City Year: Building smarter partnerships to help students succeed

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City Year: Building smarter partnerships to help students succeed


City Year found itself fielding partnership requests without clarity on how to prioritize and form partnerships that deliver the greatest impact for students and schools


A partnership strategy that helps the City Year network expand its reach and impact


Partnerships are core to City Year’s mission of supporting student success and developing the next generation of leaders. Because of its strong track record and commitment to partnership, City Year—which serves over 300 public schools in 29 cities across the country—founds its national and local offices consistently fielding partnership requests from other nonprofits and local collaboratives. Many of the requests seemed like good opportunities, but the organization wondered how many partnerships it could effectively manage and which ones would make the biggest difference in advancing its work in schools.

In 2016, City Year hired Community Wealth Partners to create a nonprofit partnership strategy that would enable it to deliberately build and manage partnerships, particularly more formalized, ongoing, one-to-one partnerships with peer organizations dedicated to supporting under-resourced schools. The goal was to create a strategic framework and disciplined business process for prioritizing collaborations that would drive the greatest gains for City Year’s students and schools; enable focused decision-making and strategic use of funding across the organization; and be responsive to the unique needs facing its communities and schools.

As a first step in this project, we worked with City Year’s national office to understand the organization’s diverse perspectives on partnerships; identify partnership areas that would deliver the highest return on investment for students and schools; prioritize among those partnership areas; and develop a clear set of criteria for assessing potential partnerships with specific organizations. We co-created a strategy that was flexible enough for partnerships to be implemented in different ways based on the unique needs of each of the nonprofit’s 29 locations. We also helped develop a business process, management tools, and a three-year roadmap to guide City Year in implementing the partnership strategy, along with a vision for a “proof of concept” pilot so the organization could further test and refine the partnership strategy and management approach.

A strategy to deliberately build

and manage partnerships


Through the process, City Year identified summer learning as a priority area for expanding its impact to make sure children are getting year-round support. In 2018, the nonprofit piloted a partnership with BELL (Building Educated Leaders for Life), which designs and delivers summer and afterschool learning experiences. Results from the small pilot programs in Boston and Providence demonstrated that students who participated in BELL’s summer programs from City Year partner schools (called BELL scholars) made gains in math and literacy similar to what BELL achieved nationally. In the summer of 2018, BELL scholars gained on average two months in literacy skills and two and a half months in math skills. While the partnership strategy work will take time to fully implement, City Year continues to learn and refine its approach.

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