Collaborating with Partners
Partnerships are essential in educational outreach. Partners help you reach your target audience and define your educational goals. They can offer vital information about your audience and help you create appropriate materials, or provide you with existing materials that they have created for the same audience on the same topic area. Partners can help you define your educational content and provide the content expertise you need, and they can also enhance your credibility with funders and with your target audience.
So what are the steps to establishing and working effectively with partners?
Identify Potential Partners
What organizations serve your target audience? Educational and early childhood organizations, like the International Reading Association or the National Association for the Education of Young Children, are obvious places to start if you're targeting teachers and child care workers.
If you are interested in informal education, start by thinking about whom you want to reach. What is your target age group? Are you aiming at a particular socioeconomic group or at an audience in a particular region? What are the local PTV stations in that region, and what kinds of educational projects are they involved in? What is the best setting for reaching your target audience? Where do you find third- and fourth-grade girls, for example? Are there national networks you could tap into? If you are interested in museums, you might contact the Association of Youth Museums or the Association of Science-Technology Centers. If you want to work with after-school programs, you might contact Boys & Girls Clubs of America, YMCA or YWCA, Girl Scouts or Boy Scouts, 4-H, or Camp Fire Boys and Girls.
Before you contact your potential partners, you need to know who they are and where they stand on key issues. Visit their Web site(s) to find out about their programs. Ask colleagues who have worked on similar projects if they have worked with this partner, and if so, what was the result? What did the partner bring to the table? Did the partner follow through? Did communication flow well? Were there any misunderstandings or surprises? How would they summarize the ultimate value of the partnership? Ask yourself why this partner would want to be part of this project. What does your organization or the project offer that helps this partner meet its mission or organizational goals?
Pick Up the Phone
The earlier you involve partners, the better your relationship and your outcomes will be. Your potential partner's national office can connect you with a network of community-based affiliates. Partners can serve as a distribution avenue, and they can build awareness about your project among their constituents through their various communication vehicles.
Tell potential partners about your project and your ideas for collaboration, and ask them for their input and ideas. Organizations that are brought on once everything is set in stone can feel used and may make little effort to help you beyond the basics. Set up a face-to-face meeting if you've never met. It builds trust and personal connection.
Make sure you both understand the goals of your partnership and what each of you is going to do and provide. Clarify up front the partner's level of involvement and the extent of editorial input or control the partner expects.
Put It in Writing
If money will be changing hands, make sure there is a contract or letter of agreement. Even if the partnership is more casual, having something in writing will make everyone feel more comfortable and protects all parties' interests.
Establish Good Communication
The key to good partnerships is communication. If you have multiple partners, think about ways to keep them all in the loop, possibly through periodic conference calls or a listserv.
Share project resources as you create them. Get partners' feedback, if appropriate. Let them know what's going on behind the scenes.
Close the Loop
Always share evaluation results and final reports with your partners. Send them a set of the final videos and other project-related resources for their records. Make sure each partner feels like a full member of the project. You may want to work with them again someday.