How to Build an Effective Corporate/Nonprofit Partnership

Jan 30, 2012 1:00 PM ET

It’s clear today that companies and nonprofits must work together to help solve social issues. You won’t find a successful cause campaign without a corporate/nonprofit partnership, and research shows that most consumers (78%) believe these partnerships help a cause stand out from the rest. (Check out the Cause Marketing Forum’s Cause Update for recent program examples and analysis.)

So before doing anything to plan your next cause program – consider who your partner will be. Choosing a nonprofit partner for your campaign should be one of the first steps you take, not the last. Here’s some advice to get you started:

Determine What Assets You Bring to the Table
Before you approach another organization for a cause partnership, consider what it is you have to offer. For companies, this often includes cash to help support activities, but may also include assets like technology or staff time and expertise. For nonprofits, a strong email list or issue expertise may be the core of what you have to offer – but don’t discount assets like the ability to rally volunteers or craft a compelling cause story.

Map Roles & Responsibilities at the Start
Each partner will bring certain assets to the table, but it is unlikely that all program needs will be covered. Determine who will be responsible for the remaining needs and who will take the lead on responsibilities not yet covered. Knowing what role each partner plays from the start allows everyone to be accountable the project, avoiding potential finger-pointing if something goes awry.

Be Transparent About Your Personal Goals
Don’t leave your organizational partnership goals to the imagination. Be up front with your partner! Looking to build your reputation? Want to attract more corporate investment? Say so! Being transparent will help you and your partner be on the same page, and will lead to a more fruitful relationship over time, where each partner can support each other’s unique interests.

Identify Common Goals
While it’s good to come to the armed with what your organization wants to accomplish, it’s equally important for partners to have alignment of their goals, too. When determining potential partners, first consider the organizations issue focus, organizational culture, geographic reach and other factors that may influence whether they’ll be a good fit with your program.

Measure Outcomes and Adjust
Once goals are set, determine how you will track mutual success of your partnership. Evaluation is an important step in any program, and the same holds true when companies and nonprofits work together. But don’t “set it and forget it” – remember that the point of measurement is to track progress and make adjustments if a partnership or program isn’t meeting stated goals.

Have you taken part in a corporate/nonprofit partnership? Share your best practices for building a successful collaboration here!


Casey Brennan