For nonprofits, finding a business to partner with comes with several benefits. Funding increases, your donor base may expand, along with your pool of volunteers and community leaders who are eager to get involved. The partnership may spur other businesses to strike up similar relationships.
However, many nonprofits are hesitant to reach out to businesses because they wonder, “What do we we have to offer them?” But there are actually a variety of ways a nonprofit can be of value to a business.
How Nonprofits Benefit Business
On the business side, a business partner may see an increase in sales, greater shareholder returns, and improved customer and brand loyalty. The company’s employees may also feel more engaged and motivated by uniting for a common purpose: the nonprofit’s mission. As employee team-building and leadership skills improve, company morale may improve.
When it comes to marketing, a business and a nonprofit will both likely encounter similar benefits when they partner up. Both may see an increase in brand recognition by drawing media attention and coverage (without paying for it!). In turn, this recognition can help attract new relationships for the business and in-kind donations or similar potential partnerships for the nonprofit.
Businesses have realized that a well-executed partnership with a nonprofit benefits both parties, and the community in general, on several levels. When seeking out a nonprofit to partner with, businesses want a return on their social investment, while also having a mutually beneficial connection. Businesses are also seeking long-term, value-driven partnerships with nonprofits that speak to a changing generator of consumers who want — and expect — corporate social responsibility.
But now that we know how a partnership benefits both parties, it’s time to dive into how to find potential partners.
How To Find Business Partners
If you’re a nonprofit seeking a business partner, start by looking for a business whose brand and values align with your mission. Businesses want a like-minded nonprofit whose partnership will benefit both parties, so it’s important to be on the same page. When you find a business you know you can partner with, tailor your approach towards them.
“Tell a story that will resonate with this particular business partner,” says author and social marketer Julia Campbell. “Do your research and due diligence to find out what they have invested in previously, where their interests lie, and what other organizations they are involved with.”
Worried that your nonprofit won’t match up to a big corporation? Don’t: Young, lean nonprofits can use their lack of history or small organization as an advantage when reaching out to larger companies. Being a smaller nonprofit organization may have drawbacks, but it allows for flexible strategy and processes, more personalized treatment towards donors, and creating a unique, identifiable brand.
On a similar note, it may help to look locally when finding a business to partner with, no matter the size of the organization. Both business and nonprofit will see a more immediate impact in their own community through their combined efforts. If many of the company’s employees are local as well, it will be easier to keep them engaged and involved (more on why this is important later).
Speaking of employees, keep in mind that Millennials are the majority generation in the workforce today. Engaging Millennial employees is one of the largest challenges facing corporations today, so it is helpful to remember what motivates Millennials to give: incentives, competition, and using their specific skills to benefit a cause. Tweaking campaigns and programs so that it’s easier for volunteers and their employers to get involved not only benefits the Millennial group in their workforce, but all potential volunteers in your partnered business.
Cultivating Business Relationships
Once you’ve made initial contact or have started a partnership with a company, understanding their focus and motivation for supporting your nonprofit is critical. Companies will often have fixed criteria for choosing which organizations to support, compared to donors whose criteria and motivations may change over time. When you understand a company’s point of view for partnering with a nonprofit, you are more likely to build a successful partnership.
Businesses like to see that their portion of the partnership has made a difference, both for the betterment of the community and through the engagement of their employees. Let’s take a deeper look into the three factors companies deem important in a nonprofit partnership.
1. Brand and Values Alignment
In a 2015, 92% of companies saw brand alignment as the most important factor when selecting a partner. And it makes sense; a company’s brand is an invaluable part of its identity, so the brand of a potential nonprofit partner must fit their own.
For example, California-based construction company Flatiron has been partnered with nonprofit Bridges to Prosperity since 2009. Through their partnership, Flatiron employees have built 200 footbridges over dangerous river crossings in fourteen countries all around the world. Calling it a natural partnership, the employee volunteers get to “share their skills with villagers, [and] those villagers share their perspectives and knowledge with the Flatiron workers.”
2. Impact (and the Data to Prove It)
Business partners also want to see that their partnership made a difference for the better. Show the company that partnering with your nonprofit was (or will be) a good strategic decision. Be transparent by sharing information. You can do this by
- Creating reports using quantifiable data. It may not be the easiest or cheapest way, but it strengthens the relationship between business and nonprofit by building trust and loyalty. Reports also don’t have to be large documents that are time-consuming to both create and digest. “Micro-reporting” via blogging, infographics and social media is an option to deliver smaller pieces of information more frequently to your partner.
- Sharing individual stories can supplement scarce data. Many companies highlight how their employees have helped a nonprofit achieve its goal. One great example is Salesforce “Service Stories.” For example, Salesforce volunteers “committed more than 1,300 hours” to implementing a pro bono Salesforce platform to help manage Girls Who Code. By sharing this story on their site, Salesforce shows Girls Who Code how they mutually benefited from their partnership. In addition, it demonstrates to potential business partners that they give back to the community. It also draws positive media attention for both business and nonprofit.
Partnerships are like gardens, they need tending and they need attention
3. Employee Engagement
Lastly, employees themselves are a huge factor in a company’s consideration to take on a nonprofit partner. Having employees use their time to do work on behalf of a nonprofit organization benefits both company and nonprofit. Some businesses offer volunteer time off, or VTO, where employees can go offsite to donate their time, while others may set aside funds for “pro bono” work (like Salesforce). Corporate volunteers benefit from these arrangements because they can strengthen skills like teamwork and leadership, as well as gain a new perspective from working with others from different cultures or backgrounds. A nonprofit that can engage corporate volunteers will not only benefit from their immediate help, but may also see these volunteers turn into donors and regular supporters.
This is the “trifecta” of the business/nonprofit partnership: Businesses retain their best employees, nonprofits get the help they need, and employees get to make a difference. Recent studies suggest that employees are happiest in a positive work environment where their work is meaningful, and businesses are adapting to changing consumer preferences. Your nonprofit has a lot to bring to the table, so don’t be afraid to start reaching out to potential corporate partners.
Moving forward with a partnership
Once a partnership has been forged, don’t forget to spend time and resources developing it. “Partnerships are like gardens, they need tending and they need attention,” says Julia Campbell. “You can’t simply set one up and walk away. Be grateful, understand how the partnership benefits both sides, and acknowledge their involvement frequently.” Gaining a partnership and maintaining a partnership are two very different animals, so make sure you’re doing your best to ensure it’s going well.
Also remember that companies want to see proof that the partnership is beneficial, either through reporting methods or individual stories. If you’ve found a company similarly aligned in brand and values, individual stories about volunteer work done are sure to have an impact. Brand and value alignment is an incredibly important factor when business select a nonprofit organization; other factors such as locality, organization size and company workforce data can make a difference, as well.
Lastly, don’t forget that partnering with a business is beneficial to your organization, too! With a company comes an existing roster of skilled employees willing and ready to do volunteer work; what’s better than that? As a result of this close connection, your nonprofit’s reach can expand further and, together, you can make a bigger impact.
Since 2007, NobleHour has proven to be the volunteer management solution for organizations across the nation. With its robust online platform, NobleHour enhances community engagement with a variety of innovative and transformative tools for finding, tracking, and measuring volunteer, service‐learning, and community service initiatives. With offices in Lakeland, FL, and Portland, OR, the NobleHour team is dedicated to empowering good in communities across the country.
By NobleHour Special Contributor:
Latasha Doyle is a writer and long term care volunteer living outside of Denver, Colorado. When she’s not writing or volunteering, she enjoys crocheting, Netflix marathons, and planning her next trip.