Tips for Cultivating Community Partnerships

Forming strong partnerships among a diverse group of organizations is a key step in creating a successful MLK Day initiative that reflects broad-based community involvement. Here are some tips for developing these relationships:
  • Communicate the Significance of MLK Day. To inspire and persuade prospective partners to get involved, you must be able to explain the significance of the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Holiday—the nature of Dr. King’s teachings and the connection that these have to service. These websites can help you learn more so you can articulate the holiday’s importance in your outreach.
  • Read what Mrs. King said about the holiday
  • Create Buy-In Within Your Organization. Before you can elicit the support of outside groups, you need to create buy-in within your own organization. This will ensure that your organization’s leadership and staff can work as a united, well-informed team as you reach out to external partners.
  • Decide What Level of Partnership You Want to Create. There are four partnership levels: communication, coordination, cooperation, and collaboration. Each level reflects increasing levels of interaction, sharing of resources, and inter-connectedness among partners. Decide on which level you want to engage with others in your community around MLK Day.
  • Create a Community Partnership Committee. The members of this committee should reflect the diversity of the community and represent various community stakeholders.  The committee should focus on identifying prospective partners, reaching out to engage them in the initiative, and shaping the nature of the partnership.
  • Identify the Best People to Invite New Partners. When reaching out to invite new partners to the initiative, think about who has an existing connection to the new partner and who would be most likely to get a “yes” response. For instance, your board members may be best suited to reach out to other community leaders. But, staff and volunteers can serve as recruiters too, if they have the best connection to the organization or person you’re trying to involve. Help prepare these partnership ambassadors to make the “ask.”
  • Engage New Partner. Think creatively to find new individuals or organizations that are not currently involved in King Day activities, but should be. Consider: who is absent? Do we represent a broad cross-section of the community? Are we being intentionally inclusive? Ask your partnership ambassadors to seek out three or four people with different skill sets and/or social networks to engage in the initiative.
  • Find Other Organizations Already Involved in the King Holiday. Investigate what other organizations in the community have been doing to celebrate the King Holiday, even if their activities do not traditionally include service. Then, find ways to link these existing community celebrations with your service events. For example, if there is a parade, develop service projects along the parade route or in the community where the parade normally ends. If there are church services, develop “Service after the Service” events.
  • Select a Meaningful Local Theme. If you decide to have a local theme for your MLK Day initiative, make sure that it has meaning for your community and for your potential partners by reflecting current local needs and concerns.
  • Define Goals and Desired Outcomes. Work with your partners to explicitly define your shared goals and outcomes so that you know you are moving toward the same vision. You should also define clear roles and responsibilities for each partner. Make sure to communicate often with your partners to ensure that these shared understandings remain in the forefront of your initiative.
  • Keep it simple. While planning an MLK Day initiative is not really a simple undertaking, the spirit of the event is straightforward—respect each other and work together in goodwill. Remember to continuously say “thank you” to all involved and have fun!
  • Remember: Relationships Build Community. The partnerships that you develop during an MLK Day initiative can form the basis of ongoing, long-term relationships that extend beyond annual MLK Day of Service collaboration to benefit the community in many ways. Relationship-building is a very powerful community development strategy.

Successful Partnership Examples from Service for Peace

Engaging a Corporate Partner

Target has contributed hundreds of employee volunteers and substantial financial support as a presenting sponsor of Service for Peace’s (SFP) MLK Day projects in Louisville, KY. SFP – an MLK Day national lead agency – attributes its success in developing this partnership to approaches such as:
  • Inviting Target to participate in the MLK Day planning committee, which gives the company a sense of ownership of the MLK Day activities
  • Responding to the company’s needs by ensuring their employees serve in groups rather than being dispersed to many different sites around the city
  • Including Target’s leadership in media interviews leading up to the day of the event

Foster Trust and Respect. Trust and respect are the most important factors in a successful partnership. Nurture these characteristics among the partners. Learn more about the other important factors in a collaboration

Creating Ongoing or Alternative Opportunities for Partners

Service for Peace (SFP) continues to utilize the 2008 MLK Day theme, 40 Days of Peace. Based on Dr. King’s teachings, the initiative seeks to build kinder, more peaceful communities by encouraging words of kindness and acts of service to others. The 40 Days of Peace provides MLK Day partners with opportunities to continue their involvement on an ongoing basis after the day of service. It also offers partners who cannot be involved on MLK Day itself with an alternative way to honor Dr. King’s life.
For example, the Stamford, CT, school district wanted to celebrate MLK Day. Because schools are closed on MLK Day, the district embarked on the 40 Days of Peace initiative. Students engaged in activities on a daily basis to create kinder communities in their schools. As a result, there were ongoing media opportunities, weeks of projects inspired by Dr. King’s life, and a deeper experience than might be gained from a one-day event. See the 40 Days of Peace website for more information about getting involved in this effort.
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