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Partnership Continuum: Operating Partnerships

August 30, 2021

By: Greg Henson, President; Shanda Stricherz, Chief Creative Officer; and Nate Helling, Chief Financial Officer

In past weeks, we have described the partnership framework that exists within Kairos and reviewed various types of partnerships (Legacy, Integrated, and Collaborating). The final category in the partnership framework is Operating Partnerships, and that is our focus for today. As we begin, it is important to note that this type of partnership is unique in that has a greater potential to touch multiple aspects of our mission. In addition to being one of the largest and most diverse system of accredited competency-based theological education in North America, Kairos is also home to a multi-state, multi-faceted clinical mental health system that meets people where they are and offers them hope.

Operating partners may be related to “back-office” functions of the organization or to a resource that is shared. In some cases, it means sharing costs with another organization or working together to provide a service. In other cases, it means finding ways to reduce costs by sharing services or software packages. Operating partners are an important aspect of making theological education and integrated counseling truly affordable because they reduce the cost to serve those God places in our care.

In this post, we will provide more details about Operating Partnerships, share a few examples, and outline how such operating partners are identified, developed, implemented and supported.

Identification

If you have been following along as we have shared about each type of partnership, you may find this next sentence to be redundant! Operating partners are identified through the day-to-day work that occurs within Kairos.  As staff, mentors, therapists, faculty, and other partners engage in their work, we pay close attention to other organizations that seem to share a common commitment to developing affordable, accessible, relevant, and faithful systems of theological education and integrated counseling. Rather than actively pursuing new operating partners, Kairos responds to opportunities and conversations that occur naturally in the course of our work.

In practice, this means an operating partner is often already engaged in the work of theological education and/or integrated counseling. In most cases, operating partners choose to collaborate with Kairos because they are:

  1. Interested in sharing costs related to some type of resource (e.g., facilities, software, technology);
  2. Open to sharing personnel (e.g., staff, faculty, therapists, etc.);
  3. Looking to launch a new initiative that requires multiple participating organizations (e.g., creating a joint initiative to address student debt through a grant, conducting research);
  4. Hoping to share processes (e.g., student/client billing, student registration, mentor training).

Whatever the reason, an operating partner sees Kairos as a “co-worker in the vineyard” and believes working with Kairos will help it pursue its mission and serve a wider array of people in the process.

Once an organization identifies itself as a potential operating partner or responds positively to such an invitation from Kairos, the conversation moves into the development stage.

Development

During the development stage, the potential partner enters into a process of mutual discernment with Kairos. It is in this stage that we work together to consider the specific aspects of the partnership (e.g., personnel, resources, initiatives, etc.). As we learn more about what is possible and discern what God might be inviting us to do together, we outline this information in a partnership overview document. Such a document is not a formal agreement or anything like that. Rather, it outlines the high-level aspects of the implementation process so that others who were not part of the conversation can understand and engage in the implementation process.

When the partnership overview document has been completed, we move into the implementation stage of the process.

Implementation

The implementation process happens in three phases:

1) Formal Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) and/or Legal Arrangements (if necessary) – Using the partnership overview document as the guide, this phase focuses on wrapping up the details related to the partnership. Because Operating Partnerships are often related to some particular business process, cost center, or revenue stream, it is common for an MOU or a formal legal document to be required. In the spirit of open-handed and transparent collaboration, we hope to limit the use of such documents. However, when it is necessary, we are sure to complete this step before moving forward.

2) Process and Personnel Alignment – Using the partnership overview document (or MOU or legal document) as the guide, this phase also focuses on wrapping up the operational details related to the partnership. In particular, the appropriate Kairos and operating partner staff are connected to enable efficient and effective communication. In most cases, this means identifying a liaison – someone within Kairos that serves as the primary point of communication with the operating partner and vice versa.

3) Communication – Once everything is outlined and fully understood, we move to the communication phase. By this point, there has most likely been a good amount of communication already happening. The communication in this phase is focused on any internal and/or external communication that still needs to occur in order to help a wider audience understand and/or engage with the result of the partnership (e.g., helping students know how to access a shared library or register for shared courses).

Support

As with all partnerships, the support stage is ongoing. Even after all the processes, communication and day-to-day operations are fully operational, the work of supporting operating partners does not end. We are always looking for ways to enhance operating partnerships and want to make sure such partnerships continue to work well for all involved.

A few of the current operating partners in Kairos are Augustana University, Symporus, and the Digital Theological Library.

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