After years of working in partnership with other community organizations, I have learned that working with people is much more complicated than just getting in a room together and talking. All organizations have their own personalities and goals. Yet the great thing about working with nonprofits is that instead of competing with each other, we can maximize our returns by working together.
At Ciudad Nueva, we seek to partner with other organizations on common goals whenever we get the chance. Our main strategy is to build relationships with different groups, understand what they do, and make sure we’re not overlapping or competing. If appropriate, we seek to partner on specific projects or around certain issues to maximize our efforts. This allows us to conserve resources and also fosters a collaborative environment. Ultimately, we are all working toward a healthier community so having community organizations work together in itself helps us achieve that goal.
Early Lessons in the Power of Partnership
About 10 years ago we partnered with Central El Paso Community Organization (CEPCO) to write a grant for an after-school program for middle school students. At the time, we only had the capacity to work with elementary school kids, but we knew a lot of middle schoolers who wanted to continue in a program like ours. After we received the grant, we were able to combine forces with CEPCO, hiring a middle school program coordinator and hosting the meetings at both of our facilities. We were able to meet the individual needs of our students and also combine forces with CEPCO for the good of the community.
Another great success, our Downtown Church Connection, which helps coordinate the efforts of 60+ churches and organizations in the downtown El Paso area, started with a monthly lunch meeting between myself and two others, nurturing the concept by sharing plans and ideas. Now this partnership hosts 30-40 people monthly! (Watch for our blog post later this month with more information about this partnership.)
Partnership Keeps Us Real
While we have experienced a lot of success following this path, we have also learned some valuable lessons that have become guiding principles for working alongside our friends:
- We must identify the core issues and not let the little things get in the way.
- We cannot micromanage everything.
- In order for partnership to work, we have to put a lot of trust in each other.
- We have to be willing to share successes.
Probably the most difficult thing to overcome is the unwritten rules of organizational culture within two different entities. We have learned that we must be mutually humble to recognize that none of us hold all the answers and that our way isn’t the only way to get things done.
Success Leads to more Success
Partnership is so much at the core of what we do, it touches almost every aspect of our organization. Here are some highlights of how partnership has been formative in the different areas that we seek to impact in our community:
- We partner with another organization that has after-school programs in the neighborhood. We communicate about families and make sure we are not duplicating efforts in different situations. They refer their kids to us once they get too old for their programs.
- A childcare center in our neighborhood prepares food for our after-school programs.
- We work with Young Life to locate clubs in our after-school programs and get kids to camp.
In addition, most of the models we use in our various youth programs have come from someone else who shared their model with us.
- We refer families to many other services in the neighborhood — ESL classes, emergency assistance, food pantries, churches, and businesses.
- If we know another organization or church works with a family we also know, then we may coordinate to make sure any needs are met.
- We host community dinners every couple of months in partnership with Mustard Seed Cafe.
- We partner with a local group that connects grocery stores with nonprofits to receive food for our new food co-op.
- We partner with a number of other churches and organizations that serve families in our neighborhood.
- Many of the services provided in our neighborhood have been influenced by the relationships with other organizations — from a neighborhood cafe to a food pantry to job training.
- We also partner on neighborhood events such a Spring Festival or a Health Fair.
- Local neighborhood associations work with us to advocate for needs in community.
- We worked diligently with the local neighborhood associations for years to locate the Pat O’Rourke Recreation Center in our community.
- We also partner on neighborhood cleanups, petitioning the city for improvements in parks or infrastructure, and in meeting local officials during elections to understand where candidates are coming from.
Looking ahead to the future
One way we are looking to build new partnerships this year is with businesses. We’d like to identify three local businesses who would each like to become major program partners for one of our three after-school programs (elementary, middle, and high school).
We envision these partnerships including a significant financial support (the ideal would be around $2,000 per month). However, in addition to monetary support, we would love to see these businesses partner with us in these ways:
- Encouraging their employees to volunteer at Ciudad Nueva
- Using employees as guest speakers at CN programs, revealing steps to get a job in the industry
- Taking kids on tours of the business
- Possibly hiring teenagers who might be eligible for jobs
We are excited about showcasing these business partners on our Ciudad Nueva website and in our youth centers, and we look forward to the many new relationships that will be forged through working together.
Click here if you would like more information about forming a business partnership with Ciudad Nueva. We would love to talk with you about how we can grow with you!