3 Keys of a Strong Nonprofit-Corporate Partnership
[Editor's note: This is part 1 of a four-part series on the session "Building Strategic Corporate Partnerships" held at Fund Raising Day in New York June 8.]
Corporate partnerships can be a much-welcomed boost to any fundraising team. Every development department can think of myriad ways that corporate dollars and support can be put to good use.
However, as is the case with most fundraising issues, securing corporate partnerships is easier said than done, particularly in today's environment where organizations expect more than just good will in return. So how do you build strategic corporate partnerships? Where do you start?
There are three keys to getting started, said Venessa Mendenhall, vice president of strategic partnerships of New York Needs You (NYNY), and Melissa Kinckle, consulting delivery senior manager and director of corporate social responsibility at Bluewolf. In their session, "Building Strategic Corporate Partnerships," at Fund Raising Day in New York with co-presenters Lina Klebanov, deputy director of corporate social responsibility at Marsh & McLennan Cos., and Erica Hamilton, chief program officer of iMentor, Mendenhall and Kinckle laid out the three core concepts of a strong nonprofit-corporate partnership.
A strong, strategic partnership is a reciprocal relationship. The days of a company forking over money to a nonprofit with no strings attached are long gone. Corporations are looking to partner with organizations that align with their values. That makes it vital to find out what the corporation is interested in when seeking out a corporate partnership, Mendenhall said.
"Ask questions about what the corporation is interested in," she said. "In that first meeting, spend about 80 percent of the time listening to what the corporation is looking for. Listen to the language and terminology they use. Then talk about yourself in their language. This establishes a two-way street, makes it feel more like a client-to-client relationship."
It's imperative to understand your potential corporate partner's wants and needs. Is it looking for brand exposure? The number of its employees engaged with a nonprofit partner? What are its corporate goals for this potential partnership?
For instance, Bluewolf, a global technology consulting firm, was looking for brand exposure and access to networks in its markets. Eventually, New York Needs You, which focuses on career development and leadership training for first-generation college students, formed a partnership with Bluewolf because it could provide that branding and access to its network of supporters.
"Find what's driving the organization," Kinckle said.
Now, it's never a good idea to cast your mission aside just to secure some corporate support. But "just because you haven't done something doesn't mean you shouldn't try," Mendenhall said.
Flexibility is key in any partnership, and that is especially true with a corporate partnership. Be willing to find ways to accommodate both parities.
For instance, NYNY has workshops for students, and a corporate partner wanted to speak at one of these workshops. However, that's a challenge for the organization, Mendenhall said, because there is a distinct curriculum NYNY has in place. So NYNY found other ways to accommodate that request by having its partner speak at special events and luncheons.
A truly strategic nonprofit-corporate partnership is about much more than money. It's a holistic relationship that leverages all aspects of both entities to create a winning situation. So don't approach corporate partners as ATM machines.
"We don't want to feel like a money pit and always be asked for money," Kinckle said. "That's what drew us to NYNY; it was less talk about money and more about business needs."
For instance, NYNY created a separate team focused specifically on strategic partnerships. The impetus for that, Mendenhall said, was to focus on holistic relationships that weren't always about asking for money. NYNY created a formal partner level structure, which lays out different buckets on how corporations can help (see images to the right).
"We have several options on how corporations can partner with us," Mendenhall said. "It give sue the opportunity to get a foot in the door. We can leverage that to build a relationship, get advice, expertise, and then ask for money later. But we never just ask only for money. It's about building that holistic relationship."
"Once you have that relationship," Kinckle added, "it's easier to ask for money."
Check back for part 2 on building strategic corporate partnerships.