This resource will set out guidelines for how to build inclusive partnerships, including who you can and should be reaching out to, and how to build trust and show respect when reaching out.
How To Build Inclusive Partnerships
Enhancing your group’s inclusivity beyond conscious recruitment efforts to diversify your group requires a concerted effort, thoughtful approach, and time to build trust and partnership. We recommend implementing the following three strategies to work towards effective, accountable, and authentic partnerships:
Reach out to explore the potential for partnerships with organizations and leaders from groups that have been working on progressive issues like racial justice, immigrant rights, poverty, women’s rights, environmental justice, disability rights, and LGBTQIA+ rights.
Be able to articulate how your partnership can help further their work and be prepared to present the benefits of a partnership with Indivisible with humility. Be a real partner, not just a recruiter for the work on which your group is focused.
Try a range of approaches and optimize the best ones for your particular context.
The text below explains these strategies and suggests potential tactics to implement them. Be prepared to build trust and partnership over time.
Why Build Partnerships?
Throughout the United States, there are organizations and leaders that advocate for the rights of, and provide support for, marginalized communities on the local, state, and national level. Therefore if you’re seeking to engage a community regarding issues that directly affect them, you should start by reaching out to organizations and leaders that have organized themselves to create positive change for their community, or that have an established track record serving them, and who therefore may have the trust of that community. If you find these organizations and engage with them thoughtfully and respectfully, new partnership and membership opportunities can emerge. Building mutually supportive alliances and partnerships is an organic way to make sure more people have the opportunity to add local, defensive, congressional advocacy to their collective action toolbox.
Reaching out to possible partners does not replace the work to be inclusive in our recruitment for our own groups. That said, in our internal recruitment efforts, we should be mindful to not tokenize.
Individuals from marginalized populations or people of color, by:
- Putting them in the position to speak for an entire group. It can negate the individuality of that person by asking them to represent views not their own and may not be effective in understanding the varied interests of a community. To avoid this, do your research on the issues impacting the community, both historical and currently. Seek feedback from a variety of sources to develop a comprehensive understanding so that it is not based on the opinion of one individual.
- Only engaging with the individual about matters concerning the community they belong to which signals that is where you see their value as a group member. To avoid this, be sure to make all conversations inclusive, asking group members to share thoughts and opinions on a variety of topics.
- Asking them to join you in meeting the community or organizational leader that you are wanting to partner with or asking them to be the point person on making contact with the organization. This may signal that you see them as being able to connect with the community and that you are unable or unwilling to do so. To avoid this, ask for group members to volunteer to be part of the meeting or be the primary contact for the partnering organization.
When approaching a community organization or association for the first time, it is important to be humble and begin by seeking to learn from their work. Remember that they know the needs and perspectives of the community they serve better than you do, and make it evident that you understand this. Ask about what issues are important to them now as well as about their current activities, mission, and goals and what tactics they are already using to advance them. As discussed below, before your initial contact, do your homework to learn about their history and their work.
Direct service and community organizations generally operate on shoe-string budgets, and their staff or volunteers often don’t have time for partnerships that don’t directly relate to advancing their cause or require a significant amount of staff time. Therefore, your goal should not be to simply ask them to participate in your work, but to identify areas of common interest and discuss the potential for your group to be useful in furthering their mission. Often, one of the most basic and important things that we can provide is our own ability to show up and be there for other organizations, so be open to asks that are outside of our core tactics; real partnership requires showing up for them if we’re going to ask them to show up for us.
Your first step will be to seek out an initial meeting with the group, ideally at the leadership level. Here are potential steps:
- Do your research. Before setting up a meeting, you should review the organization’s website if they have one, understand what their mission is and how they achieve it. What is their theory of change? How could working together with your group advance that change? Come to any meeting prepared to modestly articulate that added value in the short and the long term.
- Reach out. Once you have identified a possible partner organization and feel comfortable with articulating how engaging with your group would contribute to their work, approach them by phone or email to request a meeting. Even better, try to introduce yourself in person, by showing up to one of their public events. Explain briefly who you are, tell them what your Indivisible group is doing, and ask for a chance to talk to them to learn about their work.
