients to agencies based on informed choice, cultural competency, services needed, age group, gender, etc.).
Infographic: Partnering to hack homelessnessnbsp;(P2H2)
The Homelessness Partnering Strategy
Partnership mapping

Figure 1. The partnership mapping illustrates all the sectors, partners and organizations that a service provider could develop partnership with.

5. Assess your compatibility

  • Once you have identified partners, it is important to assess the level of compatibility between your organization and the partner organization before formalizing any agreements. Ask yourself:
  • Is the partnership in line with the organization’s strategic plan?
  • What are the areas of overlap and complementarity?
  • Can the partnership start quickly or does it depend on your organization’s transformation?

Note: If your organization still has not identified any partners at the end of this phase, you should backtrack and question the elements of phase one to overcome this impasse.

Case study

Pat asked for a meeting with Agency X to discuss how they could potentially partner together to better serve the needs of their respective clients and improve connection between the two agencies. The meeting was very helpful. They both talked about their respective agencies, the services and programs that they provide, as well as the service gaps they had observed. Both agencies learned things they didn’t know about each other. Agency X had no idea that Pat’s agency did so much outreach or that they encountered so many youth when they did. Pat learned that Agency X had a contact person 24/7 but not for referrals. They both saw the advantages of collaboration to better serve their clients.

Through the new partnership, Pat’s agency and Agency X have adapted their way of working to better serve younger clients. Pat’s outreach workers have been informed that when they come across a young person between 18 and 25 years of age, they can present that person with options or choices. The outreach worker now knows and understands all the services that Agency X provides and can help the client make an informed decision as to whether he or she would prefer to go to one or the other. Pat also has pamphlets of all the services that Agency X offers and now, through this new partnership, Pat’s clients can now also access these services (for example such as cooking classes, personal budgeting, etc.). As for Agency X, it has provided Pat’s outreach worker with a direct line to a contact person 24/7 and that contact person has been trained to take referrals any time of day.

As Pat would say: “At the end of the day, it is about what is best for the client. Everyone wins!

Words of wisdom

Ask yourself the right questions

What is your capacity to take action? How do you assess the consensus within your community? Who are the people already seated at the discussion table? Who is absent? Who should be there and why?

Make a list of interested or potential partners

You already know that some organizations are interested in a partnership or that some others would be worth approaching? Start a file! Make a list and include a brief summary of what they have done or could do to complement your organization and the major reason you feel you should approach them (for example, is there duplication of services? What are you looking for? What do you know? What do you think you should know?). This file can be shared or archived and stays with the organization if you were to move on.

The information from the file will be useful during the initial meeting. Some organizations may be more likely to join in a partnership if they know that others are also involved. People don't want to be left behind!

Learn from others

We like to believe that we do things very well on our own. Allow yourself to be surprised and amazed by other people's professionalism. There is always something to learn and room.

Preparing for a meeting, information session or workshop

  • Be clear on the intention of the partnership, and the goal it is trying to achieve.
  • Explain the problem or issue, and the avenues considered.
  • Present the benefits of the approach.
  • Have a summary ready for handout.
  • Have an outreach strategy.
  • Find ways to include your clients in a meaningful way.

Do your research and be informed

Prior to your initial contact with a potential partner, go on their website, see how they view themselves (their vision and mandate) and how they act in the world (services they provide), look at their Strategic Plan. If you know other organizations that they are already partnering with, call that organization to see how that is going.

Tip: Whatever information you find that may be helpful, put all of it in a table. It will help with the planning of your initial contact meeting and to target your questions.

Invite diverse perspectives

Often, partners are recruited from organizations we already know or organizations that are like ours. At first, some organizations may be reluctant to become partners. One of the causes of resistance is lack of information, because they don’t know the other agencies involved.

Take the time to meet with organizations that seem reluctant, explain the work you do, your for, include them, and, above all, learn more about them. They might become your best allies!

