Corporate Partnership Case Study: iMentor and Marsh & McLennan
[Editor's note: This is part 3 of a four-part series on the session "Building Strategic Corporate Partnerships" held at Fund Raising Day in New York June 8. Click here for part 1 and here for part 2.]
Sometimes, certain nonprofit-corporate partnerships don't turn out the way both parties expected at the onset. Take the partnership between high school mentoring organization iMentor and professional services firm Marsh & McLennan Cos. (MMC).
In initial discussions, MMC thought iMentor would make a great partner with its consulting company Oliver Wyman. However, both parties learned that it didn't quite work, said Lina Klebanov, deputy director of corporate social responsibility at MMC.
However, MMC and iMentor didn't end their talks there. They sat down and had tough conversations about what, exactly, they could do to form a strategic partnership. It helped that Klebanov had a previous relationship with iMentor while working at the Morgan Stanley Foundation. She knew the organization had a lot to offer. It was just a matter of finding out where the fit was.
So MMC and iMentor sat down and mapped out how they could form a reciprocal, flexible and holistic partnership — the same principles laid out by Venessa Mendenhall, vice president of strategic partnerships of New York Needs You, and Melissa Kinckle, consulting delivery senior manager and director of corporate social responsibility at Bluewolf, in the session they co-presented with Klebanov and Erica Hamilton, chief program officer of iMentor at Fund Raising Day in New York.
Here is the process Klebanov and Hamilton shared in that session, "Building Strategic Corporate Partnerships."
The first thing iMentor did was craft its value proposition. The development department had been talking to MMC for a while, listening in those early conversations to figure out what it was looking for and how it fit iMentor's needs. It concluded that the partnership had to have the following characteristics to be worth it:
- ease of partnership
- ability to work in multiple markets
- opportunity for scalability long term
- opportunity for multiple areas of benefits
Through their talks, iMentor and MMC knew they wanted to work together, but they had to make sure it would be beneficial to both organizations, Hamilton said. So the two launched a pilot program with a small of number of MMC employees getting involved in iMentor's New York City program. MMC had the adults iMentor needed, and iMentor gave MMC the opportunity to give back.
"It allowed us to see the partnership really was a great fit," Hamilton said. "Then we asked, 'How can we apply this to other areas?'"
The next step was thinking about what markets overlapped. Turns out, Chicago was a real opportunity for MMC and a city iMentor was looking to get more involved in. Once that opportunity presented itself, all the characteristics mentioned above were checked off and the partnership really got under way.
Both iMentor and MMC demonstrated flexibility on budget restraints, addressing challenges together and mobilizing resources. Without flexibility and compromise, a corporate partnership simply does not work.
However, Hamilton cautioned, "Be careful about how far you allow flexibility to extend," because you don't want to get away from your mission and core values, or promise things you cannot deliver.
That's why it's so important to address challenges together and continue to have the difficult conversations that may be uncomfortable but necessary, Klebanov said, which is exactly what iMentor and MMC did.
Finally, iMentor and MMC had to figure out ways to leverage the partnership with specific goals. They did this by laying out exactly what they wanted to accomplish by joining forces.
iMentor's goals for the partnership were to:
- expand its current program
- drive fundraising
- attract new partners of similar backgrounds and formats as MMC
- increase brand recognition
MMC's goals were to:
- make a difference in its communities
- foster an environment that encourages employee engagement
- retain colleagues
- recruit talent
- build upon its reputation
- provide professional development
As it turned out, the partnership has been fruitful for both the nonprofit and the corporate partner. MMC has been able to get employees more engaged and scout talent working with iMentor, while iMentor has continued to expand its programs and mission.
Check back for part 4 on keys corporate partners are looking for from nonprofits.