Creating Nonprofit Partnerships that Benefit Every Organization Involved

Katie Dunlap February 5, 2019 Nonprofits

Building a true partnership with nonprofits is one of the best ways to strengthen your CSR program and create a lasting impact on your community. But, that partnership can be difficult to find and even harder to maintain. We’ll walk you through a few ways to ensure your CSR team puts that relationship, and impact, first.


Know (Both Of) Your Programs

The first way to ensure your nonprofit partnership is a success is to know your own programs backward and forward. Understand the goals your company aims to achieve. Once you have a solid idea of the program structure and goals, identify a nonprofit that aligns with your goals.

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Identify a nonprofit and work to understand their programs. It should be pretty obvious and you should know rather quickly whether your CSR strategy and the nonprofit’s strategy align. If y’all are working toward the same goals and trying to achieve a similar impact, it’s time to dig into the next step to make sure they’re a true match for your company!


Do Your Homework

Identifying a nonprofit partner is serious business. You’ll want to vet them sufficiently to feel comfortable with your partnership. This starts with finding or requesting their 990. A 990 is a document that all 501(c)3 nonprofits must provide upon request (and file with the IRS) each year. It shows how much revenue they brought in and how it was used. You can use the 990 to have a better understanding of the emphasis of impact within that nonprofit. It’s also a great tool to understand the financial health of the organization.

After looking into the financial side, take a look at the reputational side of things. A quick google search will help you identify any reputational hazards that may have occurred that might not have been reflected in the last year’s 990. Of course, this is a match of values as much as it is a match of impact.


Mutual Understanding

Creating a clear structure for the partnership is key to success. Understand the responsibilities of the nonprofit and of your company. Often, in these agreements, donation amounts are discussed and numbers of volunteer opportunities may be included, but there is so much more that can be written down and formalized to ensure both groups are equally represented and supported. One of the most important aspects of this partnership is to agree to the length of time before renewal. Multi-year partnership opportunities are important for the sustainability and health of nonprofit opportunities.


Give More Than You Take

In corporate-nonprofit relationships, it’s easy for corporations to take positions of “power”. Companies tend to have more money, including the money they’re going to donate to that nonprofit. Help the nonprofit prevent “mission creep” (the changing of programs, often due to the influence of a large donation) by working in tandem, as equals, and not pushing a specific agenda due to your CSR goals.

Figure out creative ways that your company can act as a resource and true partner for the nonprofit. Can your marketing team provide pro-bono consulting to better the nonprofit’s storytelling? Can your sales team help improve their fundraising outreach efforts or message cadence? Although partnering in these ways may seem less directly related to the impact you’re hoping to achieve, just remember that strengthening your nonprofit partner’s administrative acumen will only strengthen their ability to achieve their mission and greater impact.


Be a Champion

In the CSR field, we often ask employees to champion our CSR efforts. The same principle applies to our nonprofit partners. As CSR practitioners, it’s your responsibility to apply that same mindset to the nonprofits you have selected. Championing their mission and their message, whether speaking with company employees or speaking outside of the office, is the greatest form of partnership and support you can offer a nonprofit.


Be Consistent

After establishing the various aspects of your partnership, it’s important to nurture the relationship. Just like any business relationship, it’s a best practice to schedule regular touch points to connect on the work you share, to recognize and thank each other, and to show support in difficult times. Ensuring your team is following up with any pro-bono work assignments and verifying that the nonprofit is consistently providing opportunities (fundraising/volunteering) as laid out in the original agreement will lead to a long-term, healthy partnership.


Reminder: It’s More Than a PR Opportunity

It’s easy to get swept up in good work and want to share all of the ways that your company is helping the community. Just keep in mind that once the photo is taken or the press release is shared, there’s still work to be done and a relationship to build. Sure, it’s expected that good work and strong impact will be shared among social channels. But, also remember that the more important piece of building a strong partnership happens off-camera.

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It may be easy to get swept up in KPI’s and impact goals when you need to report back to higher-ups. Before allowing that to shape and structure your nonprofit partnership, take a step back and remember that you’re all working toward the same goal! That’s why you partnered, to begin with. Considering the bigger picture means you’ll reinforce a stronger partnership with open and honest communication to stay on track for years to come.