A Formula for Success: Building Lasting Partnerships

In Columbus, we often speak of the Columbus Way. It is an intangible spirit, which drives public-private partnerships between business, government, community and civic leaders. The Harvard Business School has researched this unique phenomenon that continues to prosper in our city. The Brookings Institution has leveraged its success to help other communities spark strategic growth. However, for our city, this hyper-collaborative method is more than just a model of success; it is a way of life. For the Columbus Recreation and Parks Department, this spirit of collaboration drives our work in fulling the promise of our mission.


As a department, our mission is to connect the people of our community through the power of nature, wellness and creativity. With more than 380 parks, 29 community centers, five athletic complexes, six golf courses and 120 miles of regional trails, our vision is to ensure every resident has access to all of our department’s many services. When visiting one of our parks, we expect our spaces to be a place of joy. We expect our facilities and parks to be open to all. Last, we expect our spaces to be embedded in neighborhoods and serve as a gathering place for every member of our community. As a department, we align our strategic goals with the 2014 Master Plan because we believe our spaces are important assets entrusted for generations.

Our divisions, Recreation and Program Services; Youth and Family Development; Park Operations, Facilities Management and Forestry; and Capital Planning and Design work hand-in-hand to fulfill our stated mission, vision and values. For the Community Relations team, we focus on building opportunities that increase funds, engagement and awareness of the department’s work. Regardless of the project — communicating a new program with media, building a philanthropic partnership with a nonprofit, or creating a sponsorship proposal with a company — our formula for success is simple: know your partner, know yourself and focus on the relationship.

Know Your Partner

Every partner wants to make an impact. Philanthropic partners yearn to move the needle on important social causes. Corporate partners may look to expand their reach by focused and targeted engagement with a key audience. Therefore, it is crucial to understand who and what matters to your target partner. As we say in Community Relations, “It’s not about you, it’s about them.”

To understand your partners take time completing the following:

· Research their brand and mission

· Learn their giving priorities and target audience(s)

· Engage key leaders in the organization

Know Yourself

To build substantial partnerships, it is important to understand who and what makes up your organization. Additionally, understanding your organization’s strengths and weakness will only help further your mission. For our department, we invested in quantifying who and where our customers exist to better engage and support our community’s needs. We leverage these data points to engage partners and elevate our work. When looking for marketing or philanthropic support, be prepared to answer most of the following questions regarding your programs:

· How many people participate in your program?

· What are the demographics of the program participants?

· Where do the program participants live?

· How many locations offer the program?

· How can the partner integrate activation opportunities with program participants?

· What national best practices are you implementing?

· How do you measure the inputs, outputs, outcomes and impact successes of your program?

Sophisticated companies, investors and donors want to deeply understand the impact of your organization and expect data-driven information and results. Therefore, it is critical that your organization is able to quantify your programs and assets to tell the story of your work.

Focus on the Relationship

No one says it better than the notorious U.S. Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, “Real change, enduring change, happens one step at a time.”

Building corporate and philanthropic partnerships takes time. Just like advocating for stronger parks or access to health and wellness programs, this work does not happen overnight. Relationships also take time and building successful sponsorship and philanthropic partnerships for your organization is no different. To build a successful relationship, note the following tips:

· Cultivate your relationships by inviting partners to see and experience your work.

· Focus on relational versus transactional partnerships. Your relationship is not a scored game, but an investment in a unique vision over time.

· Say thank you.

As a department, we are thankful to have a wealth of partners who transform how we engage in our community. While the Community Relations team leads a targeted approach to attract, retain and grow roughly 150 corporate sponsors (local and national), nonprofit partners and local celebrities. Our department’s commitment to collaboration is a system-wide strategy that welcomes the support of all partners both small and large.

Originally published in OPRA Connection Magazine http://bit.ly/2InoBxj

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