Tip: Avoid questions that are too personal, and questions about the organization's budget, number of staff, or problems.

Dial 2-1-1

If you don’t know how to begin identifying prospective partners, if it exists in your area, dial 211 for information on government and community health and social services. There is also a website: 2-1-1. The 211 service is not available in your province? Not a problem you can do a general search in your internet browser.

Develop standards

A partnership is like a work team similar to the one you manage in your own organization. Develop operating standards with your partners just as you would with your employees or co-workers. Include them in a Letter of Agreement or Memorandum of Understanding.

Invite participants or clients

People who have relevant life experiences or service users can be invaluable members of a board of directors or advisory committee. Their presence changes the dynamic and moves projects forward. You must nevertheless ensure that the work environment will welcome and elicit their co-operation. Their contribution must be more than symbolic. Some say that meetings would probably be shorter if the people in question sat in on the discussion!

Tip: You may want to consider giving them honoraria for their participation, consider cultural sensitive practices, take into account diversity and vulnerability of the client.

Opt for one-on-one meetings

Some people are not comfortable speaking in large groups. Smaller one-on-one discussions can foster genuine discussions and make it much easier to hear from shyer people who are reluctant to voice their opinions in larger groups. They provide us with other points of view and give a more accurate picture of the situation. Before planned group meetings, or for follow-ups, plan one-on-one meetings as needed. These meetings do not have to be very long and it can do the trick.

Organize meetings with stakeholders

Invite all potential partners to regular meetings in order to better understand the strengths and weaknesses in your community's service network. The goal is simple: to map the system as it is at a given time (existing services). What are the shortcomings? What are the objectives? From there, the larger group can be broken down into action-oriented sub-groups. Insist on the participation of organizations that do not initially want to take part. If you are this organization, remember that you are a stakeholder and that you must attend for that very reason.

Explore creative partnerships

Be creative in what you ask of your partners! Partners do not necessarily have to provide services, premises or financial resources. Sometimes all you really need is their visibility, be it in person or by asking them to display their logos, for instance. Explore different facets of the partnership and new areas of potential collaboration (such as coordinated service delivery, integrated information management, shared service standards).


a) Example of telephone call script to connect with a partner

Hello Mr/Ms (last name).


My name is (full name), and I am the (position title) of (name of the organization).


Option 1 (same sector): We work in the same field and in the same area, (name of the geographic area). I think we would benefit from getting to know each other better.


Option 2 (different sector): I work in the field of X or in the area of X. I believe that your organization may work in another area that could be complementary to ours. I think we would benefit from getting to know each other better.


Would you have a few minutes to speak to me over the phone?


One of my organization’s major projects involves (fill here) (for example, major projects that involve finding housing and related services for clients based on the Housing First approach. In a few sentences, explain what the organization does in this regard).


Based on what I know about your organization, there may be potential for a partnership between our organizations. Before we get to that stage, however, I would like to meet with you to talk about our respective organizations.

Would you be available to meet with me on (indicate approximately when)?

b) Example of email messages to connect with a partner



Subject: Request for a meeting – service complementarity

Dear Mr/Ms (last name):

My name is (full name), and I am the (position title) for (name of the organization). I am contacting you today to plan a meeting with you shortly. Since we work in the same field and in the same area, namely (name of the geographic area), I feel it would be useful and productive to have a better idea and understanding of what your organization does. This would also be an opportunity for me to present the services provided by (name of your organization) and explore the possibility of working together.

If you are interested, we could plan a telephone conversation in the near future. My contact information is included below.

I look forward to speaking to you soon.

