One of the challenges we face as volunteer engagement professionals is figuring out how we can effectively collaborate with community partners. For those of us who are newer to volunteer engagement, it can seem that we are alone in the struggles that we encounter in our work and in many cases it’s just one staff or a small group of staff within the volunteer department. It is important for us to realize that now, more than ever, we need to be willing to reach out to other nonprofits and community organizations that can help us grow, learn, and improve in our work. Here are three ways that I believe are important for effective collaboration:
Find organizations within your sector – At the Union Gospel Mission Twin Cities, we are a part of a local cohort of nonprofits focused on homelessness. A group of volunteer managers from two dozen local organizations meet to discuss best practices, ways to pool our resources and other types of collaboration. Being with a group of individuals who are at organizations doing similar work helps with not feeling alone in solving problems and trying to seek help in volunteer engagement. If there are networks that focus on your particular sector, I would highly recommend participating.
Professional networking – Being a part of organizations like MAVA (Minnesota Alliance for Volunteer Advancement) are also important in expanding your collaboration with the community. We need to not only grow in our external outreach and partnerships, but we also need to focus on how to grow ourselves as volunteer engagement professionals. MAVA does an excellent job of offering ongoing trainings, networking gatherings and other opportunities to educate and grow in understanding relevant topics on the forefront of the profession.
Charting your community partnerships – At the Union Gospel Mission Twin Cities we established a matrix of levels of engagement for our community partners. We work with many churches, corporate and school groups that send us volunteers and support UGM. This matrix helps us classify our more committed partners from our casual partners. There’s a wide range of attributes that we look for, track and discuss with our staff. It has helped us work with community groups based on our capacity and vision, rather than saying yes to every opportunity that we receive.
These are just a few suggestions for effective community partnerships and ways to collaborate. I hope that as we move forward in our work, we will realize the continued importance of working together to accomplish our work. Through the power of volunteering, we can help solve many of the issues facing our communities.