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Successful Partnerships Share Interests, Values, Trust

This paper highlights how managers form effective partnerships between business, government and non-profits to address social issues. Successful partnerships create a shared vision by focusing on common interests. Partners define rights and responsibilities and communicate clearly to develop trust and express concerns.


Firms face changing pressures and expectations that encourage them to partner across sectors on social issues. Alliances form when single-sector solutions cannot address certain challenges. Yet, partnerships are poorly understood. This article examines what, why and how partnerships are used.


Business-Non-profit Partnerships

Business and non-profits often partner due to pressure for accountability. Business may use partnerships to improve image, gain social capital or motivate employees. Non-profits are skeptical of business motivations and fear reputation damage if alliances fail. Trust is essential for partnerships to work. For business, trust is seen as upholding contracts. For non-profits, trust is based on a shared mission or values.

Government-Business Partnerships

Pressures for more efficient government motivate government-business partnerships. The alliances can be used to change policy or can be a political symbol. Success relies on clearly defining terms using legal procedures, agreements and contracts. Partnerships flourish work when common goals are emphasized.

Government-Non-profit Partnerships

These partnerships can be seen as effective but involve tensions because governments have much more power. As a result, governments may be seen as forcing their values onto communities, controlling society through non-profits. Partnerships are successful when there is clear communication and democracy is perceived.

Trisector Partnerships

Partnerships between government, business and non-profits focus on large-scale projects and set industry standards. Relationships are successful when they develop trust, define terms clearly and focus on governance. Success also relies on leveraging the media, mobilizing resources and gaining access to an extensive network. “Bridging” organizations help manage relationships by finding key stakeholder links.

Implications for Managers

To successfully develop partnerships on social issues:

  • Create a shared vision by focusing on common interests and values.

  • Clearly define rights and responsibilities using contracts, legal procedures and agreements.

  • Develop trust by communicating clearly.

  • Express your intentions and underlying concerns.

  • Use “bridging” organizations to find stakeholder links.

Implications for Researchers

Longitudinal research is needed on social partnerships across sectors and how these differ from within-sector partnerships. Future research can also incorporate institutional and complexity models.


This article reviews research on cross-sector social partnerships from management and organization journals and applies it to different partnership types.

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