Yours sincerely,

  • First Name, Last Name
  • Title
  • Name of your organization
  • Mailing address
  • Telephone number
  • website

c) Checklist - Identifying and meeting partners phase

1 - Have you learned about the elements of the system approach on:
  • (Checkbox) Moving from vertical to horizontal management
    • Receptivity to change
  • (Checkbox) Knowledge of existing resources in the community
  • (Checkbox) Knowledge of the systems approach
    • Identify someone who can explain the systems approach
  • (Checkbox) Visible and invisible links between community organizations
    • Identify someone who can provide information about these links
2 - Have you engaged the community?
  • (Checkbox) Consulted the community to identify partners
  • (Checkbox) Identified a person/organization who can give an initial helping hand
  • (Checkbox) Contacted the person/organization
3 - Have you identified key decision makers?
  • (Checkbox) Contacted the best people to develop partnerships
  • (Checkbox) Contacted organizations that are not as well known
  • (Checkbox) Identified the best person in your organization
4 - Do you know and have you contacted your partners?
  • (Checkbox) Identified the preferred type of partnership
  • (Checkbox) Contacted prospective partners by telephone or electronic mail
5 - Are you ready to establish initial contact? Do you have:
  • (Checkbox) Information to share about your own organization
  • (Checkbox) Information about the prospective partner
  • (Checkbox) Questions to ask
  • (Checkbox) Partnership goals
  • (Checkbox) Questions about possible joint actions
6 - Have you assessed the partner’s compatibility with your own organization such as:
  • (Checkbox) Link with the organization’s strategic plan
  • (Checkbox) Areas of overlap and complementarity
  • (Checkbox) Partner’s level of commitment and commitment sought by your organization
  • (Checkbox) Length of the partnership
  • (Checkbox) Possible start of the partnership

Phase 3 - Developing and ratifying an agreement


1. Start with one partner or not!

  • Some will argue that there is no point in engaging all the partners at the same time. It is better to secure individual commitments from key partners then move on to others.
  • Others will invite the World! Include anyone and everyone who may be interested or included. Don’t forget to invite diverse perspectives!
  • It really depends on the situation. If you are more comfortable with one-on-one discussions, go with what feels right.

2. Set priorities

  • Setting priorities goes hand in hand with establishing a common goal in that the priorities define what the partners plan to do in order to achieve their goal. For example, some will say: ‘We may not agree on everything but this is an issue we all feel passionate about, how can we work together on this?’ or ‘What is the one thing we can all agree on?’
  • Setting specific priorities helps to divide the work into specific, realistic deliverables.

3. Set a timeline

  • Setting short, medium and long-term timelines helps to anticipate what actions should be taken when.
  • The type of partnership will determine the timeline. Partners who work together on a daily basis should develop more specific timelines. Conversely, partners who meet twice a year only need to establish general guidelines.
  • The timeline must be clear and agreed-upon throughout the partnership.
  • Timelines may also need to be reviewed and established in the Agreement.

4. Negotiate

  • The terms of the partnership must be negotiated in such a way as to avoid an overload of duties, or occasionally to determine which partner will be actively engaged at what time.
  • Negotiations require us to learn about the people we are dealing with and to know where they are coming from and their intentions or agenda.
  • Come to the table prepared: What is it you are looking for from the potential partner(s)? What are you willing to give, to give up, put in exchange or to drop (for example, time, resources, staff, infrastructure, etc.)?

5. Assign roles

  • Identify a specific role for each partner: Who should do what, when, how and with what resources?
  • Assigning roles sometimes demands that we have a very honest discussion with our partners about what each of them is truly capable of accomplishing.

6. Ratify the agreement

  • To note: Some will argue that every partnership agreement must be formalized. Others have a history of collaboration and have never needed a signed agreement.
  • Agreements can be formalized using a Memorandum of Understanding or a Letter of Agreement that itemizes what organizations are ready to bring to the table, for example: the work each organization involved will conduct, resources they will make available, employees and volunteers, funding, sometimes even a presence at the table for input. It needs to be specified at the level of the organization, not at the individual level as people move around.
  • In your Agreement, you can include the terms of reference that stipulate how the group will work together, what the expected result is, the frequency of meetings and how conflicts will be resolved.
  • Having a signed document formalizes the partnership and everyone’s commitment. While ‘cementing the partnership’ it must also be flexible enough to endure over time.
  • The ratification of the partnership must also include an exit clause.

