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What are Partner Roles & Responsibilities?

Partners are external organizations that have a formal relationship with an employment social enterprise because their work complements and supports that of the enterprise. For example, partners might provide case management services, mental health support, or permanent job opportunities to the individuals a social enterprise serves.

The roles and responsibilities of partners are typically laid out in a formal document, such as a contract or Memorandum of Understanding (MOU), to establish an intentional plan for how activities, data, costs, or other resources will be assigned or shared.

Why is it important?

A strong, well-defined partnerships strategy can help employment social enterprises to:

Best practices   

Determine which activities are best delivered by external providers 

  • Using your organization’s theory of change and logic model, determine the range of activities necessary to deliver the desired impact for your participant workers.
  • Based on the identified activities, assess which can be delivered most effectively internally (by your organization) versus externally (by potential partners). Be careful not to use partnerships simply to plug gaps that would be better served by your organization, but rather for areas that are truly best suited to external providers’ strengths.
  • Some important questions to consider when deciding whether to build a function internally or partner with an external organization:
    • How critical is the activity or function to the outcomes you are seeking to achieve? If it is critical, the imperative to own and deliver the activity or function internally increases. 
    • How fast do you need to bring this function to your participant workers? If you have an urgent need, it may be better to partner in the short-term.
    • If you were to build the function internally, do you have the right people with the right skill sets and knowledge base to do so? 
    • Do you understand the regulatory and compliance requirements associated with this function?
    • Is there another organization already doing what you’re seeking to do and doing it really well? Perhaps better than your organization could do it? 
    • If you were to leverage an external partner for this activity / function, how will the participant workers’ experience be impacted? How can you make the referral with the least amount of friction?
  • Please see this article for more information on how these questions can help you decide whether to build or partner.

Identify potential partners through networking and desk research 

  • Begin your search with organizations that serve the same or similar focus population as your employment social enterprise. 
  • If possible, use staff connections to make warm introductions to potential partner organizations in the community.
  • Use data or participant worker focus groups to understand if there are certain organizations that regularly refer individuals to your employment social enterprise. 
  • Connect with “convening organizations” – such as local branches of the United Way, funder intermediaries or workforce boards – to develop an understanding of the local landscape.
  • Reach out to relevant organizations for exploratory conversations.

Assess whether potential partners would be a good fit with your organization and needs

  • Gather feedback from current participant workers who may have previously interacted with potential partners. Eliminate potential partners that do not share your organization’s values, particularly with respect to your participant worker ethos and the lens of trauma-informed care. 
  • Use REDF’s Partner Evaluation Tool to identify and prioritize your criteria for partners, score each potential partner, and decide whether to pursue a partnership.

Develop fruitful relationships with promising organizations by aligning incentives and documenting expectations 

  • Identify the “win-win” areas where your organization’s goals and those of a potential partner are aligned. For example, your social enterprise may need to recruit more individuals with high barriers, and a potential referral partner may need workforce training services for their focus population.
  • Codify the relationship with formal documentation:
    • For vendor relationships, use contracts to establish the cost you will pay for services.
    • For non-monetary relationships, use MOUs to ensure that both organizations are aligned on roles and responsibilities.
    • Develop data-sharing agreements to establish how to share participant worker information and metrics.

Actively maintain the partner relationship through informal and formal touchpoints

  • Schedule bi-annual check-ins with partners to discuss successes, common challenges, and continually improve the relationship for both parties. 
  • Ensure that your organization designates an individual to “own” the formal relationship. Rotate partner relationship owners across your organization every few years to decrease the risk of losing the relationship in the course of employee turnover. Further, no single individual should own all partner relations. 
  • Keep contact information on your partners’ person of contact up-to-date. 
  • Empower your frontline staff to communicate regularly with their counterparts at the partner organization to facilitate daily troubleshooting.