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The success of environmental and policy strategies depends on their adoption and integration into the fabric of our communities, workplaces, cultures, and routines. Partnerships are essential for making physical activity more convenient and accessible for adults with arthritis. Working within and across multiple sectors increases the likelihood that physical activity strategies are embedded and can be sustained and expanded over time.

Regardless of the sector in which you work, having a variety of partners can broaden your impact. Partnerships will expand the public health action framework for arthritis and change physical and social environments to support physical activity among adults with arthritis, in much the same way that such strategies have proven effective for other public health issues. Partnerships may also lead to sustained improvements in overall health status among adults with arthritis and those who have chronic conditions other than arthritis.

Selecting the ideal partners takes time and effort. Thoughtful consideration goes into:

  • Identifying key characteristics of ideal partners
  • Researching potential partners and assessing their collaboration potential
  • Determining how potential partners can contribute to and benefit from collaboration
  • Contacting potential partners and negotiating joint ventures.

Characteristics of Ideal Partners

Defining characteristics of successful partners are essential. The ideal potential partner:

  • Sees adoption of physical activity environmental and policy strategies as serving its organization’s mission
  • Serves and/or has constituents that are likely to include large numbers of adults with arthritis, at risk of developing arthritis, or caring for someone with arthritis
  • Is able to commit adequate organizational support to sustain strategies over time, including funding, staff, expertise, research skills, policy analysis skills, data, leadership, visible champions, facilitation and coordination skills, credibility, access to decision makers, and access to networks and partners

Other important characteristics of ideal partners include:

  • A willingness to:
    • achieve shared vision and joint goals and objectives
    • share resources and expertise
  • Support from their organizational leadership
  • Interest in and capacity to:
    • market the interventions and recruit program leaders, instructors and/or class participants
    • collect and share data on implementation of interventions and their impact
    • provide personnel to assist in strategy coordination and delivery
    • function as a viable team member in a partnership
  • History of working successfully with state health departments, voluntary health and other organizations that address arthritis or other chronic diseases
  • Credibility in the community
  • No conflicts of interest

Identifying Potential Partners

Build upon existing connections and natural relationships

  • Research current and past individuals who have served as members of the state arthritis or other chronic disease coalitions and other key individuals involved with the Arthritis Foundation or state health department who are affiliated with or could open doors to partners in other sectors.
  • Explore the potential for expanding existing organization collaborations. For example, look into affiliations that your organization already has collaborated with to do similar types of community interventions or chronic disease initiatives. Look also to organizations that have sponsored arthritis-related fundraising events or other activities.
  • Review the locations where you are currently offering programs or interventions and see if there is a headquarters, regional office, or umbrella organization in those areas with whom you could work to expand your programmatic offerings.

Know your prospects

  • After reviewing all of your information about key organizations in your area, develop a list of potential partners.
  • Do your homework in advance to understand the potential partners’ capabilities, resources, and interests. and areas where there may be a natural fit or easy match between the organization’s operations, activities, or products and your arthritis goals.
  • Spend a bit of time researching the organization’s culture and structure to identify the key gatekeepers in the organization who must approve the partnership and/or champion the program activities.

Enhance partnerships with diverse populations

Prioritize your list

Prioritize the list of organizations to approach based on strategic considerations such as which prospects:

  • Have the greatest capacity to reach the most people?
  • Have the greatest geographic reach or are best positioned to introduce and expand the programs into a high-priority underserved area?
  • Are the best match in terms of your vision and goals? For example, who already has a stake in arthritis?
  • Appear to be the easiest with whom to start and maintain a long-term partnership?
  • Have decision-making authority and/or the greatest amount of influence?
  • Have or have access to resources in the form of funding, staff, expertise, research skills, policy analysis skills, data, leadership, visible champions, facilitation and coordination skills, credibility, access to decision-makers, access to networks & partners, etc.

Clarify roles and commitments

  • Respective roles of your organization and your partners for strategy design, implementation, and evaluation should be clearly defined, agreed upon, and documented to ensure long-term success.
  • Broaden awareness of the arthritis physical activity interventions and their benefits. Market research has shown that there is a low level of awareness among consumers about the availability and benefits of effective physical activity strategies for adults with arthritis. Targeted marketing strategies with a broader reach are needed to increase the number of participants.
  • Work with partners to identify the type of environmental or policy change you are seeking, and how best to accomplish that end.
  • Document and share progress and impact. As you design your strategies, consider how you will monitor and measure success. Specific benchmarks and outcome indicators should be identified and data collected to ensure that they can be tracked. Examining progress and impact helps identify areas for improvement and builds stronger partnerships. Celebrate successes and use lessons learned and identified strengths to grow the partnership and its outputs.

