ENCORE POST: Building a Partnership Agreement


In many, maybe even most cases, partnerships are made as verbal agreements and sealed with a handshake. That’s not surprising: partnerships are built on trust, with both sides operating with good intentions and in good faith.

Good faith aside, memories are faulty, and people hear different things from the same conversation. People quit their jobs, get fired, or transfer to other places, leaving you to recount your verbal agreement to a replacement who has never heard of you.

That’s why we recommend creating a written partnership agreement (or Memorandum of Understanding, or MOU, if you prefer). When you put things in writing, it forces you to answer the questions you didn’t think about (who’s paying for transportation to get students to a site visit?), makes clear who has promised to do what, and gives you a written and signed document you can share with a lost partner’s replacement.

NC3T has built a template (available here as a PDF) that we created after reviewing multiple versions of partnership agreements being used in schools and districts across the country. Whether or not you use this template, some of the key things to think about when building a partnership agreement are:

  • Who are you serving? Make clear that your students are the primary beneficiary of partnership activities and designate specifically which students will be served. Beyond that, however, it’s good to include language about what each of the key partners will receive as well (such as your employers identifying potential new hires, or your teachers staying current in the field).
  • What are the outcomes? Businesses thrive on outcomes: They’ll want to know exactly what results they should expect from this activity. Part of that involves finding a way to measure those outcomes, meaning that you should think about what kinds of data you’ll collect and how you’ll use it.
  • What are the details? Be specific on the actions that will need to take place: Don’t just say that you’ll set up an internship experience, state specifically that students will work five hours a day for six weeks at a specific location, managed by a specific person, and tasked with doing specific things.
  • Who’s doing what? Don’t leave any questions as to who has promised to do what. If someone has pledged $500 to support a program, list that number, along with the date on which it is due. If you’re responsible for conducting background checks, say so. It’s important that both partners see that the other has “skin in the game” and that they’re invested in the partnership’s success.

Answer these questions and you’ll have a partnership agreement that supports effective collaboration and gives you a resource to share if one of your partners leaves.

Brett Pawlowski is Executive Vice President of NC3T, the National Center for College and Career Transitions (www.nc3t.com). NC3T provides planning, coaching, technical assistance and tools to help community-based leadership teams plan and implement their college-career pathway systems and strengthen employer connections with education.

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