For a specific example on how to establish partnerships with landlords and property managers, a list of considerations is available in Annex B.

Case study

In early 2016, Pat’s organization and the rest of organizations serving clients experiencing homelessness were involved in the resettlement of Syrian Refugees. This new reality put a lot of pressure on the homelessness service system in the community. They were not ready to deal with this new volume of people and this type of clientele.

Pat organized a meeting with other agencies in the community that were involved in the process. Together they first identified the common difficulties. Then, they mapped out all the needs of the refugees from the minute they would get off the plane to the moment they are comfortably in their home. They did that from the perspective of the client.

Each organization identified what they would be able to contribute and committed to doing so.

They all agreed on a plan and on the establishment of small working groups to tackle operational issues. For example, as new refugees would need to access many different services and would not know where to start, who would help them navigate the system, who would contact them to give them vouchers for the thrift store, etc. and when? How do you adapt the procedure? etc.)

The group also agreed that the small working groups would meet every 2 to 3 weeks. The bigger community network would meet every 2 to 3 months, where the small working groups would report back on activities.

Words of wisdom

Try and try again

“No” does not mean the conversation is at an end. Your job is to find a way to reframe your request, make adjustments and agree to go in a direction you hadn't thought of. You may not have fully understood what a partner could contribute, or maybe the partner has not yet realized that its line of business intersects with yours.

Rely on the best person

There are many things that can adversely affect an agreement with a partner (such as a simple clash of personalities, areas of specialization that speak a different language, etc.). Identify someone in your organization, or in your community, who is well suited to successfully negotiate the agreement or who can accompany you in the process. (For example, asking someone with a finance background to negotiate a budget, someone from an organization that has an agreement in place with your potential partner).

Look on the bright side

Despite your best efforts and intentions, sometimes you will not succeed in reaching a specific partnership, for various reasons. But consider that at least you made a new contact! You now know more about them and they know more about you. They may start referring clients to your services and vice versa. Don’t be disappointed, it is not a failure.


a) Memorandum of understanding and agreement

Memorandum of Understanding and Agreement



This Memorandum of Understanding and Agreement is to be considered a trial and will run for a period of X years from date of signature.

  1. (Name of Agency 1) will commence partnership with
    (Name of Agency 2)
  2. (Name of Agency 1) will (List what the partnership generally consist of):
    • (Name of Agency 1) understands and agrees to:
      (List what Agency 1 agrees to provide – in-kind, services, office space, money, etc.)
    • (Name of Agency 2) understands and agrees to:
      (List what Agency 2 agrees to provide – in-kind, services, office space, money, etc.)
    • It is mutually understood and agreed to by all parties:
      (Name of Agency 1), and
      (Name of Agency 2) that:
      (List what the partners mutually agree to)


  1. All signatories agree to maintain in full force and effect during the term of this agreement at their own expense, a policy of comprehensive insurance.
  2. All parties will respect, follow and adhere to the terms and conditions outlined in this Agreement.
  3. A partner in this Agreement may at any time terminate this Agreement by giving the other partner
    days written notice.
  4. Each partner will be governed by its own policies and procedures and that those policies and procedures will take precedence in the case of conflict.
  5. All parties agree that
    (Name of Agency 1) is not responsible for lost or stolen items from the office space provided.
    (Name of Agency 2) agrees to take all precautions in securing all property.
  6. All parties agree that
    (Name of Agency 1) staff will have 24-7 immediate access to the space in the event of an emergency such as a fire. All other access will be done on a jointly agreed-upon schedule.
  7. All parties agree to immediately speak with each other about resolving issues with space, services or personnel.
  8. All parties agree that the emergency contact for
    (Name of Agency 1) will be
    (title) and can be reached at (111) 222-3333 ext. 444. The emergency contact for
    (Name of Agency 2) will be
    (title) and can be reached at (111) 222-3333 ext. 444.

