Victoria Plettner-Saunders

I’m often confused about the difference between collaboration and partnership.

We seem to use the terms interchangeably when in fact they are different. This Blog Salon is, in part, about partnerships and engagement. But are we all talking about the same thing?

I once had it explained to me that there is a continuum of engagement that includes, in order: affiliations, collaborations, partnerships, and mergers.

Moving from left to right each becomes more involved depending on the risk and resource contribution each party makes. So an affiliation requires the least amounts of risk and resources and a merger requires the most.

In a collaboration, each operates independently and has complete control over the individual resources they bring to the table. In a partnership, however, there is more of a co-mingling of resources and a separate structure is developed to oversee or manage the engagement. Sometimes what starts out as a collaboration becomes a partnership. (For more in-depth information see Collaboration: What Makes it Work by Mattessich, Murray‐Close, & Monsey, 2001.)

I think this distinction is an important one in response to Lynne’s post.

Expectations are a key factor in any relationship. Are both parties expecting a partnership or is one really thinking affiliation and the other collaboration? Lynne’s checklist of sorts should be reviewed by those who want to enter into a working relationship if only to assure that each is talking about making the same kind of commitment.

I look back on many of the working relationships I’ve had that I called a partnership and really, they were probably more of a collaboration. But more than the semantics of it all, I think the important issue is really defining what the relationship is and what you both (and others) hope to get out of it.

How clear are you about the kind of engagement you want with your community partners/collaborators?

There are a lot of great resources out there to support the development of collaborations and other co-mingled relationships (feel free to share your own in the comments below).

Don’t be afraid to do a little research and encourage your potential partners to have some thoughtful conversations about expectations.

One Response to “When is It a Partnership & When is It Something Else?”

  1. Alyx Kellington says:

    So often, the terms collaboration and partnership are used interchangeably and your article provides fine examples of their differences.

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ARTSblog holds week-long Blog Salons, a series of posts by guest bloggers, that focus on an overarching theme within a core area of Americans for the Arts' work. Here are links to the most recent Salons:

Arts Education

Teaching Artists

Early Arts Education

Common Core Standards

Quality, Engagement & Partnerships

Emerging Leaders

Charting the Future of the Arts

Taking Communities to the Next Level

New Methods & Models

Public Art

Best Practices


Arts Marketing

Audience Engagement

Winning Audiences

Powered by Community

Animating Democracy

Arts & the Military

Scaling Up Programs & Projects

Social Impact & Evaluation

Humor & Social Change

Private Sector Initatives

Arts & Business Partnerships

Business Models in the Arts

Local Arts Agencies

Cultural Districts

Economic Development

Trends, Collaborations & Audiences

Art in Rural Communities

Alec Baldwin and Nigel Lythgoe talk about the state of the arts in America at Arts Advocacy Day 2012. The acclaimed actor and famed producer discuss arts education and what inspires them.