A partnership is an arrangement where parties agree to cooperate to advance their mutual interests.
Since humans are social beings, partnerships between individuals, businesses, interest-based organizations, schools, governments, and varied combinations thereof, have always been and remain commonplace. In the most frequently associated instance of the term, a partnership is formed between one or more businesses in which partners (owners) co-labor to achieve and share profits and losses (see business partners).
Partnerships exist within, and across, sectors. Non-profit, religious, and political organizations may partner together to increase the likelihood of each achieving their mission and to amplify their reach. In what is usually called an alliance, governments may partner to achieve their national interests, sometimes against allied governments who hold contrary interests, such as occurred during World War II and the Cold War. In education, accrediting agencies increasingly evaluate schools by the level and quality of their partnerships with other schools and a variety of other entities across societal sectors. Partnerships also occur at personal levels, such as when two or more individuals agree to domicile together, while other partnerships are not only personal but private, known only to the involved parties.
Partnerships present the involved parties with special challenges that must be navigated unto agreement. Overarching goals, levels of give-and-take, areas of responsibility, lines of authority and succession, how success is evaluated and distributed, and often a variety of other factors must all be negotiated. Once agreement is reached, the partnership is typically enforceable by civil law, especially if well documented. Partners who wish to make their agreement affirmatively explicit and enforceable typically draw up Articles of Partnership. It is common for information about formally partnered entities to be made public, such as through a press release, a newspaper ad, or public records laws.
While partnerships stand to amplify mutual interests and success, some are considered ethically problematic. When a politician, for example, partners with a corporation to advance the corporation’s interest in exchange for some benefit, a conflict of interest results. Outcomes for the public good may suffer. While technically legal in some jurisdictions, such practice is broadly viewed negatively or as corruption.
Governmentally recognized partnerships may enjoy special benefits in tax policies. Among developed countries, for example, business partnerships are often favored over corporations in taxation policy, since dividend taxes only occur on profits before they are distributed to the partners. However, depending on the partnership structure and the jurisdiction in which it operates, owners of a partnership may be exposed to greater personal liability than they would as shareholders of a corporation. In such countries, partnerships are often regulated via anti-trust laws, so as to inhibit monopolistic practices and foster free market competition. Enforcement of the laws, however, is often widely variable. Domestic partnerships recognized by governments typically enjoy tax benefits, as well.