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How to: Inclusive Partnerships

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At Sister District, we know that we can accomplish more when we work together. We also recognize that our work to build progressive power in state legislatures is inextricably linked to our vision for racial equity and justice in America. This understanding shapes everything that we do, including how we develop relationships with other organizations at a national level. This document provides guidance on how to develop inclusive and effective partnerships, coalitions, and collaborations at the local level.

NOTE: This document is intended to provide guidance for building out local partnerships, separate from the State Bridges program. Sister District is building relationships with State Bridges organizations at the national level. If you plan to reach out to organizations outside of your state (and if you are in a 2021-2022 target state), please first reach out to your organizing staffer to see if we have an existing relationship. We want you to cultivate new relationships, but we want to respect the precious time of these organizations, and that means streamlining communications where we can.

Goals

As you craft your team’s partnership strategy, consider your goals. Your goals might include the following:

  • Create an inclusive environment to encourage diversity on your team.
  • Develop relationships with groups who can become Affiliates (see below).
  • Increase field and fundraising support to your candidates.
  • Recruit new members to your team.
  • Build relationships with other activists in your local community.
  • Learn about other local political efforts and how they might align with Sister District goals.

NOTE: As you think about diversity, make sure to consider different types of diversity, including race, gender, age, ability, skills, background, diversity in terms of areas of focus in the progressive movement, and more.

Types of Partnerships

There are a number of ways that you may collaborate with other folks. Here’s a quick rundown.

Learning Partners

An excellent initial goal for partnerships is to develop relationships with folks as information partners. This means that you are either still talking to understand whether there might be a good opportunity for a more involved partnership, or you have already determined that it is not the best fit, but you still want to be allies.

These types of partnerships are valuable because they can help you stay plugged into your local community, and can have a multiplier effect on connections in the future. These can be lightweight; e.g., you agree to keep each other informed about your work by adding each other to each other’s newsletters. You likely have many of these partners already, but have not documented them; consider starting a Google Spreadsheet to track your contacts, and make a plan to reach out to them periodically with Sister District updates.

Promotion Partners

A one-off or series of event partnerships where another organization, group, or business who co-brands the event with you and helps you to get the word out is a great way to increase attendance for your already scheduled events. Because all they need to do is lend their name to the event and to promote it to their networks, it is an easy, light-lift opportunity to help them engage their folks, while maximizing your Sister District team’s impact for your candidate. Talk about a win-win!

This may be a particularly attractive opportunity for groups and organizations that do not have readily available phonebanks or fundraising links of their own. And don’t forget to offer to provide metrics after the event so that partners can share their impact with their members.

Event Partners

In some cases, you may decide to partner more closely with a group or coalition of groups by co-organizing a joint event, such as a fundraiser or a phonebank. This may take the form of a one-off or a series of events.

This model is great because it facilitates close working relationships and ownership of success by all parties. It can also require greater communication as the size of the team grows and you learn to work with leaders outside of your team.

For example, Sister District Puget Sound has worked closely with a coalition of Affiliates—_____, _____, and _____—on a series of fundraisers for their Virginia candidates in 2019. Read the case study to learn more.

What is a Sister District Affiliate?

An Affiliate is an independent group or chapter of another progressive organization (i.e., local Indivisible or Swing Left chapters, local parent groups, book clubs, etc) that supports Sister District candidates and efforts as a complement to its other progressive activities. Affiliates have access to Sister District resources, including staff, organizing tools, and trainings.

Partnering with Affiliates in any of the types of partnerships we’ve described can help you maximize your team’s impact by expanding your reach and network. As our Affiliate network grows, Sister District grows its impact. You can help to recruit Affiliates by cultivating relationships in your community by following the steps outlined in the Guideline section below.

Deep Partners

Some of our teams have deep partnerships with other groups. For example, Sister District CA-3 and Indivisible Yolo work very closely together, with shared leadership teams and collaborating on most events. Sister District Marin and Swing Left Marin also have shared leadership teams. This has the advantage of spreading the work around more leaders; it does require that the groups are closely aligned on priorities.

