Building Partnerships

Jump to: Community Mapping Tool | Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) | Elements of Effective Partnerships | Strategies for Building Effective Partnerships
Residents of Country View Apartments and Town Homes, a multifamily Volunteers of America community in Benton Harbor, MI, engage in a heated chess match as part of the newly initiated intergenerational program.

Building Organizational Partnerships

In order to create and sustain high-quality intergenerational programs, it is important to form meaningful partnerships with organizations that serve young people. Although partnerships sometimes require a lot of work, they are worth your investment of time and energy.

A productive community partnership requires:

  • A basic understanding of how the other organization functions, including staffing requirements, funding sources, and hours of operation.
  • Adequate time for planning.
  • A willingness to compromise.
  • Clarity about each partner’s role.
  • Commitment to nurturing the institutional relationship over time.
  • A clear understanding of how all generations will benefit from intergenerational activities

You may not be working with a partner at this time. But engaging in the following steps can plant the seeds for future partnership possibilities or other creative ways of collaborating.

Steps to Building New Relationships

Jump to: Step 2 | Step 3 | Step 4 | Step 5 | Step 6 | Step 7

Find partners that have shared interests and values, or a common need that can be met through collaboration. Look for a teacher with a passion for intergenerational activities, rather than someone who is just fulfilling a course need they have.Building partnerships based on resident interests is another strategy. One housing provider surveyed residents to identifythe kinds of intergenerational programs they wanted, and then looked for organizations with a mission that aligned with residents’ interests.

STEP 1: Use the community mapping tool to list organizations/institutions in your neighborhood/community that serve or engage young people.

Highlight organizations that are located closest to your housing community. Appropriate organizations might include:

  • Elementary and secondary schools.
  • Colleges and universities.
  • Recreation centers.
  • Boys and Girls Clubs.
  • Girl Scouts and Boy Scouts.
  • 4-H.
  • Teen parenting programs.
  • GED programs for out-of-school youth.
  • After-school programs.
  • Faith-based youth groups.
  • Young professional groups.
  • Groups of parents and other adults who can help implement program activities.
  • Art and music schools.
  • Museums

For each organization/institution, list the age of the youth it serves, distance from your site, hours of operation, and contact person or department, in the case of a college or university. Think about what each organization could offer your residents and what your residents could offer children/youth the organization serves.

Community Mapping Tool

STEP 2: Conduct research about each organization to find out how engaging with older adults might fit into its mission, programming, or curriculum.

For example, high schools and colleges might allow students to use participation in your programming as a way to fulfill service learning, internships, or course requirements

STEP 3: Select two or three organizations that you think would make good partners. Consider the following:

  • Is the organization within walking distance of the housing community? If not, is transportation—including vans, buses, subway, or ride sharing—available and accessible to youth and older adults?
  • Are any residents interested in working with this particular age group?
  • Do you or someone you know have a contact at the organization?
  • Does the organization have a good history of collaborating with others?

STEP 4: Contact one or two of your potential partners to set up an in-person meeting. Use an email or phone call to describe:

  • Your housing community and residents.
  • What residents have to offer youth.
  • Some needs of residents.
  • Why you think connecting older residents at your housing community with the young people at the organization/institution would benefit both populations.

If you know someone at this organization, it may be helpful to talk to that person before initiating contact with the potential partner. This conversation will help you better understand the opportunities and challenges associated with the partnership.

STEP 5: Meet face to face.

Identify individuals from each organization who should attend your first meeting. Include senior leadership from both organizations and staff members who will be directly engaged in programming. Offer to meet at your potential partner’s location.

Tips for Face-to-Face Meetings

  • Ask your potential partner to describe its mission, programs, and services, and the characteristics and needs of the children/youth who use its services.
  • Share information about the services/programs at your housing community and the characteristics, needs, and gifts of residents.
  • Explore how intergenerational programming would enhance your prospective partner’s programming or curriculum, and how young people would benefit from interacting with older adults.
  • Brainstorm some possible activities that would be mutually beneficial. These activities could include:
    • Starting an oral history project.
    • Launching arts programs.
    • Asking young people to teach technology clinics.
    • Asking older adults to volunteer in classrooms.
    • Fostering friendly visiting between young and old.
    • Developing an intergenerational garden.
    • Engaging in a health promotion campaign.

Deciding on an actual program will take more discussion, but it is helpful to envision different possibilities. For more brainstorming ideas, see Intergenerational Programming in Senior Housing: From Promise to Practice.

A middle school volunteer plays Rummy at a weekly cards club with residents of Whitney Hill Homestead, a Cathedral Square community in Williston, VT.
  • Discuss some of the challenges that might arise during the partnership, like scheduling, transportation or finding the time required to plan activities. Identify ways you might address these challenges. What resources are available and/or might be needed to implement a program?
  • Decide on a time frame. How soon would you want to start? It is sometimes best to begin with a pilot program for 6-8 weeks rather than asking for a yearlong commitment. You can evaluate the effectiveness of the pilot and then decide what changes need to be made. Keep in mind that creating shorter programs or series may attract organizations and older adults who are unable to commit to yearlong partnerships. Often, these initial, short-term commitments can develop into long-term or more frequent collaborations.
  • Identify the person with whom you would be working directly, and what responsibilities that person might assume. Discuss the best way to communicate with this person

STEP 6: Decide if you want to move forward.

