Steps to Building A Successful Partnership

“Work experience, internships, and placements in the workplace are vital for our students to round out their knowledge of who they are and what they want to do with their future careers. Partnerships between education and business provide students with insight and experiences to help them understand the world of work."
Hon. Liz Sandals, Ontario Minister of Education

Read more about partnerships between schools and businesses

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

Develop an internal culture that values collaborating with community partners

Clearly outline your needs as a school or class
A quick overview of the profile of your school. What grades, how many students, what geographical region, what demographic of the community?
What types of resources do you need - volunteers, mentors, transportation, financial support?
Be as detailed as possible. For example- A bus to transport 18 kids once per week for 15 weeks.
What are your goals for this partnership?
Have a very clear outline of your initiative’s goals. The goals of this initiative will be more powerful if they flow into your school improvement plan, and your board’s strategic plan because it will demonstrate to the potential partner the larger scope their impact will have.  

Example of a goals mock-up

School ABC
  • To start up a First Robotics program at our school.
  • To increase learning opportunities in STEM skill areas. Robotics is a great way to develop STEM skills.
  • To increase learning opportunities for 21st century learning. Robotics helps to develop 21st century skills like collaboration through the project based approach.
  • To get the program up and running and be able to participate in 2 tournaments and the provincial championship.
  • To increase the number of students enrolled in math courses. One of school ABC’s goals from our School Improvement Plan is to increase learning 21st century skills as well as numeracy through the increase in the number of students enrolled in mathematics courses.
  • The school ABC Robotics program will help to deliver on the School Board strategic plan goal of increasing 21st century skills, so not only will our program impact our students, it will have a broader impact on all the students in our school board.
How will you measure success in this partnership?
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.
How will this success enhance student learning?
This will be important because the overarching priority of any school program should be student achievement.
How will this partnership benefit your partner organization?
This information can often be found on a companies website. Look for the “About Us” tab on their website for information on their mission, vision, and values. It may also list their corporate social responsibility (CSR) strategy. Many organizations have an education or community focus to their CSR. Other benefits to highlight are:
  • Involvement in the community
  • Increasing the number of people their organization reaches
  • Increased employee engagement
Does this level of partnership require compliance with the School District/Board’s partnership protocol or your family of schools’ superintendent?
Most school boards or districts have a partnership protocol. Depending on the size of the initiative, your partnering organization may have to go through an application process. Contact your superintendent for details.
View an example of a Board's partnership criteria
View an example of a Board's partnership governance process
Clarify roles and responsabilities
Identify the key people from your staff who will be involved and make sure they have the time, resources and support necessary for success.

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

Who to contact?
  • Research prospective businesses to ensure that their areas of expertise, philanthropic goals and core values are aligned and useful to your school.
    Explore the company’s website. Look for the “About Us” tab on their website for information on their mission, vision, and values. It may also list their corporate social responsibility (CSR) strategy. Many organizations have an education or community focus to their CSR.

  • Use your existing network of contacts for potential partners.
    Parents, teachers, and committees are great resources for potential partnering contacts. Here are some other local organizations that may be of use:
    • The rotary club
    • Kiwanis club
    • Lions club
    • Local community or neighbourhood association
    • Local chamber of commerce
    • Local small business associations

  • If it is a local business (local bank, grocery)- speak to the manager. However, if you are looking at a larger company- look on the company website for the leadership team. Typically, there will be an executive’s name (or the executive assistant) and contact number listed there. If you can’t get any information, try the marketing or public relations department. They will be the most directly interested in the partnership.
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.
  • Prepare for the conversation: who-why-how
    If you are speaking to a junior employee, briefly state who you are and that you are interested in partnering with that organization. Ask who would be the best person to speak with? Setting up a time/appointment for the call is an effective way to make the conversation have more purpose and feel less like a cold call. See a script for a call with a junior employee here.

  • When you are speaking to the person you want.
    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. 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 (Principal, VP etc.) and quickly profile your school.
    • Why- Explain why you are calling; you have an exciting initiative at your school and you are looking to partner. This should be brief and highlight why this initiative is important. For example- “We are launching a very exciting initiative to create mentors for 60 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 organization seeks to build strong communities. How do you think mentoring students could help to do that?”

  • Set up the meeting.
    If there is some agreement that their organization 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.
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 show the potential partner around the school, highlight a program or even see the initiative in action. It may also be beneficial if you want to present anything electronically as you will be able to get it set up ahead of time and ensure that it works.
    If the meeting is at your school, ensure that the first point of contact is welcoming and creates an inviting, professional environment.

  • Briefly outline your school, including some strengths and highlights, such as:
    • Number of students attending the school.
    • Specific populations or demographics within the student body.
    • Signature strengths, major accomplishments, or major challenges- try to connect to the business’ areas of interest.

  • Connect the partnership to the business’ goals. For instance, if one of your school’s goals is financial literacy, highlight that if you are talking to a bank.

  • Emphasize a few key messages such as “public schools are developing tomorrow’s workforce.”

  • If financial support is desired, emphasize the needs and benefits for both the school and the business first, then secondly the costs to make it happen.

  • Treat the initial meeting as exploratory; don’t necessarily look for a commitment in this meeting.
    • This meeting can be detailed, but the potential partner 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 potential partner may agree in principle, but will need time to assess the details.
    • Arrange for a call to discuss their decision or any questions they may have.

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

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

Work with your prospective partner to co-create the plan of action that details what you want to do and how you will implement it.
Collaboratively building the initiative gives both sides a sense of ownership and increases the engagement.
Inform your prospective partner of any vulnerability or police reference check screenings that will be required.
Businesses may have no idea about the level of security and safety measures taken by schools. Be as proactive as possible in communicating this.
See an example of a school notice to volunteers
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 Principal is critical for the success of this partnership.
  • Support from the Principal demonstrates that this initiative is important.
  • Talking about it at staff meetings, parent council meetings, and assemblies reinforces its importance.
  • Providing release time and resources establishes the partnership as a priority.
Establish a champion at your school to act as the liaison between your school and the partnering organization.
Having one person as the key contact person will help streamline communication and help with co-ordination on both sides.
Formalize the final arrangement
Your Board/District may require an official Memorandum of Understanding, but you may want to also have a document that outlines the objectives, expectations, commitments and length of the partnership.
Track participation and progress
Keeping data gives you great quantifiable information to communicate to your school community.
Ensure everyone in your school community 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!
  • Utilize your partner’s resources in marketing 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?

  • 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.
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.

>> Businesses are keen to partner with schools to enhance student achievement and benefit the workforce.

>> The business community has told The Learning Partnership that they want to partner with schools, but need help in figuring out how.

>> Businesses are busy too. They will support a school partner that is responsive and moves to action swiftly.

>> The business sector works on shorter time cycles (2-3 years) so adjust your expectations accordingly.

>> The business culture is different from the education culture – proactive communication allows for successful projects.
For more information, contact:

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