Guidelines

Building inclusive and effective partnerships requires a thoughtful, curious, and patient approach. A principle we swear by here at Sister District is to “move at the speed of trust.” What this means is that you will want to prioritize relationship-building in every instance. In some cases, it may be appropriate to move quickly to setting objectives and concrete collaboration. In others, it may be necessary to take the time to get to know each other before making an ask.

Taking the time to build meaningful relationships can also yield more diverse teams and wider-ranging coalitions. Diverse teams and coalitions can bring different specializations, skills, and resources that are complementary and contribute to a sum that is greater than its parts.

We recommend using the following steps as a starting point, keeping in mind that every relationship is different.

  1. Identify potential partners. Brainstorm a list of organizations and/or volunteer groups in your local community where building a relationship would further your goals. You can start with your personal network—ask friends or family what local organizations they volunteer their time and see if they’ll connect you to a leader. You can also think more broadly about other local groups or organizations that might further your partnership goals.

    Need a brainstorm boost? Here are national organizations that offer a map of all their chapters. Is there one in your area that you could invite to join your team’s efforts?
    Swing Left map
    Indivisible map
    Sunrise Movement map
    Moms Demand map

  2. Be prepared. Do your research on the groups you’re reaching out to so that you understand their goals and theory of change. Prepare an internal document or at least have a discussion to align your team on what your value proposition is for other groups. Check out Sister District’s strategy for a refresher. The goal is to be able to articulate how a partnership would help to further their work.
  3. Conduct outreach with respect and curiosity. When approaching a group or organization for the first time, ask a lot of questions and listen closely with the goal of understanding what they do and what their priorities are. Explain that you are interested in learning about their work and exploring collaborations where it might be mutually beneficial. If you think they may be a good fit as an Affiliate, you can share this Public-facing Affiliate Info Sheet that describes some of the benefits of linking up with Sister District.

    Sample message to potential Affiliate. “Glad you’re interested! Again, it’s choose-your-own-adventure, but you’ll be able to jump in as you want and you can have direct access to staff and all resources. I’m emailing you right now the Affiliate Interest Form—register your interest and a staff member in the Organizing Department will reach out personally to get them all set up, answer questions, etc.”

  4. Offer opportunities to collaborate. The first concrete outcome of a meeting may be that you offer to support their work by spreading the word about one of their events, or showing up to their meetings. Keep in mind that your goal is not necessarily to be a recruiter from the outset. And if the trust and interest is there, then ask them to fill out our Affiliate Interest Form and one of our organizing staffers will reach out for a conversation.
  5. Keep in touch. Move at the speed of trust to develop a relationship that may turn into a fruitful collaboration. Sometimes this may happen quickly; other times, particularly if you are reaching out to a group that focuses on a community that is different from yours, it may take more time than you think — maybe you’ll have several conversations or attend several meetings before moving forward to deepen the relationship.
  6. Practice inclusivity. As you start to build deeper relationships with other groups, be intentional about creating a welcoming environment so that others are included, respected, and deferred to on the needs of their community. Be particularly mindful of any power dynamics that may come into play because of differences in race, socio-economic status, ability, and so on. Many of us at Sister District bring a lot of privilege to every situation, and practicing followership can be just as important as leadership. Finally, you may find it helpful to establish ground rules for certain meetings; see AORTA’s ground rules as an example.

Resources

Inclusive Meeting Checklist (non-exhaustive!)

  • Attendees: Is everyone who needs to be part of this conversation part of the conversation?
  • Location: Is it in a convenient place for attendees? Near where they live? Accessible by public transportation? Are there stairs? (If there are barriers to accessibility, make note of that in the invitation.)
  • Format: If online, does everyone have comfort with Zoom?
  • Time: Is it at a convenient time for attendees, including those who may have different schedules?
  • Agenda: Send the agenda out ahead of time. Keep to the agenda to be respectful of people’s time.
  • Opening: Greet newcomers when they arrive. Consider incorporating a land acknowledgment to support Indigenous communities.
  • Conduct: Set ground rules and enforce them. Keep track of who’s talking and who’s not.
  • Follow up: Thank participants for attending and ask for feedback.

Additional Reading

For more guidance, check out Indivisible’s guide on How to Build Inclusive Partnerships and How to Be Inclusive.

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