Steps to Building A Successful Partnership

“Canada’s great untapped resource is our business sector- despite its ups and downs, it is very strong. We have a great education system, but the challenges are growing- and we, private and public sectors, together need to be part of the solution."
Rick Waugh, Chair, The Learning Partnership Corporate Advisory Board and Former President and CEO, Scotiabank

Read more about partnerships between schools and businesses

If you want to inspire your staff to partner with education, download this video

Develop an internal culture that values education and giving back to the community

Identify your goals, roles and responsibilities and how it aligns with your CSR strategy.
  • Helping the school understand the mission or CSR of your organization will go a long way to establishing trust.
  • Approach the partnership from a position of supporting student needs.
  • Having concrete metrics to measure against will be a useful tool for you and the potential partner. It will facilitate discussion when reviewing the program and will be a good resource when celebrating the success of the initiative.
What people, time and money are you committing?
  • Do you have the commitment to engage with the school in the partnership?
  • Are you clear on the resources required to support this partnership?
  • Are you providing time away from work, providing resources to a school, or funding?
  • Identify the key people from your staff who will be involved and make sure they have the time, resources and support necessary for success.
How does your proposed partnership enhance student learning and achievement?
  • This must be the number one goal of any business-education partnership.
  • Communicating this to the school will be a critical factor.
Does this level of partnership require compliance with the School District/Board’s partnership protocol? A formal application process may be required.
Do your goals match the needs of the school and the strategic goals of the School District/Board.

Ensure a shared vision of success- seek to understand the culture and dynamics of schools.

Before making phone contact
Tone and tempo- Having a relaxed tone that invites conversation is best. Speaking too quickly, too much, or too slowly may not be helpful.
  • What to say: who-why-how
    Research the school to find out the Principal’s name. Get a sense of the school, its mission, culture, and signature programs.
    Keep in mind that schools and Principals are inundated with proposals.
    See a script for a call with a Principal.

  • When you are speaking to the Principal:
    As this is the first contact, you will need to create a tone that keeps them interested in continuing the conversation, yet doesn’t sound like a sales pitch. Remember, schools are inundated with requests and solicitations.
    The goal of this conversation is to set up a meeting to discuss, not secure the partnership unless they open the door.
    • Who - Explain your position and quickly profile your organization.
    • Why - Explain why you are calling; you have an exciting initiative and you are looking to partner with the school. This should be brief and highlight why this initiative is important. For example- “We are launching a very exciting initiative to provide mentors for high priority students.” Your goal is to ask for a meeting to discuss.
    • How - Explain how this initiative relates to them and the importance of their involvement. It can be very beneficial here to ask questions rather than tell them how it is beneficial. For example- if their mission is to “help build a strong community,” you could ask how they feel this mission relates to education or to the initiative. For example “I notice that your school seeks to prepare students for the 21st century. How do you think mentoring students could help to do that?”

  • Set up the meeting.
    If there is some agreement that the school would be interested, then ask for a sit down meeting to discuss further. Get their contact info including email.

  • After this call, and before the sit down meeting, send him or her a one page executive summary of the initiative and what you are proposing. See an example of a one-pager executive summary.
The first meeting
You are the one initiating the contact, so you will need to be accommodating in terms of where the meeting will take place.
  • At the school - This can be a great way to get a tour of the school, or even see an initiative in action.

  • Briefly outline your organization, some strengths and highlights.
    How your organization is involved with education and/or the community.

  • Try to connect the organization to the schools goals and/or student achievement that you learned about in your research. Example - you’re a bank and one of the school’s goals is financial literacy.

  • Treat the initial meeting as exploratory; don’t necessarily look for a commitment in this meeting.
    • This meeting can be detailed, but the Principal will have to go back and assess their internal capabilities and readiness for the partnership
    • Have a more detailed take-away that outlines the partnership that can be reviewed after the meeting. The Principal may like the idea, but will need time to assess the details.
    • Arrange for a call where you can discuss their decision or any questions they may have.

  • Follow up with a thank you note in the days following the meeting.

  • Remember - you may be directed by the Principal to School Board/District for a partnership application process.

Open communication, trust and respect are key to rewarding and sustainable partnerships.

Recognize that schools will require vulnerability and police reference check screenings.
  • Student safety is education’s number one priority.
  • See an example of a school notice to volunteers here.
  • Examples of Police Reference Check Programs: Calgary & Toronto
Jointly develop a strategic plan of action that details how you will operationalize it.
Collaboratively building the initiative gives both sides a sense of ownership and increases the engagement.
Provide an orientation to your potential partner on school and Board policies.
Training for standards and boundaries, supervision protocols, liability, risk situations and accident response is a good preventative measure.
Visible support from the organizational leaders is critical for the success of this partnership.
  • Support from the leadership demonstrates that this initiative is important.
  • Talk about it at staff meetings, on blogs and other communication pieces.
  • Provide time and resources for employees to participate if applicable.
Find a champion in your organization who will spearhead and manage this partnership.
Having one person as the key contact person will help streamline communication and help with co-ordination on both sides.
Formalize the final arrangement outlining the agreed upon objectives, expectations, time commitment, and deliverables.
The School Board/District may require an official Memorandum of Understanding, or you may already have your own.
Track participation and progress
Keeping data gives you great quantifiable information to communicate to your organization.
Ensure everyone in your organization is aware of the partnership.
Use meetings, assemblies, parent evenings, newsletters and websites to communicate and promote your partnership

Seek to grow the partnership by recognizing each other’s contributions.

