Partnering with the Community
Guiding Principle # 4
A NORC program is guided by a governance structure that meets local needs and clearly defines the roles and responsibilities of each partner.
Actions and Considerations
Agree on a leader. Every NORC program needs a leader—a single person or a core team—to champion the program, gather together the necessary partners, secure resources, and launch, modify, and sustain the program. Often, but not always, this leader is the executive director or another high-level representative of the lead agency, but it can be another stakeholder as well.
A leader has the vision and authority to bring people together and to empower them to translate broad goals into a program that meets community needs. An effective leader also knows how to listen. (For more on the importance of leadership, see Sustaining a NORC Program, Guiding Principle #3.)
Develop an approach to governance that works best for the NORC program’s particular set of social, economic, and geographic circumstances. The right model depends on the unique characteristics of every partner and on the desired outcomes.
Good governance means agreeing on lines of accountability and knowing who will be responsible for:
- Managing and monitoring program finances and contractual relationships.
- Facilitating partnerships and building community relationships.
- Coordinating program logistics.
- Managing on-site services.
Agree on the role of the lead agency from the start. Many NORC programs designate a single lead agency to provide overall fiscal, managerial, and programmatic responsibilities. Others choose to share responsibilities among several agencies or to put fiscal tasks in the hands of one agency while dispersing other decision-making roles.
The Lead Agency is responsible for facilitating partnerships and building community relationships. In most instances, the lead agency—often the government contractor or foundation grantee for NORC program funds—manages the finances, and coordinates and integrates the services offered. While the lead agency is frequently the social service provider, it can also be the housing partner or the health provider.
Each program has an executive director who is responsible for day-to-day operations and for facilitating the lead agency functions. Typically, the director is an employee or contract worker at the lead agency, but can also be an employee of the housing management company or another partner.
What matters most is that the organizational structure be designed so that all partners understand how decisions are made, know who is doing what, and feel confident that their voices will be heard before authority is exercised.
Example: The East Point NORC program, outside Atlanta, is a partnership between the Atlanta Regional Commission, the Fulton County Office on Aging, and the Jewish Federation. At first, the partners tried making decisions on the basis of consensus, but the limitations of that approach eventually became apparent—no one had final responsibility, and progress was slow. More...
Involve high-level managers in the commitments made by their organizations. Regardless of who actually attends NORC program meetings, key managers should help to define their organizational commitments and the support they are willing to provide. Send an e-mail or memo after any discussion about organizational commitments to make sure everyone understands their terms.
Develop informal and formal work structures. Sometimes, partners just need opportunities to talk, to brainstorm, and to think creatively. Other times, they need to come together in more formal settings. It is often best to bring work groups or task forces together to focus on specific projects, rather than to develop an extensive set of standing committees.
Define the authority of any task force that is created. A task force may be either empowered to act on behalf of a partnership or required to return to the group for approval before moving ahead. In either case, task force members should communicate to all partners about their activities and findings.
Keep in Mind
The structure governing NORC program partnerships may need to be changed if it is not effective. Check in on your structure periodically. Are the partnerships efficient and effective at making decisions? Should you revisit designated roles and responsibilities or the approach to leadership?