This Memorandum of Understanding will be in effect from

  • (date)
  • and will run until
  • (date)

Date :

Name :
Title :
For (Agency 1)

Date :

Name :
Title :
For (Agency 2)


b) Checklist - Developing and ratifying an agreement phase

Start with one partner - or more!
  • (Checkbox) Identify the partnership(s) that is (are) most likely to work
Set priorities
  • (Checkbox) To complement the shared goal
  • (Checkbox) Realistic priorities
  • (Checkbox) Divide the work into specific deliverables
Set a timeline
  • (Checkbox) In the short-term
  • (Checkbox) In the medium-term
  • (Checkbox) In the long-term
  • (Checkbox) Partners agree to the timeline
  • (Checkbox) The tasks to be completed
  • (Checkbox) The deadlines
  • (Checkbox) The intentions
  • (Checkbox) The agenda
  • (Checkbox) What each partner is willing to give up, to give, to exchange, etc.
Assign roles
  • (Checkbox) Identify the roles
  • (Checkbox) Identify the people responsible for follow-ups
  • (Checkbox) Identify how the roles will be filled
  • (Checkbox) Identify the necessary resources (and where they come from) to complete the tasks
  • (Checkbox) Identify any reluctance to take on certain tasks
Ratify the agreement
  • (Checkbox) Draft a flexible Memorandum of Understanding between the organizations involved (and not with the people)
  • (Checkbox) Include terms of reference regarding work arrangements, expected results, each person's role, the frequency of meetings, deliverables, conflict management, financial arrangements, etc.
  • (Checkbox) Include an exit clause
  • (Checkbox) Sign the agreement

Phase 4 - Consolidating and expanding the partnership


1. Support front-line workers

  • Front-line workers are stakeholders in the partnership. They are the ones who guide the organization towards the desired change.
  • It is essential to provide training and support for these workers so that they too can learn to work in a systemic way (for example, share the content of the Letter of Agreement, explain what their role is in this new partnership and how it affects service delivery).

2. Expand the group of partners

  • The circle of partners should be expanded gradually and methodically, otherwise it can quickly become overwhelming.
  • Once the partnership has a solid foundation, adding partners can be a useful way to extend the reach of community action.

3. Dedicate resources to nurture the partnership

  • You need a driver, someone needs to steer the boat! Hire a coordinator to keep the partnership in line and to keep partners accountable.
  • Hiring a coordinator allows the organization’s managers to delegate a significant number of management tasks so that they can focus on other duties.
  • Important to make time to meet. Everyone is very busy. If you don’t make an effort to see each other (twice a year for example), with an agenda and follow-up items, the partnership will eventually die down.
  • If one of the partners has more space, ask if they can offer office space for the coordinator or for group meetings, or even for agencies to share office space (it is also an efficient way to save money, share the cost of the coordinator, and to see each other more often).
  • If you don't have money to hire someone, maybe one of you can offer in-kind support for the partnership.

4. Maintenance

  • Accountability is important. Keep minutes of your meetings!
  • Take notes during meetings and turn them into minutes.
  • Include a summary of the discussions and the follow-up actions that the partners agreed to. It makes it more clear for partners and helps to not lose the momentum of who does what and when. It ensures mutual accountability! The Memorandum of Understanding can be helpful at this point.
  • Distribute the minutes prior to the following meetings. It is very difficult to shirk one’s responsibility for an action that was not taken when there is a written record of the discussion.
  • Minutes also help to measure the work accomplished.

Case study

Pat's agency serves clients with medium to high needs or acuity. Traditionally, case workers would not only support clients in their personal objectives, but also try to locate housing for clients. However, Pat was aware that the time spent trying to locate housing meant that case workers had less time to give to clients' wellness. Clients' wellness is important to the success of a program.

