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Establishing Strategic Partnerships for Town Hall Meetings

A key outreach message for Communities Talk: Town Hall Meetings to Prevent Underage Drinking is that underage drinking affects all aspects of the community. Educational institutions, for example, aim to establish safe learning environments, but are affected by students who's drinking results in poor academic performance or alcohol-related violence on campus. Health care organizations work to promote and protect the health of their patients, but also deal with the physical and mental health consequences of underage drinking. These organizations, among others serving families and children, have a strong stake in prevention.

The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) works with representatives from national education and health care associations to explore opportunities to expand prevention efforts through their local membership. For example, local schools and chapters can participate in Communities Talk events as hosts, cosponsors, expert speakers, or attendees. SAMHSA also works with other national organizations to engage their local membership in the Communities Talk events initiative. SAMHSA's efforts at the national level lay the foundation for community-based organizations to reach out to the local chapters of national organizations as potential partners in holding events. Involving partners with varied missions in your Communities Talk event can help you highlight the many ways that underage drinking affects your town, its health, and its future.

Getting Started

If your organization has partnered with local chapters of national organizations to hold past Communities Talk events, now is the time to renew old acquaintances as you move forward with your current Communities Talk event planning. If your organization is holding its first event, you might begin by taking stock of chapters of national organizations in your area.

Next, look at what you need and what different schools and chapters might be able to offer. Do they have a newsletter, listserv, or blog to promote your event to their constituents? How about a Facebook or Twitter account? Do they have youth volunteers, public venues, or broadcast technology? Consider how their aims intersect with your mission or programs so you can more easily demonstrate why they should be your partner. Use this information to develop a partnership plan.

What Partners Can Provide

Partnering organizations can provide a wealth of support for your Communities Talk events, ranging from people, to a location and meeting space, to promotion. Your request might be for an organization to:

  • Provide a speaker or ask if one of its members can give expert testimony;
  • Promote the event to its members;
  • Offer a venue for the event;
  • Print promotional materials and/or handouts;
  • Donate door prizes;
  • Set up a platform on the web to stream the event online;
  • Provide transportation for participants;
  • Volunteer chairs, electrical equipment, or furniture; and
  • Set up childcare so parents can fully participate.

The Partnering Invitation

Extend an invitation to be a Communities Talk event partner by e-mail or a phone call. An initial e-mail followed up by a phone call can elicit the most success. In your invitation:

  • Introduce yourself. Describe who you are, and mention the person who suggested that you make contact, if appropriate.
  • Briefly mention why underage drinking prevention and the SAMHSA initiative is so important.
  • Summarize why the organization should care.
  • Describe what you'd like the organization to do or provide (see the list above and be clear about the "ask").
  • Include your contact information, but let the organization know (if this is an e-mail) that you will follow up by phone.
  • Thank the organization.

Wait a few days before following up with your list of contacts. If they're reluctant to get involved because they feel that they have insufficient resources, make sure you have a few low-cost alternative activities with which they can help. For example, your contacts could post a prewritten announcement or flyer for your event.

Rewarding and Sustaining a Partnership

Partnerships imply a mutually beneficial arrangement. While underage drinking prevention benefits all community members, your partners may expect a more immediate return on their involvement. Are there services or resources that you could provide to them in exchange? At a minimum, recognize your partners in your promotional materials and at your event and follow up with a thank you note after the event.