Partnerships often mean the difference between a fleeting project and a lasting legacy.

Don’t Let this Die

People come and go. They change their priorities or get pulled away for one reason or another. They get sick. They get old. At some point, they pass away. It is a hard truth of life. Individuals are impermanent.

But partnerships can endure. Partnerships are bigger than one person.

“The cast of characters changes over time,” says Nancy Messmer of the Clallam Bay Sekiu Lions in Washington. She and her husband, Lion Roy Morris, continue partnerships they helped create in 2007 with the Washington Clean Coast Alliance, now known as Washington CoastSavers. “You have to keep building the bonds of the alliance to continue,” she says.

The inspiration for CoastSavers started with a Seattle environmentalist who was leading a small group in cleaning up the state’s most remote beaches. He came to Messmer and Morris with the news that he was ill. He didn’t want sympathy; he just wanted to make sure his work continued.

“Don’t let this die,” Nancy Messmer remembers him saying.

She and her husband knew, she says, “If you’re a very hard-working person you can get a lot done just by yourself. But you can’t do the really big things.”

Lions Emil Person and Roy Morris with their helper, Paul Blake, clean up debris along the Strait of Juan de Fuca in Washington.

Messmer and Morris met with other Lions, representatives from like-minded volunteer groups, and stewards from the Olympic National Parks. “We got together and everybody in the room realized that nobody was anybody’s boss, and we created an alliance,” says Messmer, environment chair for MD19.

Now, 12 years later, more than a thousand volunteers pick up 34,000-plus pounds of debris along Washington’s Pacific coast for Earth Day each April. And that is just one event. In September they partner with the Ocean Conservancy for the International Coast Cleanup, and the Clallam Bay Sekiu Lions coordinate the cleanup of the Western Strait of Juan de Fuca, partnering with the local visitor center and the county, and inviting all volunteers to a Lions BBQ afterwards.

Many things like this happen every day around the world because of valuable partnerships, says Messmer. But to keep these projects alive and productive, she says, partnerships have to be able to endure and evolve.

“There are some people who think if you go through the process of planning, writing your goals, having your objectives, and you have a coordinator and a website, you’re done,” Messmer says. “But we know the process of doing big work is a continuous effort. And sometimes it’s big things and sometimes it’s little things, but it’s continuous.”

Many Hands Make Light Work

You could say the Cannonball snowballed. For many years Iowa’s Mason City Evening Lions sold about 700 chicken dinners on Cannonball Day—the day the people of Mason City celebrate their railroad history around the town’s Cannonball 457, a steam locomotive built in 1912.

But by last year the dinner tickets totaled more than 3,000, which, according to project chair Dennis Brunsvold, is more than the small, aging club could handle alone. The funds generated by the dinner are far too important to the community to let the project fade away. But the club needed help.

When the River City Kiwanis club heard the Lions were in need of a helping hand, they offered theirs.

“They’re a young club and their membership is 80 to 85. We’re a small club with only about 23 members, and our average age is 74,” says Brunsvold. “We decided that a partnership was the answer to keeping this successful project going.

The two will join forces this month for the traditional Lions BBQ chicken dinner.

“One nice thing about this is that Lions deal with sight. Kiwanis deal with kids,” Brunsvold says. “We’re both all about helping the people in our community. And now the people who support Kiwanis will support the dinner. We all benefit.”

Michigan isn’t the only place where these traditional club “rivals” are joining hands.

Sonora Lions in California invited neighboring service organizations to help in the removal of dead and dying trees that posed a danger to their community.

Past District Governor Tom Penhallegon knew when he started the Sonora Lions tree removal project in California with Lion Glenn Gottschall two years ago that success would take more than one man and one club.

He saw the skeletons of multiple dead trees that needed to be removed, and he knew removal would benefit the community. But his club alone didn’t have the manpower, money, or expertise.

“The only way this project was going to happen was through partnering,” Penhallegon says.

