Community Engagement: Collaborating with Diverse Organizations
Collaborating with diverse organizations in your community can help you increase your AAUW impact and recruit new members. By focusing on intersectionality, you may find common goals with groups that serve other marginalized communities, such as LGBT resource centers, homeless service centers, and organizations that serve immigrant populations. Work with diverse organizations to hold programs that elevate the voices of diverse communities on important AAUW issues.
Doing so can also help you connect with new people who may be interested in becoming members of your branch. First, holding membership in one organization does not mean limiting involvement with another group, so you may find members from another organization. Second, holding mission-based programs that highlight issues of diversity and inclusion can attract new members whom you wouldn’t otherwise reach.
Building New Relationships
Step 1: Research Potential Collaborators
Start by brainstorming about groups in your community that may be interested in building relationships with you.
Here are some groups that might make good collaborators and are found in most communities:
- Alumni chapters of sororities
- Business and professional women’s organizations
- Chambers of commerce
- Civil rights organizations
- Colleges and universities
- Community resource centers
- Community service organizations
- Girls, Inc.
- Girl Scouts
- Honor societies
- La Raza
- League of Women Voters
- Public policy groups
- Rotary clubs
- Social services organizations
- Science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) organizations
- Teachers’ and education groups
- Urban League
- Women veterans’ groups
Assess Alignment and Community Influence
Consider these two important factors as you research potential collaborators.
Mission alignment: How well does the focus of the potential collaborator align with AAUW’s mission? Some organizations have similar interests, such as women’s health, the wage gap, domestic violence, and encouraging girls and women in STEM careers.
Don’t limit your list to women’s groups. Groups that serve marginalized communities, such as LGBT resource centers, homeless service centers, and organizations that serve immigrant populations, may have common goals with AAUW.
Community influence: How well-known and respected is the potential collaborator in your community? Does the group have a large and diverse base? How active is it?
You have a limited amount of time and energy to put into collaborations, so be strategic about the groups you choose. Seek groups that are well-aligned with AAUW’s mission and have a strong influence in the community.
Step 2: Reach Out
Once you have your list of target community collaborators, reach out to them directly.
- Identify specific individuals to reach out to rather than e-mailing general addresses. These individuals might work in community outreach or on the specific issue area you are interested in engaging with them on.
- Send an e-mail, and follow up by phone. Just because you don’t receive a reply after your first attempt doesn’t mean that the group isn’t interested in connecting with you. Sometimes it takes a phone call or a second e-mail to remind busy people that they need to get back to you.
- Let them know that you would like to learn more about their work and whether there might be opportunities to work together. If you are looking for help with a specific project, mention it in your outreach but don’t ask for a commitment without meeting and explaining it further.
- Suggest an in-person meeting or phone conversation. A face-to-face meeting can really help you connect and jumpstart your collaborative relationship.
For more information on reaching out to colleges and universities specifically, read AAUW’s college/university recruitment guide.
Step 3: Prepare for Your First Meeting
- Before your meeting, collect your thoughts on what you would like to share about your AAUW branch, what questions you have, and the possibilities you have identified for working together. Make sure to also research the person you will be meeting with and the organization’s work. Doing your homework will show that you respect the person’s time and are interested in a mutually beneficial relationship.
- In the meeting, start by getting to know the person and the organization, and share information about AAUW’s mission and your branch’s work. Once you’ve established a shared understanding of each organization, discuss ways that you might be able to work together. If you reached out about a specific program, now is the time to talk about that in more detail. You can also suggest ways that AAUW might be able to help with the other organization’s work.
- End the meeting by reiterating next steps. If you’ve decided to work together on a project, figure out what needs to happen next as well as when and how you will touch base again. If the individual needs to consult with her or his organization or team before moving forward, determine when you should follow up.
Making Your Collaborations Last
Principles for Working with Other Groups
Build mutually beneficial relationships.
- Consider not only what other groups can do for you but also what you can do for them. As you build your relationship, work to understand their mission and goals and how you may be able to work together, while also being clear about what you are looking for out of the relationship.
- Think outside the box for ways you can enhance their work. AAUW policy states that AAUW entities cannot fundraise for other organizations, but your relationship can still offer value to collaborators. For example, you could get members to volunteer at their community event while sporting their AAUW T-shirts. They benefit from the volunteer support, and you benefit from increased visibility in your community.
- Consider cross-promoting events to each other’s networks, helping them access your community contacts, and sharing best practices for navigating community systems and bureaucracies.
Don’t make it a “one and done.”
- Although working together on a particular event may help launch a new relationship, having successful relationships with other groups requires continued engagement over time. Just like any individual relationship, you must nurture and invest in it to make it stronger.
- Touch base with the groups you have engaged with to explore how you can continue to work together and support each other’s work.
Understand and respect different approaches, styles, and processes.
- Every organization has a different culture and way of operating. Your collaborators may have many priorities, and while your upcoming event is at the top of your list, other organizations may be working on projects that feel more pressing to them. (The stronger your relationship and the more mutually beneficial the project is, however, the higher your event will be on their priority list.)
- Different organizations have different timelines. AAUW members with work commitments may conduct AAUW business mostly in the evenings or on weekends, but members of other organizations may have other schedules.
- Some organizations have a dominant culture of e-mailing, while others favor unscheduled phone calls or planned in-person meetings.
- Some of your contacts have the autonomy to make decisions and move forward on your joint work, while others may need time to consult with others before being able to move forward.
- Work to understand other organizations’ operating methods and to agree on timelines, check-ins, and more. If you are having a challenge communicating, it may reflect a different way of operating rather than a lack of commitment to the collaboration.
Distribute credit fairly.
- Make sure you recognize your collaborators for their work on a joint project. For co-sponsored events, list all collaborators on materials. Not only will this build trust with your collaborator, but it will also indicate to outsiders the significance of the event and help you attract new attendees. At your event, publicly thank collaborators for their specific contributions.
- Similarly, when you support or collaborate on another organization’s programs, make sure your branch is appropriately listed on materials and recognized in person.
Outline roles and responsibilities for each group.
- Whether you are embarking on a joint project or looking for collaborators to play a smaller support role for your event, clearly establish each group’s role and responsibilities from the start. This ensures that the planning process moves forward smoothly and that you achieve your goals. Being explicit about roles also helps you check in from the beginning to make sure you are each getting what you want out of working together.
- When you approach collaborators to ask for support, be clear about what role you envision them playing, while also being open to other ways that they may want to engage.
Relevant AAUW Policies
Collaborations with Other Organizations (AAUW Policy 600)
Are you tired of holding the same programs year after year? Are you wondering what programs can invigorate your branch and diversify your membership base? Read this guide for some fresh ideas!
Sometimes branches lose new members after only one meeting. This can be a symptom of an organizational culture that does not feel welcoming to new people.
To continue to grow and thrive, we must be responsive to changes in our demographics and include individuals with diverse backgrounds and perspectives. Use this tool kit to help you get started.