Leveraging Partnerships for Community Impact

Learn how to assess your organization's readiness to engage in community partnerships, identify and evaluate potential partners, and develop relationships with this tutorial. Click "Welcome" to begin.


Thumbnail for [node:title][user:name]Welcome to Leveraging Partnerships for Community Impact, presented to you by the Corporation for National and Community Service in conjunction with Hands On Network! Hands On Network, an internationally recognized volunteer management resource organization, has developed a new generation of volunteer engagement techniques — tailored to today’s community service organization.

As you engage volunteers in service, you may find many opportunities to broaden your work by partnering with other community-based organizations. In this course, you will find tools to help you evaluate your organization’s capacity for establishing and building these partnerships. Learn how to determine your organization’s readiness, assess potential partnerships, and contact community organizations to establish and build relationships.

We hope you thoroughly enjoy this course! For questions and/or to receive additional information or training, please contact Hands On Network at training@HandsOnNetwork.org.


Course Objectives

Upon completion of this course, you will be able to:

  • Understand the importance of partnerships to a volunteer program
  • Assess your organization's readiness for taking on partnerships
  • Identify potential partners
  • Assess potential partners
  • Establish and support partnerships

Download a Notes & Next Steps worksheet for this course: As you move through the course, this worksheet will be a handy tool to record ideas and create an action plan. PDF iconPartnerships Notes & Next Steps.pdf

Program Assessment

While national service programs are encouraged to support the efforts of civic, community, education, and faith-based organizations to solve local problems, programs can also benefit from community partnerships as well.


In this section, we will look at:

  • the importance of partnerships to national service programs
  • ways to assess your organization's readiness for partnerships
  • how to identify the resources your program can offer and those you need from partners


Types of Partnerships

For national service programs, a community partnership is a relationship with another community organization that serves as a sub-grantee, host site, or member placement site, and provides facilities, transportation, materials, or other resources — with the common goal of addressing community needs.

Thumbnail for [node:title][user:name]Community partners can:

  • Provide and identify resources
  • Leverage community assets
  • Prevent duplication of services
  • Serve as site placement for national service members/volunteers
  • Serve in an advisory capacity
  • Open doors in the community
  • Expand your program's capacity
  • Support program sustainability

Types of Partnerships

Your national service program may enter into a variety of partnerships in order to diversify your impact in the community. Some of the types of partnerships your program needs include:

  • Service placement sites
  • Volunteer generation
  • Funding
  • Match for grant requirements
  • Project resources
  • Community building

For the remainder of this course, we will focus on using partnerships to leverage community volunteers and develop meaningful service opportunities.

Assessing Your Program's Readiness

Before you can begin establishing partnerships, you must first examine your own program's readiness to take on partners. Start by thinking about these questions:

  • Do we have a clear understanding of our program's scope and goals?
  • What are our program's needs?
  • What specific resources can we offer partners?

Understanding Your Program

Consider the type of work you do now and how you want to expand on it. Identify ways that a partner organization could help you broaden your reach in the community. Answer the following questions to help you assess your program:

  1. What are the goals of your national service program?
  2. Are you able to meet those goals currently? Why or why not?
  3. How do you want to expand the work you do in the community?
  4. What types of volunteer projects do you want to undertake? How do you want to leverage aditional volunteers through your program?
  5. How can community partner organizations help you enhance your current work, take on new volunteer projects, and accomplish your goals?

Download a Program Assessment Worksheet to help you assess your program's readiness for partnerships: ProgramAssessmentWorksheet.pdf

Thumbnail for [node:title][user:name]Project Scope

When seeking partners in order to leverage volunteers and/or develop service projects, you also need to determine the scope of the service projects you want to undertake. The variety of volunteer projects is endless, so it is important to define project scope. This will dictate how large or small your service projects are, and thus, the type of partnerships you will want to establish to accomplish them.

When selecting a project, pay close attention to:

  • Time required to complete the project
  • Number of volunteers needed
  • Overall cost of producing the project
  • Needs to which your organization is willing to respond (e.g., operational, client services, grounds and building refurbishing, etc.)
  • Opportunities to include a diverse group of community volunteers
  • Issue area that matches the interest of your organization and volunteers
  • Opportunities for robust community partnerships


Identifying Program Resources & Needs

Identify Your Program's Resources

Thumbnail for [node:title][user:name]In order to build a strong partnership with a community organization, you need to know what resources you can offer as a partner. Remember, partnerships are a two-way street, so be sure you can explain to potential partners what you can give — not just what you need.

