7. Building partnerships

Module seven of the GFMD MediaDev Fundraising Guide.

Effective, balanced partnerships are an essential ingredient for success. However, it is very important to ensure a proper rationale for your choice of partner as well as to ensure that the resulting partnership is manageable and conducive to better results.

Reasons why donors encourage a partnership approach

It allows them to spread their funding more widely and improve the perceived equity of their programmes.

It ensures that the workload can be divided between multiple organisations, thereby avoiding bottlenecks or resourcing problems.

It gives beneficiaries access to a wider range of expertise and experience (not just that of one organisation or one country).

Partnerships involving international and local organisations allow for an exchange of experience and ideas as well as ensuring that new approaches are firmly grounded in local realities

Types of partner

In the media development field, organisations leading bids tend to look for the following types of partner:

Research partners

Organisations which can take responsibility for context analysis, baseline research, monitoring and evaluation etc.

Strategic partners

Partners who compensate for any perceived weaknesses in the experience or track record of the lead (e.g. experience in the target country or aspects of the project design). These might include technology, humanitarian or health partners for development communications programmes.

Local partners

Local organisations which can ensure the project benefits from local knowledge, networks and personnel. Local partners may also be able to provide a base of operations.

Media partners

Media outlets, local or international, who can provide broadcast or publishing platforms for any content produced through the project.

Implement due diligence processes with all partners, large or small. When considering a partner for a specific programme, consider whether or not the proposed role matches the organisation's institutional goals and mission statement.

Request institutional documents, detailing financial performance and technical capacity.

Ask trusted sources for their views and take up any references or testimonials from previous implementing partners.

Types of relationship

The lead partner is typically responsible for driving the project design and managing the bidding process.

In the event of a successful bid, the lead partner will be the contract-holder and will be accountable to the donor for ensuring the project is delivered on time and on budget.

It is, therefore, essential that this partner’s leadership role is clearly articulated and that the organisation concerned has the internal resources and systems to deliver.

Co-applicants, sub-grantees & co-beneficiaries

Co-applicants, sub-grantees and co-beneficiaries are essentially junior partners who deliver an agreed portion of the planned activities matching their skills and experience.

They report to the lead partner and ensure that delivery and expenditure are properly documented, using common templates and agreed procedures.

Junior partners will generally sign a partnership or cooperation agreement with the lead partner, mapping out their agreed deliverables, budget and payment schedule as well as their legal commitments and obligations.


Several donors allow for sub-contractors or suppliers who are not named in the bid but who are selected according to an agreed procurement process during the implementation phase.

The complexity of the procurement process will generally depend on the value of the contract but, in all cases, proper due diligence should be carried out.

Sub-contractors will deliver a finite set of services that cannot be provided by the lead partner or members of the consortium, generally because they fall outside the remit of these organisations or because they are commercial in nature.

The proportion of the budget which can be used for sub-contracting is often limited because the donor assumes that the actual contractor should be capable of delivering the vast majority of the required activities.

Media partners

Media partners may not fall into any of the above categories.

They may be broadcasters or publishers who have agreed in principle to carry content produced by the project because this content is perceived to have value in terms of attracting new audiences or enhancing editorial credibility.

These partners are, therefore, likely to agree to carry the content free of charge.

Donors may want to see evidence that such organisations are on board during the bidding stage through letters of support or other forms of commitment.

See the Fundraising lexicon for descriptions of associate partners and affiliated entities which are EU-specific categories.


Ground rules

The prerequisites for a successful partnership can be summarised as follows:

Complementary skills and experience

There should be a mutual need in all partner relationships. Lead partners should select junior partners who fill gaps in their own expertise; junior partners should join consortia where they feel they have a clear role to play and bring added value.

Shared values and a common vision

Partners, broadly speaking, should have the same institutional goals and development priorities.

Similar organisational culture and effective decision-making structures are also the foundation stones for a good working relationship.

