Five keys to successful nonprofit, for-profit partnerships

For-profit/nonprofit Partnership / Thursday, July 3rd, 2014

“Giving back is about leveraging your businesses expertise and talents in a way that fits you and a nonprofit perfectly.”

So you’re a business and you want to give back. This is terrific! But all kinds of businesses try to do this, and for the most part, their efforts range somewhere form mediocre to downright terrible.

Why? They don’t do it for the right reasons. They do what they think the community wants them to do, yet they fail to ask employees what they want to do. They don’t connect their giving back with their overall mission.

The reasons are endless, but the result is the same. I, as a consumer, have no idea why you partner with the nonprofits you partner with and to do so, I have to dig through 20 pages of your website to even find it out anyway. Your employees don’t really care to volunteer there because they don’t get the nonprofit’s cause, and you just end up donating a bunch of money while lending nothing of your talent, expertise and connections.

The above is no way to run corporate social responsibility, but by and large it’s the norm for businesses. Good news — you can avoid this in your business. Here are five steps you’ve gotta follow if you truly want to build strong philanthropic relationships in ways that help you and your community.

1) Line up the partnership with your mission. Great example of this is Home Depot donating to Habitat for Humanity. This makes total sense for obvious reasons. Home Depot can tell the story of this partnership at every turn and their customers and employees get it. Not so of Wal-Mart who donates to all kinds of community organizations for seemingly random reasons.

2) Donate expertise. Toyota is one of the world’s foremost expert at all things vehicle, but turns out they’re also pretty darn good at the logistics of mass producing something in an organized way. This is why they recently had many of their high-level industrial managers donate expertise to several nonprofits that essentially needed help with supply chain management. The result: these nonprofits served tens of thousands more people more effectively and efficiently, and Toyota’s employees were far more engaged than if they had simply signed-up for a payroll deduction.

3) If you have a product they should be using, get them using it. You can donate it, or sell at a discounted nonprofit rate, but if you’re truly establishing a strong and meaningful partnership, you likely have products or services others would benefit from. Get the nonprofit using those, and you’ll serve them, while weaving their story into your own. For example, companies like TOMS Shoes weave a specific story into each pair of shoes they sell, so people buying the shoes know clearly how their consumption is tied to a charitable mission. By the way, the product they donate also happens to be the product they sell — shoes.

4) Ask your team members where and how they want to contribute. This may sound simple, but you’d be amazed at how many businesses miss the mark on this. Research shows that employees regard the opportunity to engage with causes they care about as one of the most sought after HR benefits. So, you can go a long way in the right direction by asking them what kinds of organizations they may want to serve, and helping them do that.

5) Engage your charitable partners as ambassadors. If you create a solid relationship with nonprofits in a way that matches your mission, they should believe in your organization’s mission just as you do theirs. So, don’t be afraid to showcase that partnership in every way you can. Customers love to see that you’re connected with the community in these ways, thus don’t be afraid to show it off.

Ultimately, giving back is about leveraging your businesses expertise and talents in a way that fits you and a nonprofit perfectly. This is how the best charitable relationships are established, but it’s something far too few companies do.