Take time to identify a concrete list of resources you can offer a partner organization. Consider:

  • material resources
  • specific skill sets
  • access to certain individuals
  • visibility
  • volunteer generation
  • etc.

Determine Your Program's Needs

Before approaching an organization about a potential partnership, you also need a good idea of what you need from the partner. As you did with identifying resources you can offer, list specific things you need. Think about what may not be available within your own organization, such as material resources, specialized skills, member placement sites, matching funds, and so on.

When seeking partners for service projects, consider these things:

  • Volunteers – Determine the number of volunteers necessary to complete the project. Additionally, identify variables that may affect the number and types of volunteers you need, such as volunteer skill level and age, duration and complexity of the project, availability of supplies, and physical space.
  • Tangible Resources – Determine what supplies, materials, goods, and services you need to complete your project and how to secure them.
  • Financial Resources – Determine what funding you may receive and/or what monies you have to spend toward volunteer-based projects. Your financial needs will be guided by the tangible resources you have already, what will be donated, and what you will need to purchase.

Resource Mapping

Resource mapping (also known as asset mapping) is the process of identifying what is valuable in your community and developing strategies for mobilizing those resources. Regardless of the nature of your program, resource mapping can support a variety of efforts, from identifying potential partners to finding meeting space and speakers.

Some examples of resources you may need and ways you can develop and/or obtain those resources for your projects include:

Resource Mapping List

People and their time and energy are vital resources. By working with others, you can benefit from a multitude of relationships, experience, resources, and skills.

Examples include relatives, friends, neighborhoods, coworkers, associates, and “labeled citizens” (such as seniors, disabled, youth, etc.).


An association is a group of people who share common interests and come together to solve problems. Associations are often less formal, less dependent on paid staff, and have less structure (and bureaucracy).

Examples include neighborhood associations, walking clubs, mediation groups, professional organizations, and fraternity and sorority groups.


Institutions are formal organizations of people who are usually paid for their work. Institutions often have more structure and bureaucracy, but are often the most visible and formal parts of a community.

Examples include schools and school boards, businesses, government agencies, nonprofits, churches, news stations, and newspapers.

CorporationsCorporations often fund, host, sponsor, and/or provide volunteers for service throughout nearby communities. Corporations are an excellent community resource in that they provide community organizations the opportunity to participate in changing the community while forming lasting partnerships and/or sponsorships.

Money /

In-kind Donations

You may choose to access foundations, charitable organizations, corporations, governmental entities, individuals, and nonprofit organizations that provide financial support, products, or services for community-based projects.
Physical Space

Land, buildings, and other spaces are also important resources that can support projects and programs.

Examples include parks, shopping malls, meeting halls, and libraries.

Download these useful worksheets to help you outline the resources you can offer and the resources you need from your partners:



Program Assessment - Knowledge Check

Partnership Development

If your organization is ready and willing to take on community partners, you’ll want to begin seeking out other nonprofit organizations, for-profit partners, governmental agencies, and other entities in the community.


In this section we will examine ways to:

  • identify potential partner organizations
  • assess potential partnerships based on key criteria
  • establish strong partner relationships
  • support a partnership to achieve success


Identifying Potential Partners

Your program may establish partnerships with many different types of organizations in the community. Before relying solely on past partners or the "family and friends" network, think critically about the resources you need and the organizations that may be able to provide those resources.

Thumbnail for [node:title][user:name]Likewise, consider what you have to offer and list the organizations where your resources will be of the most benefit. Here are a few ideas of organizations that may be able to provide resources you can use.

  • Businesses
    Sponsorship for service projects, in-kind donations of goods or services, meeting space, volunteers
  • Colleges and Universities
    Community research, speakers about community needs/issues, interns, volunteers, meeting space
  • Faith-based Groups
    Community research, speakers about community needs/issues, in-kind donations, volunteers
  • Foundations
    Grants, funding for projects, technical assistance for program development, community research
  • Neighborhood Associations and Civic Groups
    Community outreach and recruitment of volunteers, speakers about community needs/issues, in-kind donations
  • Nonprofit Organizations
    Community research, speakers about community needs/issues, community outreach and volunteer recruitment, meeting space, in-kind donations

Learn more about the community and, in particular, the needs of the community. Reach out to information sources such as coalitions, community development corporations, local city officials or neighborhood associations to learn more about prevalent needs and/or targeted efforts within the community. This may be helpful in prioritizing where to begin partnership development.

