Schools must be absolutely clear on what they’re looking for from the relationship with a partner business. Make sure that, as part of your income generation strategy, you have a coordinated approach to businesses mapped out. This should include the type of support you’re looking for (financial, expert advice, mentoring for students, and so on) and, of course, what benefits you can offer to the business.
While any partnership will be driven by what’s best for the school and its students, all successful relationships function best if they offer a ‘win-win’ to all parties. Schools can gain access to business mentors, sponsorship and volunteers, and help in preparing students for the workplace. Businesses, meanwhile, are able to forge stronger connections with students and access a talent pool of the future. Some partners may be looking for a low-level association with your school, many may be motivated altruistically or by the desires to meet CSR targets. Whatever the motivations, you need a clear sense of what you can bring to the partnership.
All partners need to understand the expectations on both sides. They need to be clear about what the ground rules are, and just how involved the partner expects to be in the project they’re supporting. You might want to consider how the community views the partnership, too, and you could develop questionnaires for your parent groups (including your PTA) to assess their views. It may be a good idea to draft a simple operating agreement so that all parties are clear on how the relationship is approached and what’s expected over a given timeframe.
Schools need to apply due diligence and consider carefully any commercial relationship they develop with an external organisation. The safest and most obvious place to start is with those businesses already engaging with the school: suppliers. You’ll have a trading relationship and a degree of trust that may have been cemented over a number of years.
You may need to search for a business to meet your need. For example, school leaders looking for a specific service should reach out to a business that has expertise in that area, and possibly ask parents to suggest potential partners. Much may depend on your geographical location – being surrounded by growing high-tech micro businesses may offer a different opportunity to those schools located in traditional industry heartlands. Some of your needs may be short term and will need specific expertise to help with delivery. However, you’re probably looking to develop longer term bonds that can be grown and developed over time. Make sure the activities you develop with a partner align to your own values as well as their business culture – sustainable relationships are more likely if you can find the right match.
Make sure those involved receive the publicity they are promised! Their support can be acknowledged in various ways, from a mention on the school website or in social media and newsletters to invitations to events and sponsor/donations boards. This will help ensure long-term support and increase goodwill in the future.