Develop partnerships to grow your program

Learn more about the levels of partnerships needed to grow and enhance your non-profit organization or human service program.

The demand on human service programs to produce more with less has all non-profit organizations looking at how to grow and remain relevant. With shrinking finances and high demands to grow, non-profit organizations must develop partnerships in order to mature and thrive in a complex and changing world.

Building partnerships in order to grow a youth development program is essential to 4-H as well as other youth-development organizations. Organizations interested in building long-lasting relationships that grow their organization must develop partnerships that will grow their program and be beneficial to both organizations and the clients they serve.

Understanding the stages of partnerships is crucial for organizations not only to develop new partnerships but also for organizations to grow their current relationships. Partnerships develop in stages and at different time spans.

According to Grow 4-H: Building Partnerships to Benefit Youth developed by University of Minnesota Extension and Iowa State University Extension partnerships happen in four stages:

  • Networking
    In this stage, the purpose is to increase dialogue and common understanding. Partners retain their own mission, vision and goals. Communication is informal and is based around information sharing. Limited trust needed amongst agencies and little conflict occurs at this stage.
  • Coordination
    The next step is to increase communication around program services, thus reducing duplication efforts. Partners retain their own mission, vision and goals, but communicate these with others. Roles of each agency involve providing separate but parallel programs. Communication is usually formalized.
  • Cooperation
    In this stage, agencies share resources to address a common issue. Partners maintain their separate vision, mission and goals for their overall program but join together in area of mutual work. Roles and expectations of each agency working on the common issue is clearly defined.
  • Collaboration
    Finally, collaboration occurs when agencies merge ideas, expertise and resources, connected to a common mission. Partners maintain their own mission but develop common visions and goals. Relationships are based on trust. Organizations are typically unable to achieve the vision without each other.

Before any organization decides to engage in a partnership with another organization, no matter at what stage on the continuum, it is essential for the organization to research the potential partner and make sure the two organizations mission, vision and goals align. Developing partnerships with organizations that do not have mutual goals will result in wasted energy. When developing a partnership, the agencies must always look at the benefits of the clients, community and the organization.

Michigan State University (MSU) Extension 4-H is a youth development program that involves volunteers in providing positive, experiential, education opportunities for and with youth. Our mission is to create environments, through collaboration, that build strong healthy youth who are proactive in a complex and changing world. Developing community partnerships will allow for MSU Extension to accomplish their mission.

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