Why Trust is Key for Successful SDoH Partnerships


community trust

Successful SDoH partnerships with organizations can lead to positive ROI and better health outcomes.

There's no one-size-fits-all approach to partnering with organizations to improve health outcomes. Partnerships between healthcare organizations and social service providers can take different forms, and so can approaches to contracting or funding. But there's one component that's fundamental to any partnership—and it doesn't require tools, technology, or lengthy contracts. That component is trust, and without it, no partnership can succeed in moving the needle on public health. 

Not only has psychological research proven that business partners who trust one another spend less time worrying about being exploited, but they also experience better financial outcomes. That's a win-win for all involved, so let's unpack why trust is vital to any partnership and explore ways to create a culture of trust within your organization.

The trust imperative

In any partnership between healthcare organizations and CBOs, significant institutional trust already exists. After all, patients trust healthcare organizations to deliver quality care when they need it. Communities trust CBOs to deliver the vital services vulnerable populations depend on. But until inter-organizational trust exists between providers and CBOs, positive outcomes will remain elusive. 

Why? Imagine the outset of a partnership between a provider and CBO. A lack of trust between the two can create significant fragmentation in care coordination, and the burden of that lapse of trust ultimately impacts the individuals and families who depend on their services. It takes work from both partners to establish trust, and payers and providers are in the position to lead the way.

Building trust together

A recent article in the Journal of the American Medical Association noted that three things are required for healthcare organizations and CBOs to collaborate in a trusting relationship:

  • knowing oneself (leading from within)
  • knowing each other and being able to develop equitable collaboration (leading together)
  • knowing the purpose of the collaboration (leading for outcomes)

The article notes that leading from within includes acknowledging your organization's values, priorities, and biases. Leading together means knowing and accepting these aspects of your partner's organization. The third piece, leading for outcomes, means bringing all of this understanding together and operating within a shared vision and roadmap, as well as holding each other accountable.

What might that look like in practice for payers and providers? To build upon the authors' framework, it might look something like this: 


  • Do an internal audit of your goals and organizational culture. Identify your priorities and goals, and acknowledge any biases you may find.
  • Hold a discovery session with a CBO with whom you may potentially partner, and request they bring the results of a similar audit. Share your findings, and invite them to share theirs. Identify areas of overlap—and divergence. 
  • Be clear about your goals for the partnership, and invite them to share theirs. 


  • If both your organization and the CBO were aligned on critical aspects and see a path forward together, work collaboratively to set terms that work for both organizations.
  • Formulate an agreement for transparent data sharing. Make it clear what data will be used and for what. Specify how data is used, accessed, reported, and what systems will be used to handle the data.
  • Document methods for conflict resolution. 

Succeeding Together

  • Develop and document a shared vision. Identify desired outcomes.
  • Work backward from that vision to make a concrete SDoH plan. 
  • Determine how each party will hold the other accountable—and for what.
  • Identify regular meetings and reporting cadences. Determine what will be reported on, as well as who will do the reporting. 


Successful partnerships with community organizations can lead to positive ROI and better health outcomes—but healthcare organizations won't get there without establishing trust with their partnering organizations. In this article, we've broken down why that trust is so crucial and provided a high-level framework for building it at the outset of any CBO partnership.

Of course, trust is just one—albeit vital—aspect of successfully partnering with CBOs. To learn more about what it takes to succeed together and get actionable insights you can put to work today, download our latest white paper Establishing SDoH Partnerships with Community-Based Organizations

Download now.

Topics: care coordination SDoH partnerships

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