When embarking on a big community programming initiative, there's no reason to go it alone.
Our last blog post — in which we assessed our community's needs and set out to create a health and wellness program series for older adults — ended with a good idea, lots of enthusiasm ... and approximately zero dollars. How were we going to fund this fantastic smorgasbord of health, wealth and self-care program opportunities for the 55-and-older crowd on the Peninsula?
We applied for an LSTA Pitch An Idea Grant through the California State Library, and after some fine tuning, PVLD was awarded a $20,000 grant. We were psyched to get started until the reality hit us that we had just been handed $20,000 to do all of these amazing, wonderful, big ideas in the next year — and we were just two people (one of whom works part-time).
When you’re looking to embark on a big community programming initiative, it can be daunting, but there’s no reason you need to go it alone. Chances are there are plenty of other organizations in your community working toward common goals who have connections, ideas and resources that would make a partnership mutually beneficial.
If you’re in a similar situation, or just looking to establish stronger ties with local community organizations, here are a few things to keep in mind.
Step 1: Figure out what you want
Being clear about your (and your partners’) expectations is key. What are you looking for? Do you want to boost your reach by piggybacking off their mailing list? Are you looking for experts in a field to present at your library? Are you thinking about hosting programs offsite and need locations?
On the other hand, what do you bring to the table? It could be a fully planned program in need of a space, or maybe you’re bringing the audience to an offsite program hosted by a partner.
It’s best to think these things through before sitting down with partners to make sure you have clear goals for the conversation and leave the meeting with action items. And always make sure to run these ideas past your supervisor first to make sure you can deliver what you promise.
Step 2: Find partners who can help (and start with those you know)
PVLD already had successful partnerships with several local organizations, so we reached out to the known entities first. In our case, that was three senior services groups who worked with us to host our highly successful Teen Tech 4 Seniors programs. We approached them with our idea and asked for feedback and suggestions of possible contacts at other groups working on similar goals.
What we got back was beyond our expectations. Our original three partners provided us with contacts galore, gave us in-depth community information, and helped us shape the library’s programs. Our comprehensive list of contacts was long (over 30 contacts) and included representatives from the four local cities, local service organizations and business owners, nonprofit groups and government agencies.
Step 3: Get everyone on the same page
Rather than meet one-on-one to explain our idea over and over again, we invited everyone to the library to have one big roundtable discussion.
Although many of these people had never sat in a room together before, the discussion was great. We brainstormed collaborative ideas, and the response was tremendous. Organizations offered to host programs in city parks and buildings, a group offered to host senior-friendly hikes, a local city let us use their council meeting chambers for a presentation, and everyone offered to include advertising for our program series in their monthly newsletter or calendar. And everyone had ideas of other people and organizations we might bring into the conversation.
Even though we already had a plan and felt ready to move forward, this exchange of ideas created many new possibilities and connections that helped build a more robust series encompassing more of the PV Peninsula than we originally thought possible. We were ecstatic that potential partners reacted with such enthusiasm. They all agreed that this was a great first step in combining our efforts and reducing duplication of work.
Step 4: Get organized (Google Drive is your friend)
This one is more of a logistical tip. When working with multiple organizations, it’s a good idea to keep a spreadsheet (ideally on some cloud-based doc service like Google Drive) of the contacts' names and information that you can share with others on your team. Laura went on maternity leave seven months into the grant, and it was beyond useful to have our working information stored in an easily shareable place.
Armed with new possibilities, information and friends (i.e. partners) we felt ready to face the next year. PVLD came up with the final list of 36 programs that would take place over a nine-month period, but we relied heavily on our partners for advice, guidance and suggestions.
Next month we’re going to share how we got the word out to the wider community about this thing — because, it turns out, older folks don’t always rely on social media and email for their community information.