Unity Key Area 1:


Identifying Leaders and Partners and Building Their Capacity

There are embedded links provided throughout this key area. Some direct you to important resources elsewhere on the site and are indicated by telling you to “turn to” those places. Others are for additional information only.

Communities need strong leaders from many types of organizations who have the power and the trust from others to get buy-in and create change. For example, leaders should be individuals whose lives have been impacted by suicide, those who come from the fields of public health and mental health, as well as people from other types of organizations, such as schools, businesses, faith communities, and the military. You may need to help these leaders build their suicide prevention capacity, that is, their ability to address problems and carry out possible solutions to reduce suicide. This could be done through training, putting their learning into practice, and collaborating with others who are active in suicide prevention.

Ideally a suicide prevention coalition will be formed before any programs are launched. However, many times suicide prevention efforts are already taking place in a community. If this is the case, take steps to involve the groups already doing suicide prevention programming into your coalition. Following are steps to identify leaders and partners if there is no coalition or if you need to engage additional partners.

Key Steps

Create a list of individuals and organizations

Create a list of individuals and organizations that have a vested interest in suicide prevention in your community and state.  To determine who to bring into your efforts, consider the following questions:

  • Who could share insights or help you gain access to the groups most at risk for suicide?
  • Who could represent the diversity of cultures in the community?
  • Which organizations could impact the community’s specific risk factors for suicide?
  • Which community leaders have the needed skills, local influence, resources, and potential funding?
  • Which community partners have personal experience related to suicide thoughts, attempts, or deaths (also known as “lived experience”)? For additional information on lived experience visit  Fit Key Area 2, Step 3: Engage people with lived experience.

Turn to the CLSP Getting Started Guide for a worksheet  that can guide you in identifying your key partners.

A community may be struggling with increases in adult male and veteran suicides. When forming a group to address this issue, the community could look to bring together traditional suicide prevention leaders, such as the director of a local community mental health center (CMHC). The community could also engage more nontraditional leaders who directly represent the groups most at risk, such as the CEO of a local factory employing many adult men, a local VFW post commander, and a veteran who is a suicide attempt survivor and able to provide insights on the needs and culture of middle-aged men struggling with thoughts of suicide.

The leaders on your list who are essential to your local efforts will depend on your needs. From your list, identify the trusted community organizations that support people most at risk. Involving them will strengthen the outreach, diversity of viewpoints, commitment, ownership of local suicide prevention efforts, and possible connection to resources.

Identify state-level suicide prevention advocacy groups, statewide nonprofits, and state government offices who can support your efforts. Most states have a coalition, nonprofit, or agency charged with leading suicide prevention efforts.

Discussing your unique community needs and plans with the statewide groups and organizations will help align your efforts with larger statewide initiatives to maximize your impact. You will also learn about any state sources of funding, technical assistance, or other resources available to support local suicide prevention efforts.

For a list of your state’s key suicide prevention partners, visit your state’s page at sprc.org/states. This page includes contact information for your state suicide prevention leads as well as key local suicide prevention organizations.

Reach out to community leaders

Reach out to the identified community leaders with a specific request. Before reaching out, it is important to determine why you want to involve each possible leader and how you can involve them in the effort.

For example, you may want to involve the CMHC director both because there is a need to strengthen access to mental health services in the community and because the director oversees local community grants that may be able to support future suicide prevention activities. You may also want to involve an LGBTQ advocate to ensure their perspective and network of contacts are engaged.

Reach out to these leaders with specific requests in mind, such as serving on a strategic planning task force, joining an existing prevention coalition, or helping launch a suicide prevention committee relevant to their role. Incorporate specific goals and ideas for collaboration into your outreach, emphasizing why they matter to the potential partner. SPRC’s Frame Your “Ask” worksheet may be helpful.

Set up ways to collaborate

Once leaders agree to get involved, set up ways to have informal and formal collaboration on suicide prevention. Establishing these relationships may involve any of the following actions:

  • Setting up recurring meetings for the leadership group
  • Establishing an official advisory group on which the leaders can serve
  • Developing strong communication channels for the leadership group, such as an email list, a periodic newsletter, or other methods for updating the leaders regularly

For additional guidance on establishing advisory groups, visit Unity Key Area 2: Working with Community Coalitions and Advisory Groups.

Address needs of the group related to suicide loss (postvention)

Often, when a community launches a suicide prevention network, it is because a high-profile suicide or cluster of suicides has occurred. When recent suicide death(s) have spurred community action, it is important to first acknowledge and address the loss or losses the community has experienced. Addressing these losses can help reduce the risk of further suicides, including in loss survivors.

