Building Partnerships and Coalitions

Building Partnerships and Coalitions

“Really genuine relationships [are] based on mutual interest... [and] truly finding alignment... [that] isn't just them agreeing with you." 

Creating new or deepening existing relationships with community partners is an important strategy for preventing intimate partner violence! Building meaningful relationships is both a pathway to impactful change and an important prevention goal and outcome in and of itself.

In the DELTA FOCUS project, coalition-building approaches were designed to increase two or more organizations’ abilities to work collaboratively on statewide or community intimate partner violence (IPV) prevention programs, policies, or resources. Partners are vital to embedding prevention approaches into routine practices of public health, education, and violence prevention agencies and systems. Multiple partners working together can build on each agency or organization’s strength, whether it is leadership, planning, resources, delivery, or evaluation.

This story features lessons learned from coalitions in California, Delaware, and Michigan whose approaches focused on building a network of partners working collaboratively to support IPV and TDV prevention. 

Each coalition learned that to create new, and deepen existing, partner networks they needed to attend closely and responsively to how they built relationships. They did this by approaching relationship building as a long-term process, balancing communication with an openness to input, and fostering trust by being authentic and present for partners.


Key Lessons Learned & Highlighted Strategies

Key Lesson #1: To create new, or deepen existing, partnerships, it is important to prioritize responsive relationship building.
  • Advocates in California invested time in developing meaningful relationships.

The California Coalition learned that in order to achieve their desired vision for change, they could not rush, but had to work more slowly to grow relationships over periods of time that could not be predetermined. For them, it was key that they showed up to support aspects of their partners’ work. Their team made sure that partners knew the California Coalition valued their work by, for example, inviting them to present at their conferences and events. 

  • In Michigan, advocates learned that being humble and open to new learning builds trust with partners.

The Michigan Coalition highlighted that focusing on coalition building compelled them to balance clarity in their vision and aims with openness to others’ ideas and new learning. After making the effort to bring diverse voices to the same table, the team achieved a more accessible space where participant expectations were made clear to all, and difficult issues could be discussed authentically. Exercising humility allowed the team to learn about areas they were unfamiliar with and, more importantly, it enabled them to build trust with partners.

  • Advocates in Delaware learned the importance of coming to the table without an agenda.

The Delaware Coalition shared that even though it is tempting to place a greater priority on the work required for organizational adoption of gender equitable norms and practices, partnership building should be the core focus.

By prioritizing building and taking seriously and respecting their partners’ priorities, all the coalitions were able to make clear that the relationships they established were mutually beneficial and not simply driven by one organizations’ agenda, including their own.


Key Lesson #2: To meet communities’ needs and to build support, it may be necessary to shift messaging and methods.
  • Advocates in Michigan changed their language to be more accepted in a closed community where the topic of intimate partner violence was considered deeply taboo.

The Michigan Coalition found that shifting their messaging to be more inclusive granted greater access, as well as strengthened relationships, with partners. They learned that engaging some communities meant backing away from more traditional IPV prevention messaging. The coalition was purposeful in bringing marginalized viewpoints into all levels of the work to promote equitable access to programming and foster social cohesion (the strength of the relationships and sense of solidarity) among community members.

  • In Delaware, advocates were purposeful about learning the language and culture of their health system.

The Delaware Coalition found that shifting their viewpoint increased their reach and built trust with their health system partners.

  • In California, advocates realized that building trust meant including partners in the development of communication messages and supporting them in putting those messages out in their own way.

All coalitions quickly learned that making messages more inclusive and acceptable to partners further strengthened their relationships with the community and increased their reach. In addition, including partners in the development of communication methods made it easier to meet communities’ needs and build support.


Key Lesson #3: To create and sustain partnership networks, it is essential to be flexible and open to where the work may lead.
  • Advocates in California realized the importance of building on existing networks to connect with and invite partners in.

The California Coalition capitalized on their investment in an Adolescent Sexual Health Working Group, which was convened by the state Department of Public Health. This opportunity helped the coalition foster closer relationships with stakeholders outside the education system to increase the reach of their approach.

  • In Delaware, advocates focused on diverse representation on boards, task forces, and other collaborative groups that would endure beyond individual representation.

The Delaware Coalition learned that by remaining flexible, they could reframe normal partnership turnover as an opportunity to engage new partners as they prioritized working with diverse, non-traditional partners in the state.

  • In Michigan, advocates changed their evaluation approach to better capture the new directions of their collaborative work.

The coalition responded to where their partnership work was leading by modifying their evaluation plans, with one member of the Michigan Coalition commenting that the “designing never stopped.” They adopted a new framework to assess the presence of intersectional messaging and responded to the needs of working in a collaborative atmosphere, such as redefining how they measured collaborative action.

By remaining flexible, all three coalitions were able to take advantage of opportunities to move their partnership work and evaluations forward in ways that built and sustained their networks.

Tools for Adaptation

Highlighted Projects

Related Resources from DELTA FOCUS Grantees


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