How to Form Local Partnerships (Part 1)

Local Organizing | June 16, 2017

Our advocacy work can be greatly magnified when we partner with other local groups and coalitions. This resource, part 1 of 2, covers how to identify your partnership objectives and what to weigh when considering a partnership with another group.

Forming Partnerships

Why Partner?

Partnerships can be useful for a lot of different reasons. Maybe you need policy support or data/graphics for some work you’re doing, and another group has the experts who can help you. Maybe you’re having a rally and you want to be sure that lots of people will show up. Maybe you are conscious of the demographics of your own group, and you want to work on issues where other people’s voices should be front and center (see, for example, our Immigrant Ally toolkit).

Some of the most common reasons for partnering include:

  • Policy support
  • Increasing grassroots pressure
  • Aligning different groups’ asks
  • Aligning different constituencies
  • Having access to more information or perspectives

But partnerships are also about mutual benefit and mutual respect between two organizations. At their core, partnerships are about relationships—and long term partnerships require building trust in the same way that relationships do.

How do you find potential partners?

Finding good potential partners is an art, not a science. That said, there are a number of steps you may wish to take:

  1. Be explicit with yourself about why you want to find partners. A partnership with a wonderful policy think tank may not be that helpful if what you really need is someone who can turn out members to a town hall.
  2. Identify leads:
    • Ask around: who are the most powerful groups in your area? Who mobilizes large numbers of voters during elections? Who do your Senators and Representatives feel most accountable to? These are folks you want to have good relationships with.
    • If you’re partnering on a specific issue, consider working with a group made up of people who are directly impacted. You may also want to see if there are “maps” online of groups that work on a particular issue or organize a particular constituency (see, for example, this list of immigration advocacy campaigns).
    • Read the newspaper. Which groups are cited as the experts on particular topics? Look at other political events that are happening—rallies, marches, etc. Who is sponsoring them, and are they groups you would want to work with?
    • Are there local affiliates of large national organizations or movements that you might want to reach out to? For example, Black Lives Matter groups, union locals (for example, SEIU locals), Sierra Club chapters, NAACP chapters, United We Dream groups, Center for Popular Democracy groups, PICO groups, National Domestic Workers Alliance groups
    • What local groups get involved in political work? Don’t underestimate the value of local appeal in political action!
    • If you know what kind of partner you need but want help identifying the right group, you can feel free to contact the partnerships team at the national Indivisible office, at partnerships@indivisibleguide.com. We are happy to advise where we can, though keep in mind that our knowledge of local partners will be limited. 
    • Don't forget the importance of centering the groups who are most affected by Trump's agenda in all of the work you do.
  3. Reach out to talk to someone at the group(s) you identify, in person if possible. Remember that political activity is fundamentally about relationships. If you have coffee with people and get to know them as individuals, it will be easier to work together.

How Do you Decide Whether to Work With Someone?

Let’s say that a group reaches out to you, wanting to partner, or that you think you have identified a group for a possible partnership. How do you know if it makes sense to work with them? 

Ultimately, you will have to weigh the benefits and costs of any particular partnership. You may want to ask yourself questions like the following:

  • Are your group and the potential partner aligned on key issues and strategy?
  • What kind of partnership is this: short or long term, public or non-public, etc.?
  • What are your goals in a particular campaign and what do you need to accomplish them? What does the potential partner group bring to the table (skills, people, power, different constituencies, etc.), and how do those complement your work?
  • Is there any reputational risk from partnering with this group? If so, what is it? Can it be mitigated in some way (for example, by publicly explaining why you are partnering together), or is it worth it for the benefit you get?
  • What does the partnership entail/how much work will it take?
  • If you are considering forming a partnership for a specific campaign, how frequently do you expect you will want to work with this group in the future, after this campaign is over?
  • How much will you have to take their direction on things? If you want to do something they don’t like, will they respect your autonomy?

Six Essential Skills for Building Partnerships

  • Listening and Meeting People Where They Are. Remember that partner groups may differ from you in the way they approach an issue, their comfort on various different topics, and many other things. Try to really understand where your partners are coming from. Make sure you are sensitive to how you approach other groups and respectful of the work their group does and may have been doing for a long time.
  • Treat People Like People. Relationships matter, and partner relationships will be more successful if you make an effort to get to know the people you are working with. 
  • Find Common Ground. Even groups that are very different from each other can often find things they agree on—and those commonalities are the origins of successful partnerships.
  • Show Up. Partnerships require equity. If you are just asking another group to join your work, that leads to a lopsided relationship. If you don't want to help their work in any way or attend some of their meetings and events, consider that this partnership may not be right for either of you.
  • Knowing how to say “no.” No partnership will work if you feel like you have to agree to everything. You need to look out for your group’s interests, and your partner groups need to look out for theirs—which means that both sides need to say “no” sometimes.
  • Communicate, communicate, communicate! When partnerships fall apart, it’s often because of misunderstandings between well-meaning groups. Partnerships, like friendships, require lots of communication.