Strategies for acknowledging the loss can include the following:

  • Provide time for the suicide prevention group to discuss their feelings, reactions, and concerns.
  • Offer grief support services to those most impacted by the loss.
  • Celebrate the lives of those who died by suicide (such as by supporting a cause(s) the deceased were passionate about through a fundraiser or volunteer event, sharing positive memories of those who have been lost, or participating in a suicide prevention walk.)
  • Create and hand out lists of community services and support resources to those directly impacted by the loss. Such lists might include the 988 Suicide & Crisis Lifeline, survivor of suicide loss support groups, pro bono mental health counseling services, and/or area mental health providers who have experience in supporting clients grieving a suicide loss.
Please note that a licensed mental health provider should play a role in facilitating or supporting all of the above activities to ensure that appropriate help is available for those who may be struggling with the suicide loss.

It is important that communities take time to heal from suicide losses before moving into suicide prevention planning and programming. If enough time is not given to grieve the loss before implementation of prevention efforts, community members can feel hurt and disrespected or have unresolved or undue guilt.

For in-depth guidance on how to support your community following suicide deaths, check out the resources listed below:

Educate leaders about suicide prevention

Not all community leaders will start with the same understanding of recommended approaches to suicide prevention. Before agreeing on a vision, offer education for leaders to develop their skills and knowledge. Connect with your state’s suicide prevention leadership, such as a state suicide prevention coordinator or a coalition chair, to find potential educational resources for your members.

Include the following in partner education:

Additional key trainings could cover the warning signs of suicide and how to intervene with someone who is at risk. Educating partners will also help you create a long-term, shared understanding and vision for suicide prevention in your community, which is essential to aligning your partners’ efforts.

As you consider how to train local partners, don’t forget to reach out to your state suicide prevention contacts to see what resources, technical assistance, and training opportunities they have available. Many states offer online or in-person trainings, webinars, and conferences to their local communities on key suicide prevention topics. You can also visit SPRC’s Training webpage.

Formalize partnerships

Making partnerships official can be a long-term process. Before this can happen, relationships need to be developed, trust established and maintained, and common goals identified through strategic planning.

Whenever possible, strengthen community suicide prevention efforts for the long term by creating a letter of commitment (LOC), memorandum of understanding (MOU), financial contracts or grants, and/or an ordinance that empowers a local suicide prevention council. For more information on sustaining coalitions, see the Sustainability element.

What are common tools used to formalize partnerships?

  1. Letter of Commitment (LOC): An LOC is the least complicated form of partnering agreement available. In an LOC, an organization describes their commitment to a specific cause or effort. LOCs do not typically include sharing any form of intellectual or financial property. Instead, they are used to demonstrate that one organization supports the efforts of another.
    • For example, your local National Guard Unit might draft an LOC stating its support for the rollout of a suicide prevention gatekeeper training and willingness to aid in the outreach and promotion of the training.
  2. Memorandum of Understanding (MOU): An MOU is typically more formal and in-depth than an LOC. An MOU describes in detail what intellectual, material, or financial resources will be shared between two parties and clearly lists policies, protocols, and requirements that will guide that sharing of resources. An MOU—particularly if it involves data or funding—may be used as a legally binding document. So, it should only be entered into with partners with whom you have developed strong relationships and trust.
    • For example, a local university and county department of public health might create an MOU for the sharing of suicide-related data. The MOU will detail under what circumstances the data may be shared, how it should be shared, how it should be stored, and when access to the data expires. Failing to comply with an MOU could lead to legal action. The MOU should include stipulations around when and how an MOU can be ended.
    • For a checklist for developing an MOU, go to “Formalize Partnerships.”
  3. Financial Contracts or Grants: Government agencies and foundations are the most likely to seek out financial contracts or grants. These documents provide avenues for sharing funding in ethical manners. Organizations with a mission to provide financial support to communities will often send out requests for proposals or mini-grant opportunities through which community partners can apply for funding. Those awarded funding will usually be asked to sign contracts confirming the activities they will carry out for what amount of funding during a set time period. Failing to carry out agreed upon activities in a financial contract or grant can lead to legal issues or the inability to apply for future funding opportunities. Providing regular programmatic and financial reports is usually a requirement of financial contracts.
  4. Ordinances: Local city councils, townships, and other bodies of government can adopt ordinances requiring local laws. These ordinances will only apply to the jurisdiction in which the local law was passed. Councils regularly enact ordinances on a variety of issues. Examples specific to suicide prevention might be an ordinance calling for all school district staff to be regularly trained in suicide prevention or an ordinance requiring the development of a local suicide prevention council and naming key member organizations required to be represented on it.

To learn more about first steps to develop partnerships for suicide prevention, visit SPRC’s Partnerships and Collaboration webpage and download the worksheets. There are separate worksheets for an initial collaboration meeting, keeping members involved and actively participating, creating an MOU, and more.