Here are a few things to consider when making a decision about moving forward:

  • Is staff from the prospective partner organization interested in working with you and do they seem committed to making the collaboration work?
  • Does the organization have the capacity to follow through on its responsibilities?
  • Does the staff seem flexible and willing to work on creative solutions to problems that might arise?
  • Do you share a common vision about the importance of intergenerational work and how both youth and older adults will benefit?
  • Are there possible areas of concern, such as conflicting work styles, priorities, or values?

STEP 7: Formalize the relationship.

Once you decide to move forward with a partnership and develop an intergenerational program, create a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU). Ask the top leaders at each organization to sign the MOU. A signed agreement obligating all partners to follow through on their commitments is crucial for success. An MOU should include the following:

  • A brief description of the program.
  • The project timeline.
  • What each organization will contribute to the program, including time, staff, money, and supplies.
  • A delineation of each organization’s roles and responsibilities.
  • A statement regarding the partners’ shared commitment to participate in program meetings, implement the program plan, and participate in the program evaluation.

Note: Some program partnerships may need to develop more organically through one-time service opportunities or a short program series. As these relationships develop, a clearer understanding of and comfort with specific roles and responsibilities will evolve. What you learn during this period will clarify each’s organization’s investment in the partnership
and will help you formalize the MOU.

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Goals and Description of Partnership/Program
Start by outlining the overall intent of the partnership or program. This outline must reflect the goals of all the parties involved in the agreement. An effective MOU will not have any gray areas.

Parties Involved in the Agreement
The MOU should include the names of all the parties involved in the agreement. This may include individuals, groups, companies, organizations, and others.

Time Period
Specify the exact time period of the agreement. Include the start date and end date. You might also want to include a timeline for specific program tasks.

Responsibilities and Contributions
The MOU must describe the responsibilities of the partners. To avoid confusion, miscommunication, or misunderstandings, make sure this information is as detailed as possible. List responsibilities that fall to each partner, as well as shared responsibilities. Each organization should also specify how it is making in-kind contributions to the program
through time, staff, money, or supplies.

Include the partners’ stated commitment to participate in ongoing partnership meetings, implement the action plan, and participate in evaluation activities. List any other tasks that you consider important.

Financial Arrangements
Include financial arrangements, if there are any. Specify which party will pay for specific components of the initiative described in the agreement. In addition, specify the person who will receive payments and the deadline for these payments.

MOUs aren’t legally binding, but it’s still important for the parties to sign the document. Include a space for each partner representative to affix a signature.

Each partner signing the agreement should be given a copy of the document for its records.

Elements of Effective Partnerships
  • Partners are committed to achieving shared goals and mutually beneficial outcomes.
  • The expertise, skills, and experiences of partners and participants are acknowledged and valued.
  • Mutual trust and respect are at the core of the relationship.
  • Decisions are made jointly, and all opinions are honored.
  • There is a balance of power, and resources are shared.
  • Communication between partners is open, clear, timely, and ongoing

Strategies for Building Effective Partnerships

To ensure that your partnership is effective, be sure to follow these steps:

Garner support from top administrators and other staff at partner agencies. A meeting with organization/institutional leaders before planning begins can help identify mutually beneficial goals and expectations, clarify communication channels, and provide an opportunity for an open and realistic discussion of opportunities and limitations. It is critical that top-level housing administrators see intergenerational work as a strategy for addressing the needs and
interests of residents, not just a “nice thing to do.”

Designate a person or team of people who will initiate and maintain partnerships with youth organizations and educational institutions. Housing providers that have a volunteer coordinator or outreach coordinator seem better able to develop and sustain strong partnerships.

Identify how other organizations can benefit from collaborating with a housing provider. When partnering with educational institutions, ask the educators how an intergenerational program can fulfill curriculum requirements, meet educational standards, and benefit older and younger participants.

Engage all partners in short and long-term planning. This will enhance the quality of programs and ensure that those programs meet the needs of all age groups. Regular meetings give partners an opportunity to take a creative approach to addressing logistical concerns that could prevent a program’s successful implementation.

Plan meaningful programs and activities that are explicitly designed to address the needs, interests, knowledge, and skills of participants.

A unique and creative partner organization or group may be right outside your front
door. Here are a few real-world examples of the partners that housing providers have identified:

  • A local home-schooling organization.
  • Local schools for special populations.
  • University Extension offices.
  • Clubs for stay-at-home moms.


Think about:

  • What organizations, institutions, or agencies in your community will be involved in this intergenerational effort?
  • How will each partner benefit from this initiative?
  • What does each partner bring to the table?
Participants in the 2Life (Formerly Jewish Community Housing for the Elderly)
Pen Pal Program