Sonora Lions being the only Lions in their county, he visited other neighboring service organizations to explain the Lions’ Tree Mortality Aid Program—a way to help low-income and elderly homeowners with the costly removal of the dead and dying trees that had succumbed to bark beetles and drought.

“Kiwanis and Rotary both went all in,” Penhallegon recalled this spring as the project came to a close. Both organizations delegated members to the TMAP board of directors. “Each of the clubs held fundraisers bringing in tens of thousands of dollars to finance the taking down of hundreds of trees at a cost of US$400 to US$1,200 per tree.”

This was not only a project where partnering was a great help to the community, says Penhallegon. “It brought a better understanding of community to all clubs.”

In Michigan, Emmett Lion Chuck Belesky has donated more than 19 gallons of blood and helped his club host community blood drives.

Pooling Your Resources Adds Up

In Michigan, Emmett Lion Chuck Belesky convinced his club to partner with the Red Cross in organizing multiple blood drives, and through that effort they have helped close to 12,000 people, he says.

The project started in October of 1975 when LCI asked every Lions club to do a community event, and Belesky suggested his club host a blood drive. “When you suggest a project, you’re doing it,” says Belesky.

So Belesky and his wife, Nancy, organized the first Lions blood drive, and Lions decided to continue it every year, slowly upping the number of drives from one each year to three. In January they held their 100th.

According to Belesky’s calculations, the Red Cross collected 3,999 pints of blood during those 100 drives, and each pint can help three patients, so 11,997 patients in need of blood have been helped by the Emmett Lions alone.

A Vietnam War veteran, Belesky began giving blood during the war, and he vowed that over time he would give 15 gallons of blood. As of April, he had surpassed his goal, having given 19 gallons [456 pints] of blood.

“Why? Well, I always felt that giving blood is a great thing to do,” he says simply. “People are always in need. And I know if I needed blood I’d want somebody to help me.”

Partners Show Up When You Need It

For many years the 92-year-old Carpinteria Lions Club in California has made it a point to get to know the neighbors. This year they made visits to nine other clubs, the furthest about two and a half hours away, says club president Neal Bartlett.

Along with fostering camaraderie and friendship, visits among clubs allow Lions to get and give feedback on projects, lend support, and share ideas.

Thanks to an idea shared by the Santa Maria Lions, the Carpinteria Lions have netted more than US$125,000 for charity from nine years of hosting their popular Christmas fundraiser—the annual Lions Festival of Trees.

The project has also proven the value of friends willing to help in a pinch.

Before Thanksgiving each year, the Carpinteria Lions put 20 or more Christmas trees on display in a community building for local businesses and organizations to adopt. They decorate the trees and add themed presents underneath. During the festival, visitors buy US$1 raffle tickets from the Lions to drop in the boxes under the trees and presents they hope to win.

But trouble came last year when a heavy rain storm hit the town. Hours before opening day the Lions awoke to find more than an inch of water throughout the venue. Who came to help? Neighboring Lions. And the event opened just one day late.

“Our visitations to other clubs helped us establish those relationships and that friendship,” says Bartlett. “Their help was very important to us.”

In October the Carpinteria Lions also run a tri-tip sandwich booth at the state’s largest free festival, the California Avocado Festival, when the town’s population jumps from 14,000 to 200,000.

“It’s labor intensive. All hands on deck,” says Bartlett. “We need everybody in the club down there and it’s still not enough.” So Lions from the UC Santa Barbara, Ventura Downtown and Camarillo Amber’s Light clubs, as well as others, come to their assistance. In turn, Carpinteria Lions donate part of the proceeds to these clubs so they can fund their own projects.

“In my opinion, visitations don’t happen as often as they should,” says Bartlett. “A lot of good comes from people getting to know each other and working together.”

Watch how advocacy can help influence others and win partners.

To learn how to start effective partnerships with your club check out the project planners here.