Community Partnerships: Think Outside of the Box, Part Two
Reprinted from CommLINK
This is part two of a two-part series on creating and developing community partnerships. Read part one here.
Developing and Maintaining a Relationship
To ensure that the partner is benefiting as well, be sure that the up-front research determines the capabilities as well as the interests of the partner and its employees. Get to know your potential partners. What material benefits could they provide that would benefit your students? What time of day are they available? What can you do for them?
For volunteers, make involvement easy by being flexible. Also, assign short-term activities, such as helping to organize a career day or judging a school contest. If a business is donating money, adapt the financial needs of the projects to financial expectations of the partner. One option is to break down major projects into smaller parts and find a sponsor for each part.
Working with Partners
Remember their names. Give clear directions. Have a clear assignment ready for them. Be sure to check if they have questions, and that they understand the agreement, that it is workable for them. Be sure they know your upcoming plans, when students will be out of class, etc.
Orientation and Training
Prepare your partners and train them. Tell them about the campus, the student makeup; tour the school; explain checking in and out; explain confidentiality requirements; explain facilities use. Train them formally in the task they’ll be performing; safety procedures at the school; and school policies. A side note: before allowing volunteers to participate on campus in certain capacities, you may have to conduct a criminal history check.
Communication throughout the year is critical. Check in to see that things are going well. If they aren't excited about their current duties, ask if they would rather participate in another activity. Besides having a coordinator for the district, designate a contact on each campus for partnering activities and be sure that your partner organization has a contact.
Evaluate the plan on an ongoing basis and then conduct an end-of-year evaluation. This gives you the chance to change anything that isn’t working and creates an opening to reestablish the relationship for the coming year. Incorporate a yearly renewal plan. Do not assume that the partnership will continue. Review the program. Identify and fix the weaknesses.
You certainly want to meet with the partners and get their evaluation, but also sit down with key partner contacts in the district to evaluate the partnerships, such as principals, teachers, and campus contacts. Were the volunteers of use?
Recognition of Partners
One key step, according to districts that have successful partnering programs, is to make certain that you show your appreciation for your partners. Following are ideas of ways to recognize partners:
- Nominate them for awards
- Promote programs to the media
- Highlight them in publications, internal and external
- Share success stories to market your school
- Send thank-you notes and letters from students
- Give them photos and certificates
- Host a volunteer appreciation breakfast
- Include partners in activities they sponsor
- Display a banner in the school welcoming or thanking partners
- Place photo display on a school wall
- Make sure that staff know them or have them wear badges to identify them as partners
- Invite them to school events, award programs, celebrations, and observances
Roles and Responsibilities
Your partnerships will be more successful if you define the roles and responsibilities of the major players in your district, including the community relations department, the partnership board, the principals, and the coordinator.
Role of the Community Relations Department
- Coordinates partner, volunteer, and mentor programs
- Works with the districtwide partners and makes progress checks
- Handles background checks on volunteers and mentors
- Keeps records
- Assists with recruiting and promotional or media opportunities
- Facilitates board meetings and board committees
- Coordinates districtwide events and projects
- Handles problems that may arise
Be sure that personnel working with partners (whether staff, campus contacts, or the coordinator) have an enthusiastic, positive, and attentive personality.
Also, keeping records is essential. Capturing all instances of partner activities makes it easier to recognize partners for the work they do or recognize areas where partners are not participating as agreed so the agreement can be changed to better suit their abilities. Build accountability into the partnership with a regular reporting system so you can acknowledge the effects of their involvement.
If you do not have a community relations department, you still need some centralized coordination of your partnering efforts to handle some of these tasks. Depending on the size of your district, it could be one individual in the central office with a contact at each campus.
Role of the Partnership Board
- Identifies and assists in fulfilling the needs of campuses
- Recognizes efforts of partners and volunteers
- Assists in recruiting new partners
- Serves on at least one district partnership committee
Role of the Principal
- Meets, greets, and thanks partners
- Sets the pace and focus for a campus partnership program
- Appoints and directs the individual school’s partnership coordinator
- Directs the assessment of school needs and oversees the incorporation of all identified needs into a comprehensive list
- Monitors involvement and redirects staff efforts toward relationships that need attention
- Makes decisions to terminate relationships that aren’t mutually beneficial
- Directs evaluation of the program
Role of the Coordinator
- Stays in regular communication with all partners, inviting them to school functions and relaying information to them in a timely manner
- Coordinates recognition and appreciation of partners
- Coordinates, with the principal, schoolwide efforts to develop a complete list of needs and makes sure these lists are distributed to partners, parent organizations, and district coordinator
- Develops a strong relationship with volunteers from businesses and organizations
- Keeps the principal informed about partnership activities and contributions
- Maintains records of partnership contributions, including time, in-kind services, equipment, and funding
- Informs the district communications staff of interesting partner activities, writing articles for the newspaper and taking photos
- The coordinator is the one playing matchmaker to ensure that suitable volunteers are matched up with appropriate campus needs.
How to Evaluate Successful Partnerships
Successful partnerships meet the following three criteria:
- Based on communication and teamwork between the organization or business and the school
- Provide a “win-win” situation for both the school and the business or organization
- Are enjoyable and beneficial for businesses, volunteers, and the school community