Requests for Proposals

Another method of identifying potential partner organizations is to use a request for proposals (RFP). RFP's have many uses. For example, you can use an RFP process to identify and select sites for a large, multi-project day of service. RFP's are also useful for finding service placement sites for AmeriCorps members or other volunteers.

An RFP is a formal document that invites prospective partners to submit a proposal outlining their needs. This may include the service opportunities or how AmeriCorps members will be utilized in their programs. Once you receive proposals from potential partners, use an objective process to review and rate them and select the best partners for your program.

Avoiding Partnership Pitfalls

You may discover that you've entered into partnership conversations with what appeared to be a great potential organization, only to find out quickly that the partnership is not as attractive or beneficial as it once appeared. Before you decide to jump headfirst into the next great partnership opportunity, think about the following:
Do some internal research.
Find out your organization’s strengths and weaknesses. Look for areas where resources are lacking or may be lacking in the future.

Talk to your staff about their specific needs. Ask your leadership which opportunities they want to seek and champion in the near and in the long term. Talk with your volunteers to see what they are thinking about your services, processes, expertise, etc. Remember, partner relationships need organization-wide support to make them successful.

Recognize your current partnerships.
Take note of those partnerships you already have and define their value; determine exactly where they fit into your program and its mission. Then find any gaps where a partner may be needed to complete your mission.

Review your activities with existing partners to see who/what is making a measurable difference. Remember, more partnerships aren't always the best idea; they could actually lead to more management headaches and fewer results. Keep focused on a meaningful, manageable handful of partners with clearly defined expectations, roles, and objectives.

Solicit fresh feedback.
Ask around to see if someone in your organization knows of a reputable organization that may be interested in partnering. Does your program already use other organizations to complement your services? Determine whether those relationships can be improved or solidified with defined structure and measurements.

Although popular, be mindful of the "friends/family" network; many times people view this option as an easy relationship but these partnerships may not be the best ones for your organization. Select partners based on criteria such as market reputation, financial stability, cultural cohesiveness, organizational/strategic offerings, staff/volunteer personalities, etc.

Assessing Potential Partners

Selecting a partner is one of the most important decisions a national service program will make. Choosing the right partner will often determine the success or failure of your initiatives. Once you have identified community organizations as potential partners, you need to evaluate those organizations to determine if they are a good fit for your program — and if your program is a good fit for them.

Thumbnail for [node:title][user:name]Consider these important factors when assessing potential partners:

  • Type of organization
    Is it the type of organization you want to partner with (e.g., nonprofit, school, local government, faith-based, neighborhood association, etc.)?
  • Mission and culture
    Clearly understand the partner's mission and culture. Are they a good fit with your organization? It is especially important to determine if both organizations have a shared goal of service in the community.
  • Issue area
    Does the organization work around the issue you want to address (youth, environment, education, etc.)?
  • Resources
    Determine if the partner can offer the types of resources your program needs. Also, ensure that the partner needs what you can offer.
  • Location
    Is the partner in a geographic area where your program currently serves or wants to expand?
  • Policies and provisions
    Review the provisions and policies that govern your program/organization to determine if this is an organization you can partner with

Additional questions to consider when assessing a potential partner:

  • Can the potential partner organization outline its top objectives?
  • Who are the organization's current partners? The organization might have access to partnerships that will help you further address your organization’s mission and purpose.
  • Does the organization have written partner agreements, memorandums of understanding, etc.?
  • What partnership benefits can the organization bring to the table? Does it have a strong volunteer base? Can it offer funding to the partnership?
  • Does the organization have a partnership, alliance, and/or relationship manager? If so, how do you go about contacting this person?
  • Is the potential partner enthusiastic about working with you?
  • Does the organization need the resources your program offers?
  • Does the organization meet a demonstrated need in the community? Does it have a history of engagement in the community?
  • Can the organization meet established partnership parameters?
  • Can the organization offer true collaboration, working with your program rather than being served by it?

No matter which potential partner you choose to approach, make sure that you have fully thought out the possible relationship and all that it could entail.

