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NEA Big Read Survival Guide: Partnerships

Planning a community-wide arts engagement program can be challenging. To help ease the struggle, we’ve put together a series of posts which we lovingly dub The NEA Big Read Survival Guide. Each post contains some of the best tips and tricks that NEA Big Read grantees have learned over their years. In this post, we’ll be tackling Partnerships. How do you make that initial connection to a new partner? How can you make sure that your partner feels involved in the program? How can partnerships help you reach your community?

Identifying partnership criteria

As you begin to build your programming, you might be crafting a set of criteria to use as you choose your potential partners. As with any community project, it is important to form strong partnerships as early as possible, with a broad range of organizations to best reach a wide, diverse audience. Past NEA Big Read organizations have found that there are several criteria that can help guide which potential partners you might want to reach out to. These may include:

  • Media exposure. In addition to your public relations and media efforts, you may want to seek out a media sponsor. A media sponsor can assist with coverage through advertisements and promotions, or substantive features on the books or the NEA Big Read program.
    • In this blog post, the Kansas City Public Library talks about the integral role that their public broadcasting partner, KCPT-Kansas City PBS, played in their 2017 programming.
  • Funding. Every community project needs a funding base! If you find that you need additional funding to reach your goals, you may wish to seek a sponsorship or grant from a government agency, company, foundation, or community group.
  • Reach. Another good reason for a partnership is to extend your program’s reach to a new, diverse audience or area of the community it may be difficult to engage without their help. They don’t necessarily need to be experts in the same field as you—but they should be a supportive conduit to the people you want to reach. In fact, it contributes to the health of your programming if your partners hold a range of expertise!


The Knox County Public Library’s booth at the Knox County Farmer’s Market, a community partner. Photo by Casey Fox.

  • Expertise. Speaking of expertise: a successful NEA Big Read doesn’t just consist of good readers. Book discussions benefit from facilitators who are trained and talented in leading discussions; those who are experienced in teaching to youth or adults; community leaders who inspire people to move in a new direction. Look for groups that can expand the focus of your book discussions or provide expertise around topics related to your book.
  • Innovation. Organizations in your community may also be known for their abilities to do something in a new or exciting way. This may include local businesses, ad agencies, artists, theater groups, museums, galleries, movie theaters, or anyone with a flair for the dramatic. For example, a partnership with a restaurant could feature foods from the book. A partnership with an orchestra, jazz band, or other musical group could concentrate on the music associated with the book’s time period.
  • Time. Never underestimate a contribution of time! Many corporations and organizations may be seeking group projects for their employees and members. An excellent partner may be one who can donate the gift of time through volunteerism.


The University of Wisconsin-Parkside programming team with *Station Eleven author, Emily St. John Mandel. Photo courtesy of the University of Wisconsin-Parkside.

Other posts in this series

Explore the full Survival Guide