Building community relationships: Part 1 – Definitions

Explore definitions, discover where organizations and individuals may be in your community, and determine appropriate communication methods and boundaries as you build community relationships.

If someone were to tell you to go out into your community and start “building relationships” you may feel overwhelmed and might even have a little anxiety. That’s a huge task! You may ask: Is there a manual for accomplishing that? Is there a how-to guide? Is there someone who can give me instructions? The answer to all of those questions is: No! However, there are some tips and tricks that may help you to build community relationships.

In a series of articles, we will explore definitions, discover where those organizations and individuals may be in your community, and determine appropriate communication methods and boundaries. Understanding some of the definitions of words associated with building community relationships is important to building a strong foundation in any community and will be the focus of this first article. 

Let’s take “building community relationships” one step at a time. We have all heard the term “community.” Typically with this word, we automatically think of the geographical location of where we live. It’s also important to think of community as something much larger.

Merriam-Webster defines “community” as a group of people with a common characteristic or interest living together within a larger society. A group of people can be considered two or more and commonalities can be anything that those individuals share with one another. Some examples include occupational communities, religious communities, cultural communities, etc. What about in 4-H? We know that 4-H is a community because we often hear staff, volunteers and youth describe 4-H as a community of young people across America who are learning leadership, citizenship and life skills.

The term “relationship” is important to understand when building community relationships. A relationship begins when some type of connection is made. Community relationships may be long-term or short-term and are often formed because of some type of commonality built within the community. Relationships often begin as acquaintances; while some stay at that level, other relationships go more in-depth and move toward partnerships. An example of a relationship that a 4-H program might have could be with the local Boys and Girls Club or the local United Way.

So, what is a “partnership” and how is it different from a relationship? A partnership exists when associated individuals or organizations come together with the intent of reaching a common goal. This can also be referred to as “collaboration.”

Often for non-profit organizations that create partnerships, their goal is to meet or exceed the organization’s mission and/or vision statement. Other times two organizations may become partners because both mutually benefit. An example of a partnership in 4-H may be a club who serves meals at the local homeless shelter. The 4-H youth benefit because they are learning citizenship and life skills, while the local shelter benefits because they are accomplishing their goal of feeding hungry citizens in the community.

Relationships and partnerships often lead to some type of action, but it’s certainly not a requirement. There are times when relationships stay at the acquaintance level. It’s okay to know that an organization in your community exists and let them know that your organization exists as well without moving into a partnership or action.

In the next series of articles, discover where those potential partner and relationship organizations or individuals are in your community, in addition to determining appropriate communication methods and boundaries for interacting with them.