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Before you can get sustainable funding or successfully create policy and practice changes, it is valuable to have the commitment of community organizations. It is especially important that these partner organizations represent the diversity of people you want to reach so that you can keep efforts meaningful and responsive to community changes over time. All partners will contribute to the sustainability of the prevention effort when they:
Partner commitment takes time to cultivate (see the Unity element) and ongoing effort to maintain. To keep partners’ commitment, lead with a vision that includes collaboration and the use of evidence-based practices. Maintain their motivation and engagement by identifying small wins on the way to long-term success.
Transitions in the staffing and funding of coalition member organizations are a potential challenge. This is especially true when it happens with the coalition’s lead organization. To survive these transitions, it is very helpful to formalize group partnerships, processes, and structures that divide responsibilities across partners (see Unity Key Area 2: Working with Community Coalitions and Advisory Groups). Formalized partnerships can help ensure that shared efforts continue beyond transitions in key staff. Identifying any needed changes to group structures before large transitions occur can also help groups survive.
To maintain partner commitment, track and recognize progress. Celebrating progress allows your coalition to do the following:
It is also important to identify where changes have occurred in suicide prevention-related behaviors, practices, confidence, and readiness to intervene. Be sure to acknowledge when key objectives and/or goals you have set in your strategic plan are being achieved. Recognize the action steps that partners had to take to achieve them.
There are many ways to facilitate tracking and celebrating progress. Here are a few ideas:
Acknowledge that suicide is a complex issue that will not go away overnight. Your coalition or work group may be carrying out all the activities listed in your strategic plan and still experience the loss of community members to suicide or see local attempt rates increase. You may see increases in calls to crisis lines and other mental health services, which may look like the problem has increased. However, a higher number of calls or mental health referrals may actually mean more people are getting services and the help they need.
Although people understandably want to see immediate positive changes in suicide data and trends, it takes long-term, sustained commitment to see these changes. Therefore, it is important to monitor progress regularly and celebrate small wins. Your partners can help track a variety of data—from the number of community members reached with specific strategies to changes in groups’ risk and protective factors for suicide. These more immediate outcomes let your coalition see progress while working toward long-term outcomes, such as changes in suicide death rates.
As you track and celebrate progress, also note areas for improvement. It is important to recognize when a specific action item is not working, a particular audience is not being reached effectively, or an objective cannot be achieved the way you intended, and to discuss these challenges with partners. Just as failing to acknowledge progress can lead to partner burnout, so can failing to address challenges that come up in prevention efforts.
As you acknowledge challenges, set up time with relevant partners to discuss the root causes of the challenges, how to best address them, and how to continue working toward your suicide prevention goals. Then adjust your strategic plan as needed. Sometimes, this will mean changing objectives or the ways you are trying to achieve high-level goals. Other times, it will require adjusting the way the programs are being carried out or changing which program(s) you are using so that they fit better with community culture, readiness, and preferences. Supporting partners through challenging times is essential to maintaining their buy-in.
For additional information on adjusting partner roles and activities, visit Planning Key Area 3: Putting Your Plan into Action.
Formalized partnerships are particularly helpful in ensuring group efforts are sustainable. For example, a memorandum of understanding (MOU) between a community mental health clinic (CMHC) and a nonprofit can lay out the staff who are responsible for carrying out key suicide prevention activities and the amount of funding that has been dedicated to the efforts from both organizations. If a new leader takes on responsibilities in the CMHC, they can use the MOU to identify what is expected and how to ensure their organization meets its requirements. Formalized partnerships will enable stronger efforts in suicide prevention that last over the long term. MOUs help partnerships withstand changes in organizational focus areas, leadership, staffing, and funding.
Coalition bylaws are another tool that can contribute to sustainability during times of transition. For example, a common transition challenge arises when the individual helping to coordinate coalition meetings moves out of their role. Coalitions can be prepared for this by using bylaws to list clear guidelines for coalition meeting coordination. Bylaws can lay out the following:
Coalition bylaws can include clear roles and expectations for multiple coalition positions, partners, and activities. Bylaws often help coalitions keep their partnerships intact, ensure that communication and meetings continue, and provide clear expectations for partner roles over the lifetime of the community effort. You can find a variety of focused bylaw examples from community partners at the National Cooperative of Health Networks.
For additional guidance on formalizing partnerships, visit Unity 1, Step 6: Formalizing partnerships.