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December 3, 2021
Nonprofits Seeking Corporate Partnerships Must ‘Get it Right’

August 14, 2021 — In the wake of the coronavirus pandemic, many nonprofit organizations are looking anew at establishing corporate partnerships, but they need to “get it right,” which means, according to a newly published report, understanding the goals of potential corporate partners and identifying the advantages they can bring to those relationships.

According to What if they mean it? Embracing the opportunity of corporate-social sector partnerships, issued by organizational consulting firm Russell Reynolds Associates (RRA), social-corporate partnerships to date have often been frustrating for both sides, noting “this is perhaps the most critical moment for both sides to ‘“get it right’.”

The root of the problem, RRA suggested, is that “social sector organizations may have qualms about enabling ‘greenwashing’ of corporate reputations, and companies are unlikely to realize returns on their brand equity if their contribution is viewed as simply writing a check.”

To overcome cultural and structural barriers, nonprofit organizations “need to identify their unique differentiators and comparative advantages in addressing social problems,” according to the report.

In addition, they need to determine which potential partners possess the skills, expertise, or networks to complement their own, and articulate the specific benefits that can be achieved by combining these forces.

Effective partnerships, according to RRA, require three key components:

  • Organizational culture that recognizes the value of corporate-social sector partnerships

  • Complementary capabilities that combine the distinct strengths of each partner

  • Clear understanding of the value proposition for both parties

Motivations on the part of corporations for pursing partnerships have evolved, largely due to a growing realization that sustainability and social value creation are core to their organizational purpose, according to the report.

“Social sector organizations must encourage a culture that recognizes this shift (when warranted) and views such corporations as true partners,” it notes, suggesting that social sector leaders can encourage this cultural shift by:

  • Fostering a culture of trust and positivity toward partnerships by clearly articulating the benefits of partnerships at a strategic, rather than monetary, level.

  • Embedding governance mechanisms to monitor, evaluate and learn from partnership successes and failures, which this may include adding a review of partnerships to board meeting agendas or appointing independent board members to help ensure accountability.

  • Holding board members and executives accountable for successes and failures, and take action against misconduct if necessary.
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