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4 Tips for Building Partnerships Across Cultures

Lisa Joyslin

Managing MAVA’s Inclusive Volunteerism program for the past 2 years has allowed me the privilege of building relationships and partnerships with a variety of organizations, many of which are culturally-led. As I encourage volunteer engagement leaders to build and strengthen relationships within communities of color, I want to share some lessons I’m learning about building partnerships across cultures.

Do Your Homework – While this applies to any organization with which you may partner, it especially applies to culturally-led organizations. Research the work and origins of the organization, but also dig deeper. If you’re meeting with a community organization, learn about the demographics and history of the neighborhood. If you’re meeting with a faith-based organization, learn about the major holidays, customs, and traditions. Doing this will ensure that you are prepared to build an authentic partnership.

Be Authentic – Go in with a genuine interest in learning from and building relationships with others. While you may have an “end-goal” in mind – i.e. partnering with the organization to engage 20 volunteers for an outreach event in their neighborhood – don’t make that the only objective. Be open to changing your goals if you learn they’re not in line with community needs. Understand that culturally-led organizations and communities of color are often approached to “check a box”; make sure that your approach is one that sincerely values their experience, knowledge, interests and needs.

Present Mutual Value – Partnerships need to be mutually beneficial. You know what you’re seeking from the relationship, but also be honest about how it will benefit the other organization. Many people approach culturally-led organizations seeking knowledge about or connections to a particular community. If this isn’t a core aspect of their work (it often isn’t), make sure you are offering something valuable in return. And if you feel the relationship is more beneficial to your side, consider offering a stipend or payment for the other organization.

Establish Trust
– Starting a conversation is only the beginning. You need to continue to nurture and develop the partnership in order for it to be successful. As mentioned above, many culturally-led organizations have experienced potential partners asking for their help and then not following through on their promises. Make sure that you not only follow through on your commitments, but communicate back to the organization about that follow-though. This will help establish trust, which is a core tenant of strong partnerships.

Looking for more ideas? Check out Vu Le’s blog on Nonprofit AF on “20 ways majority white nonprofits can build authentic partnerships with organizations led by communities of color.”