In order to address this situation and improve service delivery, Pat’s agency set out to expand the existing network and solicit the support of a new partner, Agency Z. This agency specializes in locating housing for low acuity level clients.

They first met and shared information about their respective agencies and challenges. They definitely saw synergies and areas for collaboration and formalized the partnership with a letter of agreement. Pat and Agency Z have agreed to share the same housing locators. Because Pat’s agency has more office space, the housing locators, employed by Agency Z, will set up their office in Pat’s agency. This will also mean more direct access to Pat’s case workers and regular meetings to discuss housing and relocation needs.

The new partners also decided on a shared set of survey questions to assess clients’ needs. Based on the level of acuity or need, clients are now either directed to Agency Z for homelessness prevention or lower level of care and the higher needs clients are directed to Pat’s agency to access their more intense services. By sharing the same questionnaire for one common assessment process, clients do not need to repeat their story, which they often have to do every time they want to access a service.

In the agreement, it is also stated that Agency Z, specializing in locating housing, will keep 20% of the housing for Pat’s medium to high acuity clients.

The agreement also states that Agency Z clients will also be able to access some of the services offered by Pat’s agency, such as life skills training.

By formalizing the agreement and establishing clear roles and responsibilities for each, Pat’s agency and Agency Z are in a better position to serve more clients, from low to high needs, to provide more and better services while also avoiding duplication.

After one year in operation, and having made some adjustments to the roles and responsibilities along the way, Pat and Agency Z are ready to expand their partnership. A focus group discussion with clients and survey among employees helped to identify other services that would help clients live more meaningful and independent lives. Pat and Agency Z have invited two new service providers to a meeting to discuss potential ways of working together.

Words of wisdom

Train your clients

Ensure that your clients become the strongest supporters of the work you are doing on their behalf. Give them the opportunity to acquire competencies by providing them with longterm support.

Measure the work accomplished

Use minutes to help measure the work accomplished thus far. Use your scale (from Preparation Phase to see how things are going) and make required adjustments.

Remember to identify specific actions to be taken

Change does not occur through talk, but through action. Before leaving the meeting, be sure to identify concrete actions, even simple ones, that you and your partners must complete before the next meeting.

Go back to your original objectives

Review the objectives you identified during the organizational preparation phase to target partners you had already thought of. Are there new people/organizations you should invite to the table?


a) Example of agenda

Organization's logo

Committee or meeting name


  • Time (
  • to
  • )

Location of the meeting


Not attending:

Items Decision Discussion Information
1. Establishing quorum  if applicable (circulate an attendance sheet)
2. Reading and adoption of the agenda (Make changes to the agenda, if necessary)
3. Approval of the minutes of the previous meeting (present a summary of discussions  and make changes to the minutes, if necessary)
4. Business arising from the minutes of the previous meeting (Item from the previous meeting that require follow-up)
5. Correspondence received (Correspondence received regarding the partnership)
6. Information items
7. Item X
8. Item Y
9. Item Z
10. Tasks to complete before the next meeting
11. Meeting assessment
12. Next meeting (date, time and location)
13. Adjournment

b) Example of minutes

Organization's logo

Committee or meeting name


  • Time (
  • to
  • )

Location of the meeting

1. Establishing quorum (List participants present and planned and unplanned absences)
Participants name Present Planned absence Unplanned absence
2. Reading and adoption of the agenda
  • (Record any changes to the agenda)
  • Proposed by: (individual's full name)
  • Seconded by: (individual's full name)
  • Adopted …
3. Approval of the minutes of the previous meeting
  • (Record any changes to the agenda)
  • Proposed by: (individual's full name)
  • Seconded by: (individual's full name)
  • Adopted …
4. Business arising from the minutes of the previous meeting

