Layoffs, tightening budgets, employees being asked to do more with less … these are the realities of today’s economy and, like people in most other industries, aquatics professionals need solutions.

A partnership is one paradigm that may prove worthwhile, even beyond the current recession. These mutually beneficial relationships leverage the core competencies of multiple organizations to accomplish what cannot be accomplished alone. Funding is often the No. 1 problem in aquatics, and strategically developing cohesive partnerships is one way to expand your breadth of service, outreach and perceived value.

Traditionally, partnerships develop through relationships and common purpose, but today they may be forged out of necessity. As tax coffers continue to shrink and recreation agencies compete for funding with fire, police, EMS and public works, more agencies are likely to consider developing partnerships.

Moreover, partnerships help build a sense of community and develop public trust through efficient and effective stewardship of local resources. For aquatics professionals, the ultimate goal of any partnership must be a collaborative effort to positively affect the community and meet local recreation needs.

Think “partnership,” not “sponsorship.” When agencies reach out to other organizations essential to the quality of life and economic impact of the community, arrangements may or may not involve direct funding.

One example of a successful partnership is Waggin’ at the Waterpark, an end-of-season dog swim at Discovery Island Waterparkin Greenville, S.C. Park operators knew they wanted to run the event, but no funding was available so they made it happen by joining forces with the local humane society, dog rescue groups, local veterinarians and others. More than 350 dogs participated and all admission fees went to build new dog park facilities. The dog swim gained enormous community support and requests to do it again.

Beyond such events, partner-ships could encompass program development, facility use or access to decision-makers. They also may provide cross-marketing opportunities that benefit the community.

When The Blood Connectionin Greenville, S.C., was short on supply, Discovery Island Waterpark found an opportunity to partner. Those who gave blood received a free pass to the waterpark. Blood donations and waterpark attendance increased, and both agencies benefited.

How can you jump on board? Following are a few guidelines for developing powerful partnerships.

  • Open your eyes. To begin developing new relationships, look throughout your community and start talking to potential partners.

The Greenville County Recreation District in South Carolina has taken the partnership approach and developed relationships with a host of agencies in the public, private and nonprofit sectors. The list includes school districts, colleges, local youth sports associations and the Red Cross.

  • Look for in-house opportunities. For example, could your agency cross-promote its waterpark and the local ice rink? The offer: Attend one facility and receive a discount to visit the other.

Also consider developing partnerships with media outlets. Get to know the local press and help them create special interest stories involving your staff, safety, facilities or programs.

  • Persevere. In approaching groups that are new to partnerships, you may encounter resistance. Just remember it takes time and energy to reach out, demonstrate potential benefits and build trust.
  • Create a culture of collaboration. Everyone in your organization should understand the value and potential benefits of partnerships. Make customer service your highest priority and work to build lasting relationships.
  • Be willing to give. As you build relationships with potential partners, recognize the benefits both agencies can provide, and view possibilities in terms of consensus rather than compromise. Ask questions such as, “If we could partner on a project, program or activity, what it be?” “What creates a win-win?” “What resources and core competencies can be leveraged?”
  • Identify and establish common goals. Goals might be an addition to an existing aquatics center, developing a new waterpark, or meeting the needs of a growing swim team.

The GCRD currently is doing all three of those projects in conjunction with a community aquatic alliance, booster club, Red Cross and local politicians. The developments will enhance the community’s quality of life, and without the combined efforts of everyone involved they may not have been possible.