Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Partnerships Help Create Community

Author, Greg Castano

Partnerships allow us to work smarter, more creatively and efficiently towards a shared goal. As coordinator of the County’s Volunteer Center I am a strong advocate of a partnership approach to our work. As a member of a cross-disciplinary action team tasked with helping the Department of Human Services (DHS) develop an overarching framework to help implement empowered community partnerships, I’d like to provide some insights as to how to develop, grow, and maintain effective partnerships.

Thru this charge, I have learned much from my colleagues representing many of the Department’s most successful partnerships.  These include the Partnership for Children, Youth, & Families, Project PEACE, & MAPP/Partnerships for a Healthier Arlington.  Additionally, there are plenty of great resources to be found at the Fieldstone Alliance and thru the National Council for Public-Private Partnerships. In my humble opinion and in the world of community building and human services, partnerships are about people, relationships, and open communication. 

Here’s my short working list for creating and maintaining empowered community partnerships:

Define Partnership Type: There are many different types of partnerships (cooperative, coordinative, collaborative) and simply understanding the differences will help to better structure how the partnership will function.
Cast a Wide Net: Err in favor of being too inclusive and use exploratory meetings and discussions with key community leaders and groups to better understand the community perspective and to convene an effective team.
Clarify Roles & Responsibilities: Good intentions are great, but a clear understanding of who is doing what and how will serve to provide structure to the partnership’s work.
Be Clear on Vision & Goals: When a partnership is formed, a new vision and goals may need to be formulated (depends on the type) and this is an excellent opportunity to understand where each partner is coming from and where the collective is going.
Structure An Agreement: Having something in writing helps to ensure buy-in and that all parties are working on the same page.
Analyze & Evaluate for Success: A partnership is a relationship and like all relationships open communication, continual maintenance and ongoing improvement is necessary.

One of the major competencies of an effective volunteer center is the ability to participate in strategic initiatives (i.e. partnerships). At Volunteer Arlington, we have a long history of initiating, developing, and fostering community partnerships.  We have partnered locally with individual organizations and coalitions of organizations, across jurisdictions with other volunteer centers and service organizations, and regionally/nationally as a network of action centers. Several of our most noteworthy accomplishments would not have been possible without partnership(s):

Arlington County’s Online Volunteer Connection
Arlington-Alexandria Volunteer Manager’s Roundtable
ABC 7 On Your Side Volunteer Network
Northern Virginia Multicultural Volunteer Recruitment Committee
Arlington/Regional Volunteer Emergency Preparedness

CVN (formerly Community Role Models) started as a partnership/coalition of county programs and organizations with a shared vision convened under the leadership of County Board Member J. Walter Tejada. I know because I have had the privilege of being involved since its inception. CVN continues to this day with active ongoing affiliations and partnerships with the Committee of 100, local Arlington service clubs, the County Board, Volunteer Arlington & the Department of Human Services, a whole host of local businesses, and countless non-profits and volunteer programs that offer volunteer projects and opportunities to willing, able and eager young adult volunteers.  

I commend CVN on their vision and for the general awareness that partnerships create stronger community bonds, lasting relationships, and boundless opportunities to make a positive difference in our community!

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