How to Research Potential Partners

This tip sheet provides general tips on learning more about potential partners and a set of questions to ask to help you in determining which partners are the best prospects to pursue.

  • Obtain the potential partner’s annual report and review its Web site.
  • Search the Internet to learn about its recent activities.
  • Go to the library reference section and seek out information about the potential partner.
  • Check with the Chamber of Commerce and Better Business Bureau to see what information they have about the organization.
  • Ask people you know to introduce you to someone they know within the prospective organization who can provide more information about the potential partner.
  • Identify the person or group of people who might be potential gatekeepers or champions who can help you get your foot in the door. Obtain their contact information.
  • Ask who are the key decision makers or parties who should be involved in developing and approving collaborative agreements. Obtain their contact information.
  • Set up an orientation meeting and interview your identified key contacts.

Additional Questions to Consider

Mission and Goals

  • What is the potential partner’s mission and/or vision statement? Will this mission be served if the organization adopts policy and environmental strategies for improving physical activity among adults with arthritis?
  • Is it interested in doing evidence-based programs or interventions to change policies and environmental strategies, and willing to stay true to those programs and interventions?
  • Does it have a known interest in or connection to arthritis?
  • How committed is it to prevention, a public health approach, evidence-based programs, the importance of physical activity and self-management, social equity, and other key concepts?
  • What are its products or services and what projects is it involved in now?
  • Is it interested in getting involved in new partnerships and in offering new interventions? What kind of new strategies are they interested in pursuing?
  • What will be the benefits of the partnership to your organization?

Organization Structure and Capacity

  • Who are its clients or constituents: People with arthritis and if so, how many? A population likely to have a large percentage of people with arthritis? Does it have access to specific target populations of interest (such as culturally diverse, rural or otherwise underserved groups)?
  • What is its geographic scope? How many facilities, offices, or sites does it have? Where are these located? During what hours are the facilities open? Do these facilities meet standards for ADA accessibility, warm water pools, etc.?
  • Is it willing and able to provide staff or volunteers who could be trained to coordinate and manage interventions for adults with arthritis? Would it be able to pay its staff to oversee the strategies and/or train others to implement them?
  • Is it willing and able to provide staff to coordinate logistics such as recruiting and training leaders, scheduling classes, reserving rooms, collecting data, etc.?
  • Is its organizational structure centralized or decentralized? How are decisions made about implementing new programs? How difficult will it be to get a commitment to offering the interventions? Does its key leadership support delivery of arthritis-related policies and strategies?
  • Does it have the capacity to market interventions effectively to the community or constituents? What are its communication channels (company newsletter, member Web site etc.)? How does it make its services known within its organization and to the general public?
  • Does it have the financial resources to adopt the policies? What kind of funding does it have? Where does it get support? Could it provide funding to support training and other implementation costs? Will it charge for access to the intervention? If so, who will set the fees? Who will retain the income?
  • What kind of equipment will it be able to provide? Do they have computers, audio-visual/video, or exercise equipment?
  • Is it willing to report program data as requested and adhere to quality standards? What are its existing accountability mechanisms for similar types of interventions or community projects?
  • In view of its volume of commitments, how much time is it likely to commit to arthritis efforts?
  • What will your organization need to bring to the table to make this a successful partnership? Will you need to be responsible for funding, training, marketing support, staff support, etc.?
  • What kind of ongoing support will it need after policy and environmental strategies are adopted?

Partnership / Community Program History

  • Does it have an existing relationship with the Arthritis Foundation (AF) or the state health department? How well has it related to and interacted with AF or state health department staff?
  • What is its previous involvement with community activities?
  • What are its current activities, strategies, and policies regarding arthritis and/or other chronic diseases? Do they have documented success in achieving the goals of their efforts?
  • With what other organizations or coalitions is it involved with or has it worked?
  • How has it partnered in the past and at what levels? Has it served as an event sponsor or program collaborator? Has it shared information or resources, etc.? Has it played an effective role in similar types of past or present initiatives?
  • Has it consistently fulfilled expectations? Is it reliable, accessible, and committed to supporting similar types of efforts over the long term?
  • How stable is it? Its top management team? Its employees?

Community Standing

  • How is it regarded by the community? Does the target audience view it as a credible agency?
  • Has it been involved in any controversies that might affect a collaborative effort? Are any of the organization’s members or leaders considered controversial within the community?
  • What is its competition? Who else does similar work or provides similar services to the community? Is it the best organization in its category?