Download the Partnership Assessment Worksheet to help you assess potential partner organizations: PartnershipAssessmentWorksheet.pdf

Establishing Partnerships

Conducting Partnership Interviews

Thumbnail for [node:title][user:name]Once you have identified and assessed potential partners, it is time to contact the organizations. Keep your list of potential partners as open as possible to accommodate changing community, organizational, and volunteer needs and resources. Remaining flexible and innovative and continually reaching out to potential partners is essential.

An initial conversation between you and the community organization should be a fact-finding mission for both parties to assess partnership potential; to save time it's okay to do this over the phone. You should provide a brief overview of the services your program is able to offer, as well as establish partnership parameters.

Likewise, if the purpose of the partnership is to develop service opportunities, the potential partner should be asked how volunteers are currently being utilized. If volunteers are being used, inquire about the hours of operation, whether volunteers can be accommodated on evenings and weekends, and what specific requirements are in place for volunteers. For instance: Can episodic volunteers be utilized? Are rigid training events or background investigation requirements necessary? If so, can these rigid requirements be modified or eliminated?

This is a good time to start exploring potential service project opportunities at the organization. Your initial conversation should be fairly brief; you are only trying to determine whether partnership opportunities are available.

If an organization appears to meet the criteria of a potentially successful partner, the next step is to set up a meeting in person. One option for a face-to-face meeting is a site visit. This is especially important if you are creating partnerships for the purpose of developing service opportunities.

Making a Site Visit

A site visit at a partner organization should be led by the organization's staff member in charge of partner relations in order to obtain a full understanding of the range of services the organization offers to the community and its clients. Visiting the site is a great way to assess additional needs (and therefore potential service opportunities) by observing the facilities, clients, and various partnership possibilities. Always keep in mind the potential resources needed and possible project parameters. Make note of directions to the site, as well as any unique instructions or guidelines related to finding or entering the facility.

Get to know the community service organization: In addition to the partner relations staff, you should meet with the volunteer coordinator, facilities staff, or another person who can help you understand the organization's needs.

What to look for during a site visit
Learn the organization's mission and vision.

Get a good sense of what the organization does and how it works; your program staff should have a complete understanding of the full scope of programming. This will aid in the creation and facilitation of projects, programs, and other opportunities within the partnership.

Take and file detailed notes. In addition, gather collateral from the organization for future use.

Identify the organization's clients.Whom does the organization serve and what assistance do those clients require (either directly or indirectly)? Do they need social, recreational, or educational projects, meal preparation and/or meal service, or assistance with donation sorting, and so forth? Are there confidentiality issues?
Get to know the organization's staff.

The best partnerships are often determined by the reliability and availability of key contacts within an organization. Although you will primarily work with the volunteer coordinator, you should make connections with other staff.

It is a good idea to meet the executive director or the director of operations, as well as staff members in charge of client services and grounds maintenance. These people may possess a broader view of the organization's needs and expectations. They are also good informational contacts if the agency’s volunteer coordinator should happen to leave.

Consider possibilities for project development.The organization may have arranged countless volunteer projects in the past and may have a strong eye for volunteer projects. If not, this site visit could be an opportunity to assist them. Be thorough and help point out project ideas.
Identify current events.

Is the agency in need of assistance with projects or events in progress? What are the current gaps in volunteer needs? What would the organization like to see established?

It may not be possible to meet all of these needs; however, this information will be beneficial in facilitating a plan for immediate and future action.

After the Site Visit

If you are seeking partnerships for service opportunities, after touring the facility and getting to know the organization, you should be able to determine if the organization will be a good partner for your program. Put a plan in place for developing projects with the partner. If no immediate action is necessary, but the partner has a great project possibility in the future, be sure to follow up.

Information gathered from the site visit should be added to your database. Make notes regarding future communication and share information with program staff to provide education and understanding regarding community needs. If the project ideas are unrealistic or unachievable, you may determine after the site visit that the organization is not a good partner for your program. However, it is always a good idea to keep the organization on file for future reference. Events may change and new opportunities may arise that could possibly allow for partnerships in the future.

Touring the Facility

Additional considerations when making a site visit include:

Consider the organization's space. Make note of space availability within the site. Is there sufficient room for social or recreational group activities or adequate work space?

