AT9. Dealing with Outside Organizations

When considering whether you should work with external organizations, you should first ask yourself whether it is necessary and what goals you are trying to pursue. Involving another organization will add an additional layer of complexity. If your organization has the resources and ability to complete an initiative successfully without an outside party, you should not seek additional help. The more control you have over the variables you have in play, the more likely you’ll get the result you’re aiming for. That being said, some initiatives will inevitably require cooperation with other groups. Sometimes, these relationships may even lead to greater opportunities in the future.
             As with most initiatives, discerning the purpose is the most important step. In this case, you must perform due diligence not only for your own group but for the external group as well. What are you getting out of the relationship? What are they getting out of it? Is this a temporary partnership or will you be working together in the future? The answer to these questions will color how you’ll proceed.
When dealing with professional groups for cooperation on a single event, you need to make sure that your logistics are up to snuff. Establish what type of event it is and whether it will recur. After that, hash out the division of roles. Which parts will you plan and execute and which parts will the partner organization plan and executive? Also, think about these questions.
  1. Who will be in charge of the event?
  2. Will there be committees and sub-committees?
  3. What tasks are required for a successful event?
  4. Who ultimately bears the responsibility of ensuring an event is completed?
Event planning with another organization is similar to normal event planning. There are only two real points of differentiation. First, you’re going to have to react to the outside organization’s demands and accomplishments. Second, you need to realize that most things are negotiable.
CS1: One of our most successful events was held in congruence with PETA (People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals). They invited us to a debate on the ethics of animal experimentation for medical research. First, note that they invited us. We did not reach out to them. From a negotiation standpoint, that gives us the preliminary advantage. In that sense we were lucky. However, your organization may not be as lucky. Especially if you’re just starting out, you’re going to have to reach out to more organizations than will reach out to you. At this point, I had built a relatively well established team. As the team grew in influence, more organizations reached out to partner up. These included both student and professional groups. This will come with time.
NOTE: When you reach out to another organization to partner on an event or to work together on some initiative, they have the initial power because they have something you want. However, be cognizant of how that power shifts as planning for your event progresses. If you can show to the other organization, that you can offer something they want, then the power shifts. You may find, eventually, that they need you more than you need them. This will only happen, though, if you prove your value. At the beginning, you need to offer something that hooks them and gets them interested, but you don’t want to over promise or give away your position in the negotiation. You need to think about your best alternative. Most of the times, your best alternative is simply progressing as you always have. Don’t be so eager for a partnership that you damage your own group. Keep your alternatives in mind. As a rough guide to general negotiation, you want to figure out what your partner is willing to give up as well as what you’re willing to give up. As Sun Tsu said in the Art of War, “If you know your enemies and know yourself, you will not be imperiled in a hundred battles”. Try your best to know your position as well as the position of the person you’re negotiating with. Figure out how much they’re willing to give up in order to reach an agreement, and then negotiate towards that figure. You need to balance between making the first offer and anchoring. The person who makes the first offer gives up valuable information about his or her position, but is able to anchor the discussion around that figure. Also, remember that it’s easier to come to an agreement with a multi-faceted negotiation than a one issue winner takes all negotiation. If you find that you’re having difficulty coming to a consensus on one issue, try to introduce another as a bargaining chip for creative alternatives. For purposes of putting numbers to intangible actions, consider the amount of work that your members will have to do to ensure that an initiative is a success. Then charge per hour. For instance, if hosting a debate will take 20 hours of combined work and we’re assuming a charge of $30/hour, then the organization you’re partnering with will need to pay you $600 in order for the initiative to be worth your time.
With PETA, we were on relatively equal ground. They wanted to debate us in order to spark a conversation at a top university. We wanted publicity and additional funding. Here’s a point to consider; regardless of how well established the external organization is, don’t forget to have respect for your own team. You and your members’ time and energy are valuable. Don’t get star struck by a big name. Stand your ground respectfully, and you will be treated with respect. Do not expect the other organization to fight your battle for you. They’re almost always more interested in their own goals than yours. So, you need to advocate for your own goals. To that end, don’t be afraid to ask for money. This was how we got PETA to pay us to debate them.
The next step in our process was to agree on the terms for the debate. Our primary focus was how our organization would be perceived when we were arguing. We didn’t want a debate that would be skewed one way or the other from the onset. Similarly, you should be cognizant of the role your organization will play in any partnership or group event. How will your organization be perceived? Unless your organization is dedicated to advocacy for a particular position, keep your stance respectfully neutral. For this debate, we agreed to present our side as an intellectual exercise as opposed to an official stance by the team.
The rest of the event proceeded relatively normally. The important logistics were put into place. Flyers were sent out, a room was secured, sound systems were set up, and food was served at a reception after the event. As with all event planning, the logistics are the important part. The people will work out themselves. Working with another organization will require you to understand how their actions and inactions affect yours. Put into place some contingency measures should your partner fail to deliver, but if you’ve done your research, and you’ve made clear who is responsible for each task, your initiative should proceed without too many unwanted surprises. Keep in mind who brings what value. Keep in mind who needs whom. But, always keep in mind that you are working for the benefit of your organization. Use that as your guiding star if there are any doubts regarding how to proceed.
NOTE:  Often, a large event with multiple organizations benefits from press coverage. Your school’s newspaper is a good place to start. Unless your event or initiative has been previously well established, you’ll need reach out. You can go through the official channel by submitting a story idea to the website. The better way is to canvas your board and regular members to see who has connections within the paper. By bringing in the friend connection, you’re much more likely to be featured. Great story ideas include major achievements, large collaborations or events, and the like. Another point of note is that your organization is tied inexorably to the members of your team. That means that if your teammate does something of note, it’s quite possible that their affiliations will receive residual spotlight whether it’s good or bad. Therefore, it’s vital that you create an understanding with your team members that their actions reflect on the organization. You don’t want any nasty surprises showing up in the paper that likely aren’t relevant to your day to day operations. Therefore, you must understand the costs and benefits of appearing in your school’s paper. In most cases, organizations seek out the student newspaper or other news outlets to promote awareness of their organization thus increasing prestige and the quality and quantity of candidates who apply each year. Unless you see our organization appearing multiple times in the newspaper, a single article will do little to help this cause. Weigh the pros and cons of exposure and act accordingly.
Questions to Consider
  • Do you need to set up status meetings to ensure that each group is performing the necessary actions to make your initiative a success?
  • If you’re seeking longer term relationship, does that affect your negotiating style?
  • If the organization you’re trying to attract does not express interest, what’s your next best option?

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