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A Nonprofit’s Guide to Developing Mutually Beneficial and Wildly Impactful Corporate Partnerships

Corporate partnerships can offer nonprofits the funding and resources they need to have a greater impact. Learn what companies are looking for in a charity partner and how to turn conversations into funding.

by Jessi Greenlee | November 22, 2021

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    So you decided you want to bring on a corporate partner to help you amplify your impact. What happens next?

    The first step in developing a corporate partnership strategy is to define your goals as an organization. The second is to understand the range of possible goals that your future corporate partners might have. Step three involves fitting those puzzle pieces together to create a mutually beneficial fit. Establishing a clear alignment of goals and values will help you to narrow down your search and start identifying partnership opportunities that are easier to secure, will help you to grow your reach, and are more likely to support you in hitting your impact goals.

    FRAMEWORK FOR A SUCCESSFUL PARTNERSHIP

    What does a successful partnership look like?

    1. Alignment of core brand values
    2. Shared audience
    3. Defined goals that are mutually beneficial
    4. Defined and agreed upon expectations
    5. Timeline for accountability
    6. Clear and concise communication including consistent updates and reporting

    Nonprofit partnerships can be a powerful tool for social change. They have the potential to bring together people and organizations with different skills, resources, and expertise to work on social justice issues. However, not every partnership is created equal – some are more mutually beneficial than others. This article provides an overview of how nonprofits can develop long-term corporate partnerships that help both parties achieve their goals while also making a social impact.

    DEFINE YOUR ORGANIZATION’S GOALS FOR A CORPORATE PARTNERSHIP

    Corporate partners can support you in many different ways. Consider which of these avenues are most important to your nonprofit, what form they could take, and how you could communicate them to brand partners:

    FUNDING

    Opportunities can range from big to small, one-time to ongoing. How you establish and communicate these opportunities will define the course that your partnership takes, so make sure that you are considering all of your needs and how a partner could best help you achieve your goals. Finding a balance between longevity and immediate gratification is important. For example, one-time donations can fund a single event, while repeat donations could fund the framework for a program’s ongoing expansion.

    REACH AND VISIBILITY

    Finding a partner who is enthusiastic and supportive of your cause makes for a great opportunity to share your story and highlight your impact programs. Corporate partners have the reach and PR teams to help grow awareness for your cause and your organization. Tapping into these expansive networks can build up your future donor base, volunteer network, and campaign success. Make storytelling as easy as possible for partners by giving them information and tools that help tell your story in a compelling way. A recent Forbes article recommends sharing stories that include “analogies, personal testimony, facts and stats to connect to a broad spectrum of stakeholders.”

    CREDIBILITY

    Corporate partners are great resources for sourcing in-person and virtual volunteers. Identify all of the opportunities available for volunteers and create a comprehensive list that indicates the number of people needed, timelines, location, format for engagement, skills required, and potential hours needed in support.

    VOLUNTEER NETWORK

    Corporate partners are great resources for sourcing in-person and virtual volunteers. Identify all of the opportunities available for volunteers and create a comprehensive list that indicates the number of people needed, timelines, location, format for engagement, skills required, and potential hours needed in support.

    PURPOSE

    Your impact has the potential to expand beyond your programs. When you find the right corporate partners that are passionate about your cause, you are giving them the opportunity to embed new layers of purpose into their own work. Inspiring positive action from companies and their employees is a gift that keeps giving! The Forbes Nonprofit Council does a great job elaborating on this idea here.

    Now that you have identified your own goals and the value you have to offer, let’s shift perspectives to understand the corporate lens of engaging with social causes and nonprofit partners.

    UNDERSTAND WHAT A COMPANY WANTS FROM A CHARITY PARTNERSHIP

    EMPLOYEE ENGAGEMENT

    Aligning with a social cause is one of the most effective ways for a company to improve employee engagement and develop brand loyalty, both internally and externally. When employees feel that their company has a greater purpose and therefore, that their job has a greater purpose, they are driven to be more productive and inspired by the work that they do.

    75% of people trust “my employer” over any other institution to create social change.

    2019 Edelman Trust Barometer

    Your impact has the potential to expand beyond your programs. When you find the right corporate partners that are passionate about your cause, you are giving them the opportunity to embed new layers of purpose into their own work. Inspiring positive action from companies and their employees is a gift that keeps giving! The Forbes Nonprofit Council does a great job elaborating on this idea here.

    VOLUNTEERISM

    Directly involving employees in charity work is a demonstration of altruistic values. That is why it tends to be a primary pillar of most Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) programs. Until the pandemic, in-person volunteering has historically been the preferred method of volunteering. This is because of its direct and tangible effect on engagement and the ease of quantifying impact. The popularity of virtual volunteering and job purposing has spiked considerably since the rise of COVID-19.

    DONOR MATCHING

    Another major pillar in most CSR programs, donation matching allows companies to explicitly align their values with the values of their employees and/or consumers and show their support for causes that their employees care about.

    EMPOWERMENT + ENGAGEMENT = IMPACT AND PROFIT

    BRAND REPUTATION

    Today’s consumers and talent overwhelmingly agree that businesses have a responsibility to positively impact the world and support pressing social issues. Millennials jump-started this trend, with Generation Z reinforcing these values as a top priority that directly impacts their consumer habits and their employment decisions. Corporate Social Responsibility, Brand Activism, and Corporate Philanthropy programs can gain consumer trust and increase revenue if, and only if, they are able to communicate their efforts authentically.

    Finding a nonprofit partner that aligns with their business goals and brand values is integral to a company’s overall success and therefore the success of the partnership.

    Ethical drivers (76%) are 3x more important to company trust than competence (24%)

    Edelman’s 2020 Trust Barometer

    Global executives attribute 63% of their company’s market value to their company’s overall reputation.

    Weber Shandwick And KRC Research’s 2020 State Of Corporate Reputation

    MARKETING & CUSTOMER ACQUISITION

    Corporate sponsorships of nonprofit programs and events are great opportunities for companies to improve their reputation and acquire new customers.

    Charity sponsorships are appealing because they are a relatively easy and affordable way for companies to align their brand with a social cause.

    When building out sponsorship packages, keep your potential partner’s goals in mind. Aim to translate those goals into value statements and offers.

    For example, giving your partner access to your audience may look like:

    • Leveraging your email list to share about the partnership
    • Integrating social media shoutouts or takeovers,
    • Creating blog and website content that showcases your corporate partners products, services, or giving
    • Building brand recognition opportunities into your packages by including offerings such as naming rights, logo placement, etc.

    Nearly three-quarters (72%) of Gen Zers favor purpose-driven brands when making purchase decisions.

    Cone Communications Gen Z Purpose Study 2019

    One-third of all consumers today will stop buying their preferred products if they lose trust in the brand, and one-third of consumers have already stopped purchasing their longtime, favorite brands in 2019.

    IBM’s 2020 Purpose and Provenance Drive Bigger Profits for Consumer Goods

    To find the right partners that will be most effective in helping you to reach your goals, identify the points of potential alignment/overlap with your organizational goals and values.

    We recommend mapping out a wishlist of partner qualities against what you have to offer to see where there is an overlap of value.

    This exercise will help you to come up with the crux of your pitch to potential corporate partners.

    I started the Good Impact Network with one goal in mind: to help purpose-driven organizations own their role in changing the world.

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