Record any items from the previous meeting that required follow-up

5. Correspondence received

Record the correspondence received

6. Information items

Record the items discussed and documents distributed

7. Item X

Record the discussion highlights and decisions

If decisions were made

  • Proposed by: (individual's full name)
  • Seconded by: (individual's full name)
  • Adopted (unanimously, by a simple majority)
8. Item Y

Record the discussion highlights and decisions

If decisions were made

  • Proposed by: (individual's full name)
  • Seconded by: (individual's full name)
  • Adopted (unanimously, by a simple majority)
9. Item Z

Record the discussion highlights and decisions

If decisions were made

  • Proposed by: (individual's full name)
  • Seconded by: (individual's full name)
  • Adopted (unanimously, by a simple majority)
10. Tasks to complete before the next meeting
  • Record the tasks and the people responsible for them (who does what?)
  • Proposed by: (individual's full name)
  • Seconded by: (individual's full name)
  • Adopted (unanimously, by a simple majority)
11. Meeting assessment

Record the topics discussed to improve the meetings

12. Next meeting (Date, time and location)

Announce the date of the next meeting and any instructions

13. Adjournment
  • Record at what time the meeting ended
  • If decisions were made
  • Proposed by: (individual's full name)
  • Seconded by: (individual's full name)
  • Adopted (unanimously, by a simple majority)

c) Checklist - Partnership consolidation phase

Have you Follow-up
(Checkbox) Supported front-line workers
(Checkbox) Offered training and support
(Checkbox) Expanded the group of partners
(Checkbox) Dedicated resources to partnership such as:
  • ○ Hire a coordinator
  • ○ Make time to meet
  • ○ Find office space for meetings or other
  • ○ Ask for in-kind support
What are you doing to maintain partnerships?
  • ○ Keep minutes of meetings
  • ○ Take notes during meetings
  • ○ Include a summary of the discussions and follow-up actions
  • ○ Distribute minutes prior to the following meetings
  • ○ Use minutes to measure the work accomplished

Phase 5 - Assessing the partnership


1. Be accountable

  • Periodically assess the progress of your partnership projects in light of the Memorandum of Understanding and terms of reference you developed.
  • Identify information/data required for the evaluation (see the agreement, who is collecting this information? What is the money attached to?).

2. Measure your success

  • Measuring success is not limited to qualitative or quantitative data. It is contingent on results. In other words, success is not simply providing a service (housing an individual, for example). Success depends on the follow-through, namely maintaining the level of service over the long-term and the clients' quality of life.
  • Measuring success also means maximizing the potential for action by all stakeholders.
  • Survey your clients to see if progress is made. What are they telling you?
  • Do not underestimate the importance of early wins.

3. End a partnership

  • If all else fails, it is sometimes necessary to end an agreement with a partner. And that's ok. Sometimes the goal has been reached and there is no more reason to pursue the partnership.
  • Ending the partnership is facilitated by a Memorandum of Understanding that clearly stipulates each party's responsibilities and the conditions for withdrawal.
  • Transparency is important in these situations. The partner and funders must be informed of the dissatisfactions before the decision to end the partnership is made.
  • If conflict arises, don't wait too long: meet the organization and review the agreement. Make adjustments if needed.
  • You may want to involve a third party to resolve the conflict.
  • Learn from the experience: list of achievements, dissatisfactions, communication problems, parties' adaptation. etc.
  • Communicate the end of the partnership to employees and outside the organization.

Case study

Pat's agency currently has 100 clients in 100 units. Among them, 40 individuals have mental health issues. Pat's agency approached Agency Y which specializes in mental health supports. Together, they have established a formal partnership, agreed on service delivery standards, as well as timelines for regular meetings and to a quarterly evaluation of their partnership.

They have established that, among the 40 people with mental health issues, 20 suffer from severe mental illness. Those 20 higher needs clients will require more care and thus, more resources. Pat and Agency Y have tried to cost out the staff time and balance the case load accordingly.

