An Offer Instead of an Ask: Building Partnerships During a Global Pandemic

karen partnership crr

At the beginning of the COVID-19 crisis, a call came from the Community Outreach Coordinator in my town seeking volunteers to assist with a newly implemented meal share program. To ensure no residents would be hungry while stay-at-home orders are in place, organizers from the mayor's office, the senior center, the housing department, and volunteers from a variety of agencies came together to coordinate a meal pickup site as well as a contactless delivery program for home-bound and high-risk residents. Like many people who are feeling the need to be helpful, I jumped at the opportunity to participate.

I was fortunate to score a late afternoon time slot on an unusually warm, sunny March afternoon and found myself working alongside another local mom who works for FM Global. Amy told me about the #FMGlobalCares initiative and how her company, much like NFPA and many other companies, encourages employee volunteerism. Over the course of a few hours, we talked about our jobs, our kids, and the crisis at hand while we handed out over 400 free meals to our neighbors. At the end of the day, I felt great about helping and my mind was spinning about how we could do more.

In my role at NFPA, I am immersed in work intended to pave the way for local Community Risk Reduction (CRR) implementation. NFPA, 1300 Standard on Community Risk Assessment and Community Risk Reduction Plan Development serves as the cornerstone for this process. While the document is chock full of helpful content, my recent volunteer experience got me focused on one important component: partnerships.

karent partnership crr job lotWhen you look around your community and take note of the successful initiatives playing out during this crisis, you will notice a common thread. The wins are driven by partnerships. We have realized that together, we accomplish more. We see simple acts of neighbors looking out for neighbors by consolidating grocery (and liquor!) store trips, restaurants providing food to essential workers, and local merchants providing free materials to help families make face coverings. There are also massive public-private projects to get COVID-19 testing up and running and corporate internet providers offering free wi-fi for local school children to help the learning process roll on. And of course, this New England gal still has a warm fuzzy feeling from watching the New England Patriots plane return home from a round-trip flight to China with a belly full of critical medical supplies donated to the New York City coronavirus hot spot.

In a previous blog, COVID-19 Provides Opportunity for Elevating Your Community Risk Reduction Efforts, I encouraged readers to peel away the layers of fear, confusion, and hardship to see the opportunity this crisis provides. I truly believe we can emerge from this crisis stronger and prepared to embrace the work of prevention. The partnerships we build now will certainly have value once life gets back to normal.

If your typical CRR activities have been grounded due to COVID-19, consider switching gears to build out your partnership cache. Think about stakeholders and potential partners who strengthen your CRR plan. Reach out to them and find out how they are doing. Ask if there is anything you can do to lighten their loads. For example, school leaders are important CRR partners who are currently faced with big challenges. You may be able to lend a hand by assisting with contact-free delivery of learning packets, lunches, or chromebooks – and maybe you can slide some life safety information in as well! Offer to share your Community Risk Assessment data to help leaders solve unique problems related to education. Perhaps a motivational message on social media to families engaged in home schooling would be appreciated. Maybe you could offer the principal a sweet ride on a fire truck through the neighborhood to help the kids feel connected to their school during this crazy time. Not only can you demonstrate your worth as a partner and put chips into your CRR bank but your actions will build community during a time when we need this most. Think creatively and start with an offer instead of an ask. When you start by giving, your partnership base will grow quickly, as will your heart.

The NFPA CRR team would love to hear from you. If you have additional ideas about how to keep your CRR initiatives moving forward during these uncertain times, reach out to

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Karen Berard-Reed
Senior Strategist, Community Risk Reduction Lead