Connecting with Community Partners

Summer is winding down, and everyone’s gearing up for the next school year. It always seems to go by so fast! I feel like every summer I have a long to-do list, both personally and professionally, and it never fails that I don’t complete everything on my list (or like this summer any of the things on my list).

Partnerships are on our to-do list year round, but it easily falls to the wayside as the day-to-day work takes precedence. However, partnerships can help us sustain our programs, grow our programs, and take some of the pressure off of staff. If your goal was to develop new partnerships this year, then this blog has some great resources to get you started.

Resources for Partnership Newbies

If you are new to a program leader role and tasked with developing partnerships to sustain your program, you may feel a bit overwhelmed! This Connecting to STEM Partners webinar, hosted by the New York State Network for Youth Success, walked you through identifying partners, determining a mission match with a potential partner, identifying a need that partners can help you fill, making the ask, and cultivating a quality partnership. Afterschool Alliance also has some helpful toolkits and documents to walk you through this process.

In the webinar, participants practiced connecting 4-H’s mission to the goals of Farm Bureau Financial Services. However, successful partnerships are not limited to business and industry, as many OST programs partner with local county Extension offices; other youth-serving organizations; museums, zoos, and science centers; libraries; and local colleges and universities. For a little inspiration on an outside the box partnership, Edutopia’s Turning the Community Into a Classroom blog describes unique partnerships between local governments and municipalities and OST programs to help youth solve local problems and connect with their communities.

Some partnerships may involve a monetary donation, while some will be donations of time and supplies: service-learning credits or volunteer hours for college students, starting a special club or program, or supplies donated for a family STEM night. The Connectory offers a system to help you find volunteers to support your program. As discussed in the Connecting to STEM Partners webinar, I hear Mayann Stimmer give the advice that you should start with a small ask, be appreciative, and gradually work up to the bigger asks as the partnership evolves. So I encourage you to think about ways that partners can support your program, without writing a big check.

After you’ve identified the partner, mission match, and needs you need to make the ask. Go in with an open mind! Be open to what the partner wants and think of ways that you can both get your needs met through the partnership. But also be prepared to walk away if it isn’t feasible. It’s better to decide to pursue something in the future than to take on too much and sour a relationship with a local partner.

Finally, be prepared to cultivate and grow that partnership. This is the easy step to forget; however, it is crucial to creating a long-term partnership that can grow and sustain your program. National Girls Collaborative (NGCP) has gathered best practices and recommendations for collaborating with partners that can help you be intentional about this process. We also partnered with NGCP for our Partner Collaboration Impact Your Collaboration webinar that walks through their collaboration best practices and how they can model successful collaboration for youth in your program.

Resources for Leaders

If you are a seasoned partnership builder, but maybe training the next generation of OST educational leaders, below are two staff development guides for training staff to become partnership builders:

  • In this training guide, Building Relationships with STEM-Rich Partners, participants take part in a carousel brainstorming activity to think of a variety of potential partners and plan out the next steps for a potential partnership.
  • In this meeting guide, Evaluating and Improving Relationships with Partners, participants evaluate and think of ways to improve current partnerships.

For the seasoned partnership builder, what additional advice would you give to those starting out? What successful strategies do you have to share with new youth development professionals?