Building Strategic Partnerships
By Mark D. Burkhardt, Director for Outdoor Ministries, ELCA
For many years I have been talking to outdoor ministry board members about the need for their organizations to develop strategic partnerships with others. It amazes me how often that suggestion is met with some resistance. Often, I hear the response, "But we have too many issues of our own to deal with, we don't have the time or resources to build partnerships.” My response: you can't afford not to build strategic partnerships! The first, and most important task is to deepen existing partnerships. The second is to develop new partnerships.
Every outdoor ministry organization has a supporting constituency of congregations and individuals that use your programs, facilities, or services on a regular basis. These are your natural partners. These are the people and churches with which you need to deepen your partnership. These are the relationships that are essential to the health and well being of your outdoor ministry organization. Without these partnerships, your life span as an outdoor ministry will be very short and your mission will remain unfulfilled. A critical responsibility of every outdoor ministry board and staff must be to constantly work to strengthen relationships with your supporting congregations and families. So, what does that mean?
Primarily, it means constantly reaching out and asking a key question, "What can we be doing to serve you more effectively?" Or, "How can we help you achieve the ministry goals you have in your community?" Then, take the time to listen, really listen, to their response. There is a risk that you may not like what you hear. You may learn that your programs are not meeting their needs or that your facilities need an upgrade. You may even be challenged to move beyond your comfort zone and reach out to a new group of people you've never served before. But, your ability to learn and adapt as an organization is essential to maintaining strong partnerships. Healthy outdoor ministry organizations know how to communicate regularly and effectively with their constituencies.
The second challenge is to look for opportunities to move beyond your natural constituency and add some new partnerships. Board members often ask me where they should look. My response is always the same; look first to other ministries in the Church, and second to other non-profit organizations. Other ministries in the Church might include synodical committees, social ministries, church-related schools, colleges, seminaries, campus ministries, or even another outdoor ministry organization. The key question here is this, "What assets do we both have to offer, that if they were combined, might result in a more effective ministry for both?" Please don't limit your thinking to Lutheran ministries, but also be open to some new exciting ecumenical partnerships.
Additional partners to consider might include other non-profit organizations such as social service agencies, community organizations, youth serving organizations, support groups, public schools, colleges, and universities. Working with another organization holds the potential to increase your ability to serve the needs of the larger community. In your openness to serving the needs of others, you may discover a new and powerful opportunity to witness to the Good News of Jesus Christ in the world. Healthy outdoor ministry organizations know how to seek out and build new partnerships.
I urge you to take a closer look at building stronger partnerships, first with your natural constituency and second with other non-profit organizations. Partnerships do involve time, effort, and some risk. The end result, however, will be your ability to more effectively serve your constituents, the larger Church, and your community. I think you will soon find that when you reach out in partnership to others, your outdoor ministry will prosper in ways that you never imagined.