A fair division of the available budget

It is not always possible to agree on definite budgetary allocations from the outset since some activity strands may be determined by the findings of baseline research.

There should, nevertheless, be clarity about the workstreams “owned” by each partner and the project management resources required to deliver related activities.

Collective and inclusive decision-making

All partners should be closely involved in designing and developing the project and lead partners should endeavour to establish a forum that facilitates and encourages a constructive exchange of views.

This approach should be carried through into project implementation.

That said, projects cannot be managed by a committee and, therefore, a lead partner needs to be the ultimate voice of authority on the project, without being overly prescriptive or top-down.


Conversely, partners need to be given the space to develop and deliver their own work packages or activity strands.

The relationship within a consortium should be based on mutual respect for the ability of each partner to draw on the right expertise in order to deliver a successful outcome.

Mutual support

Partners need to be able to rely on other members of the consortium, particularly the lead partner, to provide support with unfamiliar processes or systems.

Training and instruction should be offered, where necessary, as well as assistance with internal procedures in order to ensure complementarity across the consortium.

Effective knowledge management

All partners benefit from mechanisms aimed at sharing ideas, resources and materials across the project lifecycle.

Managing information is also crucial for project continuity (e.g. for effective briefings of consultants and proper handovers between key staff).

Collaboration on project design

The principles highlighted above should be applied during the project design process.

It is vital that all opinions are considered and that a foundation is established for proper consultation and feedback.

Ultimately this will ensure that each partner feels a strong sense of ownership for its allocated activities.

Clearly, this process is easier when partners already have experience of working together but effective collaboration with new partners can be assured by:

Ensuring that all partners are properly introduced and their roles are fully articulated from the outset.

Clarifying focal points and responsibilities as early as possible, then ensuring all key decision-makers are copied into relevant correspondence (without inundating them with unnecessary material).

Encouraging bilateral exchanges between partners in order to build strong working relationships.

Drawing on the experience of individuals working for the partner organisations and, potentially, making funds available for commissioning research or input that can strengthen the credibility of the project.

Providing templates or frameworks for contributions (including standardised CV templates or past performance tables).

Making allowances for varying language skills and ensuring that key messages are fully understood by following up on all oral interaction with detailed minutes of what was discussed and agreed.


Negotiating the division of labour and budgetary allocations can be among the most time-consuming and stressful elements of the project development process.

However, mishandling the negotiations can cast a shadow over intra-consortium relationships for the duration of a project.

The ground rule for negotiation should be to ensure that all dealings are fair and transparent while respecting the need for some confidentiality around issues such as salaries and operational running costs.

It is important to agree on the division of labour before discussing the budgetary allocation. Project management costs should be directly linked to each partner’s overall level of effort so, until the actual workload is clear, the question of overheads should be left pending.

Ultimately, the simplest way of dividing available overheads (particularly what some donors describe as indirect costs) is to calculate the percentage of the overall activities being implemented by each partner and then to apply this percentage to the margin. However, there are more complex agreements around profit share which are applicable to service contracts only.

Dos and don’ts of partner negotiations

Involve all partners in the negotiation process wherever possible.

Ensure that each partner is clear about the role assigned to them in order to avoid conflict between partners who have overlapping skill sets.

Find a fair way of sharing the available indirect costs – it is not 'best practice' for the lead partner to lay claim to the entire allocation.

Ensure that you have a paper trail confirming that each partner has accepted the budgetary allocation and division of labour before you submit the bid.

Don’t make the assumption that local expertise is worth less, in monetary terms, than international expertise.

Don’t divide the project up according to arbitrary percentages and then design the activities according to this division.

Don’t take a one-size-fits-all approach to allocating the project management roles. Some countries have larger bureaucratic overheads than others and organisations working there may need additional resources to deal with them.

Don’t put yourself in the position of having to make a value judgment about which partner is better equipped to deliver the same activity.

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