Look for projects in hiding. Above and beyond the obvious peeling paint or donation heap, uncover potential projects by scouting out the entire facility. Drab hallways or rooms in need of brightening with color, a graffiti-ridden block wall waiting for a mural, a school playground in need of a USA map or hopscotch games, a large room ready for a children’s party, a dirt lot thirsting for a community garden are all ways volunteers can be utilized and may not be projects the organization had even thought about. Be creative - the possibilities are endless!

Consider a volunteer-friendly environment. While performing a site visit, it is essential to determine whether the site is friendly to volunteers. Take into account safety hazards or the amount of training or skill level required of volunteers. Several questions need to be considered:

  • what would volunteers arriving at this site for the first time think?
  • would volunteers see or understand the need?
  • will volunteers want to commit to coming back time and time again?

It is equally important to recognize that any red flags that arise during a site visit must be addressed prior to developing volunteer projects.

Developing & Supporting Partnerships

Thumbnail for [node:title][user:name]Developing partnerships to discover new projects or to strengthen your core offerings isn't easy; but if approached correctly, partner relationships can be a critical element toward achieving success. Like any good relationship, a community partnership requires careful and intentional support to succeed. Here are a few tips for cultivating successful partnerships:

  • Maintain open and honest communication.
  • Make and take every opportunity to build a strong, trusting relationship with your partner.
  • Create and keep a shared vision.
  • Create ownership among partners.
  • Seek common ground and act.
  • Stop occasionally to evaluate.
  • Be patient and have fun!

Establishing Partnership Parameters

As partnerships and project ideas develop, both parties should establish parameters for the relationship. Parameters should serve as general guidelines and outline the requirements of each partner’s contribution. They may vary for recurring projects versus days of service projects or other program offerings.

For example, the following is a list of guidelines for recurring projects that may be helpful in meeting project objectives and ensuring a partner’s expected contribution when collaborating on service projects:

  • Provide opportunities for weekend and evening projects.
  • Ensure projects are led by a trained volunteer project leader.
  • Allow for a different group of episodic volunteers at each project occurrence.
  • Engage a minimum and maximum number of volunteers for each project.
  • Establish a pre-determined start and end time for each project.
  • Establish methods of volunteer screening.

Clarify parameters for all projects and partnerships. As relationships and project opportunities develop, refer back to the parameters you initially established. As your national service program develops partnerships, make sure to allow for continuity, clarity, and efficiency. Work with your potential partner to establish parameters that can help create quality experiences for volunteers and meet the needs of the community.

Formalize the Partnership

Key staff from both organizations should sit down, discuss, and clarify their understanding of the roles and responsibilities in the partnership. Together, they should develop written documents, such as a memorandum of understanding (MOU), to outline the partnership agreement.

Continuing Support

Throughout the partnership, continue to work with and support your partner. Be sensitive to potential needs, changes, challenges, or other opportunities to adapt and strengthen your relationship. Ensure that both partners understand the other's programs, missions, and objectives, and that they can articulate these things to the community.

You may need to provide continuing training and/or supervision to ensure the service projects are meeting your program's standards. If volunteers are serving at the partner organization, set up monitoring visits and/or regular check-ins with the partner.

Recognize and Celebrate! Don't forget to recognize and celebrate the partner's contributions and achievements.

Partnership Development - Knowledge Check

Course Summary

Once you've determined that your organization is ready and willing to take on community service partners, you'll want to identify potential partners in your community and assess them according to pre-determined criteria. You will then need to collaborate with potential partner agencies to determine the type and scope of your work together, the types of events and/or projects to undertake, the number of volunteers you wish to engage, and the community issue you wish to impact.

Get to know the potential partner through interviews and site visits. Accordingly, give them the opportunity to get to know your national service program. Clarify your parameters for all projects and partnerships. As relationships and project opportunities develop, and a partnership appears advantageous for both parties, solidify your relationship through formal or informal agreements. Continue to support and celebrate your partner throughout the life of the relationship, including recognizing and celebrating your mutual accomplishments.

If it is determined that an organization is not a good partner fit for your national service program, it is always a good idea to keep the organization's information on file for future reference. Events may change and new opportunities may arise that could possibly allow for future partnerships.

Now that you have completed this course, you should be able to:

  • Understand the importance of partnerships to a volunteer program
  • Assess your organization's readiness for taking on partnerships
  • Identify potential partners Assess potential partners
  • Establish and support partnerships

We hope you thoroughly enjoyed this course! For questions and/or to receive additional information or training, please contact Hands On Network at training@HandsOnNetwork.org.

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