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Tuesday, January 23, 2018

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How to Partner Successfully with Corporations
Amy Phipps

February, 2013

If you’ve been around the nonprofit world for awhile, you remember when corporate giving was simpler.  You asked, they said yes (or no), you acknowledged the sponsorship in all the appropriate ways, and everyone was happy.  But with the advent of corporate citizenship (also called corporate responsibility and corporate social responsibility), much has changed.


You’ll still find the quick-handshake deal and companies “doing the right thing” but, increasingly, you’ll find that corporations are looking to leverage their nonprofit involvement with partnerships producing a “triple bottom line” benefiting not just the community, but business and employee interests as well.  Many companies now look to align their business strategies with their core business values and the broader expectations of society.

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Savvy business leaders know that sound corporate citizenship practices positively influence an organization’s reputation and its company culture, which in turn can improve its financial performance.  Implemented with diligence and tracked for outcomes, the cycle feeds itself, benefiting the business, its stakeholders, and the community.


So how can your nonprofit tap into this resource?


•         First, learn as much as you can about the core business values of  your  proposed corporate partner.

•         Find out what factors are necessary for its business success.

•         What are its challenges, and how can you help it?


Some partnerships are a natural – think grocery company and food bank.  Although their execution strategies are quite different, they share a mission to provide food.  So the synergies in that kind of partnership are substantial.


Forming partnerships where the fit is not readily apparent may require more research and more creativity.  What about a high-tech company and an organization offering literacy programs – or STEM education?  It’s a longer-term fix toward the corporation’s need for an educated workforce, but that doesn’t prevent you from developing your proposal and making your case for long-term sustainability.


It’s also essential that you’re speaking the same language.  Most corporations post their corporate citizenship strategies on their websites, and understanding those will help you understand what motivates your partner.  By making the connection between the corporation’s need and your services (the answer to its need), you have planted the seeds of a partnership.  For instance, could a provider of health and wellness services offer speakers and resources for employee wellness programs?  Keep an eye on your mission, and if the shoe fits, put it on!


Also, look for opportunities beyond the dollars.  Skills-based volunteer opportunities that transcend the frequent one-day painting and landscaping efforts can reap huge benefits for both partners, increasing employee engagement and morale.  Do you have technology or marketing needs?  A team of corporate professionals might be the answer.


Key to your success is taking the time to research and develop your plan.  Corporate community affairs professionals will appreciate your initiative in this regard.  Remember that they find their success by promoting the interests of the company.  You can help them to be successful by taking the time to develop the right fit.


To learn more about corporate citizenship, visit Boston College’s Center for Corporate Citizenship at  It’s the premier resource in the field, and although some of their research reports are restricted to members only, many of them are available free to the public.   When you create a (free) account, you’ll be able to access even more information, sign up for e-newsletters, and may be able to access new research before it becomes restricted.


In fact, the current issue of The Corporate Citizen (available free online at is dedicated to partnerships.  In particular, check out “A Guide to Forming Effective Partnerships,” which details a very specific flowchart for the Corporate-NPO Collaboration Decision Path.


Remember that sustainable corporate partnerships, like any relationship in the nonprofit arena, take time to develop, to cultivate and to steward.  But, if you are among those who take the time to truly understand the world of corporate citizenship, you will have found a resource that can bear fruit for your organization not just now, but for years to come.


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