Partnerships (part 1)

Nonprofits have become experts in certain areas out of necessity. They’ve learned to be frugal, innovative, and mission-driven (see Blog #2 for this last area). Another area is Partnership Building. Not because nonprofits are inherently friendly – though many are. And not because nonprofits enjoy complex collaboration – though some do.
Instead, nonprofit leaders emphasize partnerships for a fundamental reason. Their core mission, combined with limited resources, demands it.
In many cases, the core mission of a nonprofit is to address a difficult, seemingly intractable problem. Think: ending poverty, or preventing child trafficking, or eradicating polio – which Rotary International has nearly done! At the same time, most nonprofits face very limited resources. The result is a drive for collaboration that is fundamental to success. In fact, according to (Nonprofit Finance Fund), more than 60% of nonprofits plan to collaborate with another organization in the future.
At the same time, these partnerships can vary widely in scope. Some include direct funding support, but not always. Some include volunteers. But all involve some form of shared resource to achieve a broader goal, which would not be achievable otherwise. Let’s look at a few – and some organizations that are doing this well. Then in, part 2, we’ll look at Lessons Learned and best practices in effective partnership building – to show what business can learn.

1. Academic Partnerships

Nonprofits and academic institutions often join forces to conduct research, share knowledge, or develop educational programs.

a. Gratitude Network (GN) Fellow Practical Education Network (PEN) in Ghana has worked with Adeshi University to promote STEM education throughout the country. Colleges and universities are also prime builders of next generation social changemakers.

b. Brigham Young University in Utah, for example, established Marriott’s Ballard Center for Social Impact, the world’s largest university program focused on social impact, which engages students in solving the world’s most pressing social problems. They have worked with several nonprofit institutions to provide volunteers and, thereby, gain field experience for the students…

2. Government Partnerships

In the simplest form, federal, state and local governments may issue grants to nonprofits to help provide essential services.

a. In northern California, local governments support nonprofits like City Serve to serve the homeless and steer them back to stability.

b. On a global scale, the U.S. Agency for International Development has launched a major campaign to localize development. Their Localization program provides direct funding to local community-based organizations to carry out vital health, education and other development programs, reaching $1.6 billion in funding last year.

c. Nonprofits also benefit. Gratitude Network Fellows Meghshala in India, Projet Jeune Leader in Madagascar, Practical Education Network in Ghana and more have actively sought government partnerships in the countries where they work. This has produced huge benefits that range from direct funding to policy changes that benefit the children they serve, and help these nonprofits achieve their core mission.

3. Corporate Partnerships

Companies often fund nonprofits and social causes through sponsorships and direct grants. What is less appreciated is how corporations benefit as well. In fact, the best, most enduring partnerships are win-win arrangements – as with any business deal.

a. Brand goodwill and awareness is a critical piece of corporate market value. Just ask Coca-Cola and Apple. By associating with a good cause that fits company priorities, companies improve their image and build core value.

b. Another key benefit is employee engagement. Gratitude Network Fellow SuitUp, which helps low income youth with career development, has a broad array of corporate partners across the U.S. that are fundamental to their success.

c. Workday and Year Up have a special partnership that includes full-time paid internships that can lead to full time employment.

Photo Credit: SuitUp

4. Community-Based Partnerships

Nonprofits form partnerships with other local nonprofit organizations to share resources or coordinate services. In fact, Gratitude Network has a broad network of partnerships with other nonprofits to promote our Fellowship program that generated over 1,500 applications this year from nonprofits around the world.

5. International Partnerships

Nonprofits may establish partnerships with organizations operating in different countries to address global issues or provide assistance in humanitarian crises.

For example, a nonprofit focused on disaster relief may partner with international aid organizations to respond to natural disasters and provide emergency assistance. Lagos Food Bank Initiative in Nigeria has 100+ partners for distribution and support.

6. Philanthropic Partnerships

Nonprofits often look to family-based and other foundations for direct and in-kind support. The key here is to recognize how the nonprofit is a conduit to serve the foundations’ mission. GN Fellow Partners in School Innovation, for example, is helping the Gates Foundation achieve a critical goal to transform under-performing schools in the U.S..

Here, community foundations play a special role. The U.S. has more than 800 community foundations that, collectively, raise over $35 billion each year and have assets over $150 billion. These assets are largely dedicated to serving a particular community and can provide critical funding to address specific needs in that community.

These examples are a fraction of the vast number of arrangements that exist. The key is to recognize how each partnership fills a specific need – from funding to stakeholder engagement. The issues that nonprofits address cannot be solved alone. And the result is a wealth of experience about what works and what doesn’t. In part 2 of this review, we’ll look at these lessons learned. What are best practices that nonprofits have learned that can be applied to the business world? The answers, from clear contractual agreements to rigorous focus on mutual benefit, can be surprising.

Steve McCoy-Thompson

*Steve McCoy-Thompson has worked over 30 years at the nexus of business, government and the nonprofit sector – as a management consultant to and with Fortune 100 companies and government ministries and as executive director of nonprofits and a community foundation. He is currently the Executive Director of Gratitude Network, which helps nonprofits apply best practices and business principles to reach over 40 million children worldwide.