- Remember, many organizations receive funding as 501(c)3’s, and will be wary of engaging with groups that have overt political missions. You should frame your Indivisible group’s objectives clearly and truthfully, focusing on the goals of obstructing the extremists agenda because of the impact that agenda will have on real people’s lives in your community. The more you can tie your mission to the community organization’s purpose the stronger the potential for collaboration will be.
Note: it’s important to respect any practices that organizations observe in conducting their own work or meetings.
For example, some groups reserve meetings or spaces for members of that community to speak with each other privately. This is another reason why researching the organization before reaching out is important.
Think about location. When setting up the first meeting, offer to go to them—don’t try to set a meeting that is in your comfort zone, on common ground, or in a place that will require the organization’s representative to divert time from their operations to meet with you. Instead, go to them. This is both a symbolic and a practical gesture.
Listen first. Use the first half of the first meeting as an opportunity to listen and learn about what the organization does, how they understand the needs of the community, and how they are doing what they do. Ask questions and clarify anything that’s new or different or that you don’t understand. If necessary, you should be prepared to adapt the introduction you have prepared based on any new information you learn. Once the organization’s representative has explained their work, it is time to discuss the potential for collaboration. Focus on areas of alignment between the Indivisible mission and the interest of the community being served by the organization. Some potential areas of collaboration could include:
- Your Indivisible group attending any upcoming protests or actions that the organization is organizing;
- Alerting your members to opportunities to volunteer with or raise funds for the organization;
- Asking the organization’s staff or leadership to address your Indivisible group at a meeting, and/or participate in conversations as your group discusses upcoming actions and priorities in order to further identify opportunities to work together;
- Setting up ongoing communication, whether that’s regular attendance at each other’s meetings, to speak to each other's work, or providing content for each other’s internal communications, etc.
Don’t neglect the human element. If appropriate, you may want to briefly explain what brought you into this work, and learn the same thing about whomever you are meeting. Keeping interactions on an exclusively formal or instrumental level can be a barrier to building relationships and cultivating trust.
Continue the conversation. Your goal in this first meeting is simply to establish a communication channel and understand any upcoming opportunities to work together. Do not seek any formal commitment or partnership at this stage. You can close with any concrete steps you’ve identified together, and by inviting them to send a representative to sit in on your next meeting to explore the feasibility of collaboration down the road. Thank them for their time, and make sure they have clarity on when and where the next meeting you are inviting them to is taking place. Ask if they are having meetings that you or someone from Indivisible might attend as a representative.
Building Trust and Engagement
Partnerships generally don’t happen overnight. The next step towards partnership looks different depending on who you’re approaching and what their priorities are. As you move forward, however, discuss what accountability means in the context of your collaboration.
In any subsequent interactions, such as if a leader from the organization comes to attend or speak at your meeting, it’s critical to ensure the person is included, respected, and deferred to on the needs of their community and how to address these. You should make a point in their engagement with your group to ask their perspective and advice on the issues being discussed. Be respectful of their time by providing an agenda in advance, and if they are speaking, putting them close to the beginning. Strive to be mindful of any power dynamics at play and create a welcoming environment.
If someone from your group is attending another organization’s meetings, have them report out to your local group what the other organization is working on and if there are upcoming opportunities to partner or support them.
Inclusive engagement is not one size fits all, and it is more of an art than a science. You will need to find the best approach for both your organization and prospective partners. Try out tactics and evaluate their effectiveness. Learn lessons from mistakes and pitfalls. Ask for and take seriously any feedback that the leader or organization provides regarding the usefulness of partnership or how your actions affect them. This is a learning process, but if your ultimate goal is to be supportive, you need to be constantly attuned to whether your actions are having the intended effect. But don’t let possible missteps immobilize you. Act with intention, but make sure you act. Solidarity necessitates action, even if you are going to make mistakes. Doing something is the best practice for learning, stretching, and building.
By applying these principles, you can build engagement and partnership over time around shared interests and goals. Where possible and appropriate, share feedback with us on what you have learned, so that it can be shared with other groups grappling with similar issues.
Finally, we encourage you to consider coalitions or partnerships with more than one organization. In many communities, that’s the only way to build power. The guidelines for partnerships are also, generally speaking, applicable to coalitions as well.