Evaluate your partnership annually against objectives and deliverables.
Having established clear goals together during the planning process will make the evaluation easier.
Jointly assess the partnership strengths and look for strategies for improvement.
Be patient and look for some small early wins. Take those strengths and work with your partner organization to plan ways to improve and grow each year.
Demonstrate appreciation for your team, as well as your partner’s contributions and achievements - both internally and publicly.
It can be difficult in schools to compensate or recognize great work; saying thank you in many ways can have great value. Thanking your staff and partner publicly can help reinforce the importance of the initiative.
Have pride in your partnership - invite your partner to your school and relevant events.
Recognize your staff and your partner in public ways; host a year-end reception, highlight them at presentations, and thank them on your website.
Celebrate your success together!
  • Offer to use some marketing resources to spread the word about your joint success.
  • Utilize the local media for celebrating your partnership.

True partnership?

The ideal partnership is a collaboration between two organizations; but what is collaboration? The Ontario Trillium Foundation defined collaboration as “Two or more different partners coming together from various sectors, groups and/or neighbourhoods to work toward common goals. Collaborations are about people and organizations building, nurturing and maintaining mutually beneficial relationships in order to achieve shared goals that will benefit all partners.”

The foundations of collaboration

All collaborations are unique, but there are some common factors to all successful collaborations.
  • To have a truly collaborative partnership, it must be organic. Therefore there is no cookie-cutter way to manufacture all partnerships.
  • Collaborations must be win-win, where both sides benefit from working together.
  • Trust is the foundation of any relationship. Being clear, honest, and respectful will solidify the partnership over time.

What do true collaborative partnerships look like?

True collaboration:
  • Creates a shared vision, goals, and outcomes.
  • Creates a relationship based on mutual trust and respect.
  • Organically allows for each side to make a meaningful contribution.
  • Is where both sides are open and transparent about their goals and expectations of the partnership.
  • Believes and lives the African proverb “If you want to go fast, go alone. If you want to go far, go together.”

What kind of partnership do you seek?

Consultative/Advisory- Organizations or individuals provide thought leadership to schools for consultation on programs or policies. Contributory- Often thought of as “donating” to a school through resources or funding a project. Typically the funder outlines the objectives the funds are to be for and finds a partner that agrees. Operational- Where a school and an organization have a goal to achieve, and both are given responsibilities and tasks designed to the achieve the goal. Co-operative- Where organizations and schools come together to develop the objectives, roles and responsibilities, and share in the human and financial resources required to enhance student learning. *Source: The Partnership Handbook- HRDC.

What is the difference between a sponsorship and a partnership?

A sponsorship is typically a transactional relationship between two organizations. An organization may sponsor an event in exchange for various brand exposure opportunities such as logo placement. Typically this type of relationship is financially based. Partnerships can have opportunities for logo placement, but are usually more targeted towards student achievement, are less transactional, and can have a much larger spectrum of involvement than simply funding.

Keys to a Successful Partnership

  • Establish trust with the partnering organization. Establishing a relationship where each side’s needs are respected is fundamental to collaboration.
  • Grow together. A true partnership is where both sides work together to achieve more than they could on their own.
  • Be patient- partnerships take time. By reviewing the strengths each year, ways to improve can be developed.
  • Having a go-to person can be the key to smooth communication and planning.
  • Communicate the partnership and its successes to your school community. Recognize your partners in your school, as well as the contributions of your staff.
  • Be proactive when communicating with partners about screening and other safety protocols. Your partners may have no idea about police checks, or student safety protocols.
  • Be understanding Businesses may have no idea how schools run or what your time demands are.
Do you want to learn more about The Learning Partnership and its programs?
Visit our Take Our Kids to Work page and consult our Business-Education Task Force.
Businesses Looking to Partner with Schools
Schools Looking to Partner with Business
of students say "more opportunities to gain experience such as co-op placements, job shadowing or community projects" are needed.
of students say that "help from organizations and businesses in the community" is needed.

>> Schools are large complex organizations that serve multiple stakeholders: students, teachers, parents and government.

>> Understand that schools may be very cautious about partnerships.

>> Schools face the same challenges in meeting the demands of uncertain, fast changing times.

>> The education sector works on longer time cycles (3-5 years) compared to business, so adjust your expectations accordingly.

>> The education culture is different from the corporate/business culture – working hands-on with the school Principal allows for successful projects.
For more information, contact:

Anne Atcheson
Executive Assistant to the President
& CEO and Secretary to the Board
416 440 5101