Pat and Agency Y know that high needs clients will require more staff time, more supports and an extended period of care. In their agreement, they have also established a need to have monthly communication and to re-evaluate the partnership every quarter.

In their negotiations, they have established that, for them, success would look like this:

  • Decrease of 50% among the high needs clients as their situations stabilize after 4 months;
  • 15% graduation from the program to another lower need program after 6 months;
  • 10% rehousing among clients after 6 months;
  • Intake of two new clients per month.

During the first evaluation (month 4) everything was on track. However, between month 6 and 12, Pat and Agency Y realized that they needed to make some adjustments to the partnership. Instead of having to rehouse 10 clients, they had to rehouse 18, almost double the expected number. As part of their evaluation process, they met to discuss the reasons for the high rehousing needs: Why did the clients need rehousing in the first place? Is it an issue with the housing, the supports, the roles and responsibilities within the partnership? They asked the following questions:

  • Were the units appropriate for the clients? What were the reasons given for needing to change? Did clients stop feeling safe? Did they have issues with neighbours? The landlord? If so, what measures or actions were taken?
  • Was the level of service adequate? Was the reduction of service level too fast? Were the visits to clients often enough? What was the nature of the visits? Did the visits address the right issues? Was there duplication between the visits of Pat's agency and Agency Y?
  • Was communication between agencies good? Often enough?
  • What worked well? What are some of the successes of the last quarter?

Based on this evaluation, Pat and Agency Y decided to increase the number of visits to clients by Agency Y, thus increasing the number of hours and staff time needed. They also modified measures of success by:

  • Increasing the percentage of rehousing need to 15% after 6 months;
  • Maintaining level of care for 12 months;
  • Increasing the number of visits to clients by Agency Y and debriefing Pat's agency biweekly; and
  • Re-evaluating the situation in 3 months and communicating at least monthly.

Words of wisdom

Assess your partnerships from time to time

Establish specific assessment periods. As a general rule, once you have completed one quarter of your established objective, you should review what you have actually accomplished, including looking at your agreement.

Review your practices from time to time, sooner rather than later (don't wait for something to go wrong!)

You should not only question yourself about the content of the Memorandum of Understanding, but also about the evolution of your partnership.

  • Do you meet often enough?
  • Is the work being done as planned?
  • Is communication between partners satisfactory?
  • Is the information being shared to everyone's satisfaction?

Focus on the positive and show gratitude!

When we do an evaluation, we have a tendency to try to address the problems right away, to focus on the negative. Make the discussion constructive: focus on finding solutions, let partners know that you appreciate them, that their work is valuable, and also take the time to talk about what is working well. This helps to keep an open dialogue between partners.

Know how to end a partnership effectively

  • Make sure that everyone is clear about the end of the partnership. The end of the partnership does not necessarily constitute a failure. The work may simply have been performed.
  • Be nimble! Sometimes partnerships are fluid and they simply fade once the job is done.
  • At the end of the partnership, identify lessons learned, note what worked, what didn't, what was the process, who helped, what you would have done differently, what was accomplished and what wasn't. You could even do a summative report at the end.


A) Checklist - Assessing the partnership

How are you showing accountability in light of the MOU and terms of reference?

To funders

To organization's workers

To partners

How do you measure your success?

Quantitatively (number of services rendered)

Qualitatively (services rendered)

Over the long-term (maintaining the level of services rendered)

According to the stakeholders' potential for action

  • (Checkbox) Early wins (short-terms)
Do you need to end your partnership?

Tips and Tools:

  • Don't wait too long if conflict arises
  • Inform parties of dissatisfactions. Use Memorandum of Understanding to end the partnership
  • Communicate the end of the partnership to the organization's employees outside the organization
  • Learn from the experience
    • List of achievements
    • Parties' contribution
    • Parties' adaptation
    • Communication problems
    • Other
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