Partnering with the Community
Guiding Principle # 5
Relationships among NORC program partners are continually evolving.
Actions and Considerations
Expect and manage change. New partners join and old ones depart, and with such changes, the working dynamics of the NORC program are altered. Shifts in funding, contractual arrangements, staffing, community dynamics, and many other factors can influence partnership structure. No environment is static, and one mark of a successful program is its ability to adjust to change.
Prepare for periods of transition. To align new partners with the goals of the NORC program, develop an orientation process and some basic background documents (such as the NORC Description Worksheet). Reminding partners that they are agents of community change, and not simply service providers, reinforces a more expansive perspective. New partners also need to understand the:
- History and mission of the NORC program.
- Purpose of the partnership.
- Central role of senior residents.
- Contributions of every partner.
Example: Senior Friendly Neighborhoods, a NORC program in Baltimore, has created an orientation kit that includes a description of the NORC, a history of the partnership, and a description of the program’s governance and mission. This material offers insights and nuances about the community that new partners and other participants could not readily discover on their own.
Seek equilibrium. Every time core partners change, everyone’s role needs to be reevaluated and redefined. New partners bring their own perspectives and strengths into a partnership, but they can also weaken it if they are not absorbed into the mix thoughtfully.
Example: The family-owned management company of Crestmoor Downs, a Denver rental apartment complex, was a core NORC program partner until the complex’s buildings were sold in 2007. When an Atlanta-based corporation with a national reach took over, everyone wondered whether the NORC program had a future.
So far, at least, things look good. The new owners, who have not previously owned real estate that is home to so many senior residents, have recognized the benefits of working with people who know the community and have given NORC program staff a real office for the first time, complete with telephone lines and wireless Internet access.
“We’re beginning to educate them about our mission,” says Cathy Grimm of Jewish Family Services, a key partner.
Be prepared to integrate new representatives of existing partners. Partnerships are vulnerable to turnover among partner representatives. Partner agencies should be represented either by high-level staff authorized to make decisions or by representatives who can obtain answers quickly. New liaisons need an orientation process similar to the one in place for new partners.
Seek common ground with liaisons of mandated organizations. Sometimes, a funder or a government agency mandates that other organizations become involved. This can be tricky, especially if the mandated partner has minimal interest or experience with NORC programs.
Ideally, you should try to find ways to work together effectively. The goal—easier said than done—is to turn this situation into a “win-win” opportunity. Explore ways for both of you to benefit from the resources and experience of a mandated relationship.
Keep in Mind
Maintaining partnerships is an ongoing process requiring skill, negotiation, and a willingness to take risks. It also demands flexibility—no role is set in stone, and it is easier to make compromises when all parties are open to a bit of give-and-take.
Accommodation is a two-way street. New partners tend to make assumptions about how they will work with your program unless they are carefully educated about the needs and expectations of a NORC program partnership. At the same time, the NORC program should respect and adapt to the unique characteristics of new partners.
As the NORC program becomes successful, issues of credit and power may arise. Focusing on the main objective—creating a better community for aging residents—helps you to develop a suitable response. Continue to Guiding Principle #6