Because nonprofit managers are unaccustomed to corporate presence, nonprofit-business partnerships remain notoriously difficult. Still, there is no question that there are ways to succeed and that success often takes nonprofits to previously unimagined levels of impact. Indeed, there are enough successes (and failures) to identify five strategies that help ensure, not only that partnerships will not fall apart, but that they truly magnify the social sector impact.
Serve the Business
Nonprofits will serve their interests better by pursuing win-win partnerships where companies “do well by doing good.” Partnerships can help companies increase employee morale, learn about new markets or strengthen the corporate brand, for example.
Spare the Cash
Nonprofits with highly effective business partnerships do not request cash donations. These nonprofits focus on helping businesses leverage their full complement of resources – from employee skills to transportation fleets to technology platforms – toward accomplishing the nonprofits social agenda.
Lead the Way
Business leaders are as uncomfortable as nonprofit leaders with the convergence of the business and nonprofit sectors. A clear vision and firm direction from the nonprofit partner will facilitate a high-impact nonprofit-business partnership.
Manage Impeccably Well
Philosophical divisions or clashes of values don’t typically undermine nonprofit-business partnerships. Instead, research finds that the most common culprits of failed partnerships are mundane project management weaknesses, such as lack of shared goals, unclear roles and responsibilities, miscommunication and parties not having the capacity to deliver what they committed. As trite as it might sound, strong project management is one of the keys to fully tapping into the benefits of corporate involvement in the social sector.
Successful nonprofit-business partnerships generate an unequivocal net positive public good. It is the responsibility of nonprofit managers to be stewards of this public good. Because businesses can be a force for harm almost as easily as they can be a force for good, the stewardship role includes thorny decisions that have both efficiency and ethical dimensions.
Many nonprofit managers are torn between resisting or accepting businesses’ entrance into their territory. They are unsure if it’s a hijacking or a helping hand.
What many nonprofit managers don’t realize is that their individual actions matter and that their collective actions will likely define the future of corporate community involvement.
Whether or not corporate community involvement ends up elevating the collective lot of humanity is likely up to the leadership that nonprofit managers exert in this area in this generation.