The Power of Partnerships

Allowance for Good Program Development Fellow, Liz Coda, has been a part of our team for just over a year now. As she's wrapping up her service to AfG and preparing to graduate college and move to Philadelphia, she reflects on the partnership she built with GlobeMed and what she's learned about working in the nonprofit sector.

I began working as a fellow with Allowance for Good about a year ago, and I’m still learning something new every day in my work here. Building a nonprofit organization from the ground up, creating program content, and interacting with the youth we aim to educate and empower has been a rewarding, enlightening, and often challenging experience. While I’ve taken on several roles and tackled several projects, both small- and large-scale, foundational to the growth of this organization has been creating meaningful partnerships.

Allowance for Good is a young, thriving network of U.S. youth. Although we have successfully engaged hundreds of youth within the Chicagoland area, we’re just beginning to engage youth in other areas of the country. To expand our reach, we paired up with GlobeMed, an Evanston, Illinois-based nonprofit that partners U.S. college students with grassroots health organizations abroad. Our goal was to have the college students help us identify nearby high school students to get involved with the work of both GlobeMed and Allowance for Good. This work with GlobeMed illuminated the following stages of collaboration necessary to grow a successful partnership:

1. Inspiration

Allowance for Good believes in investing in the educational potential of youth globally.  Initially, we identified GlobeMed chapters whose partner organizations were education-focused. This was crucial to our success; rather than just reaching out to as many chapters as we could in hopes of merely growing our network, we wanted to stay true to our mission and align ourselves only with those already supporting global education in some capacity.  In this case, staying true to our mission trumped maximum exposure.

Then we had to reach out to the GlobeMed chapter members we wanted to work with. Overwhelmingly they were enthusiastic and on board with our idea, but some were not as receptive. Ultimately, we realized that we could only work with those who genuinely wanted to build this partnership with us.  If a partnership is not voluntary, it will not succeed. Partners must believe in an organization's mission and want to see that organization thrive.

2. Formalization

Once we had ironed out all the details with the staff of the GlobeMed National Office and the students at the chapters we wanted to work with, we formalized the partnership by drafting a Memorandum of Understanding with GlobeMed. While not legally binding, this document spelled out the expectations of each organization. The goal of this document was to clarify the goals of both organizations.

This partnership proved tricky from the beginning, since both GlobeMed and Allowance for Good support different international partner organizations. Each collegiate GlobeMed chapter has one global partner, and Allowance for Good has two. If the youth involved wind up fundraising, which organization should they support? This has been a challenging question for us, one that we’re realizing does not have a concrete answer.

3. Operation

I entered into this partnership with an idea of how I thought our work with GlobeMed would look. I devised a model that I thought we could replicate with each GlobeMed chapter that we worked with. Throughout the operation of our partnership, however, I’ve learned the importance of being open to change and being able to adapt. In every case, the partnership has looked slightly different.

With the GlobeMed chapter at the University of Rochester, for example, college students set up a global health club at a nearby high school and are incorporating both GlobeMed and Allowance for Good curriculum in the work they do with those students. Another student at the University of Texas at Austin, who connected with Allowance for Good through the GlobeMed network, is working to establish an Allowance for Good chapter at a high school near her university. Successful operation of a partnership means being aware of the needs of each partner and collaborating in order to best serve both organizations’ missions.

4. Termination or Institutionalization

A huge challenge to partnered organizations is turnover. I’ve been growing this partnership between Allowance for Good and GlobeMed for about a year now, but I’m leaving Chicago in just a couple short weeks. Sometimes when key leaders leave an organization, a partnership may be terminated. While we’re fairly confident that the GlobeMed and Allowance for Good partnership can exist without me here (as sad as I am to go!), we recognize that if and when our partnership ends in the future, it will not mean failure. On the contrary, terminating partnerships often means that initial goals have been accomplished.

The most important thing to remember when building a sustainable, long-term partnership is to nourish relationships. All partnerships are not meant to last forever, but if members of each organization are truly invested, they will care enough to pass the partnership along to the next generation of leaders. By investing in the actual people you’re working with, the missions of both organizations will thrive, and the partnership is sure to flourish.