Building a long-term partnership with a nonprofit can be great for your business and the community. But a lasting, meaningful partnership can’t be bought with a large check. If you want to sustain a strong relationship with nonprofit partners, you have to invest on a personal level.
Don’t get me wrong. Donations are integral to a nonprofit’s success, and I encourage everyone to write big checks if and when they can. But financial support alone won’t forge a relationship that’s good for your business and the community.
Here are five ways to begin a sustainable, successful community partnership:
Related: 6 Ways to Do Well by Doing Good
1. Think smaller.
To avoid overreach, start by focusing on your immediate surroundings. You may not be able to make a global impact like the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation but even a small business with a handful of team members can improve the local community. Collaborate with neighborhood organizations tackling local issues and make sure that you, your employees and your community celebrate hometown wins.
At my company, we knew we wanted to get involved in education. So we teamed up with Reality Changers, a San Diego nonprofit that transforms at-risk youth into high-potential leaders. The organization has perfected the process of building college students within San Diego’s underserved communities.
My company can’t fund as many scholarships as the Gates family but by partnering with Reality Changers, we can make a big difference in the lives of people we can reach.
2. Take the initiative to reach out.
To meet incredible community leaders, you have to participate in the community. That’s how you identify organizations that are aligned with your employees’ missions and passions. If you’re too busy to attend important community events yourself, delegate the role to someone within your company.
3. Stick to what you know.
Even when you’re not investing financially, you should still apply the Buffett principle of “buy what you know.” You want to understand where you’re investing your time and be able to offer skills and knowledge to help. Start by assessing your community’s needs and what you have to offer. You can (and should) leverage your unique services provided as in-kind donations, when possible.
For example, we helped the San Diego Humane Society by leveraging our skills in creating proprietary marketing software. We overhauled its digital strategy to make the donation process simpler and to allow viewers to access information about adoptions more quickly. Our work benefited the organization, but it helped us, too. Partnerships with organizations in your sphere of influence expand your brand by association -- giving you more traction and exposure with different audiences.
4. Let your company be a stage.
Once you identify community change agents, give them a platform to effect change and inspire action with a community speaker initiative. The speaker and your employees will thank you for it. Whether you’re a company of four or 4,000, your entrepreneurial ability to solve problems makes you and your teammates an invaluable audience. But if you don’t plan to write a check, manage expectations by clarifying the goals of the engagement.
5. Encourage people to volunteer.
A sense of commitment comes through participation, not observation. Encourage your team members to go beyond the annual gala and get to know the organization’s staff members, the complexities in the problems they’re solving and the lives they’re transforming. Hands-on experiences will inspire employees, and as a result, they’ll become strong internal advocates for programs. This sustains high-level partnerships with a constant flow of grassroots energy and creativity.
Our relationship with Reality Changers started when the founder spoke at our office. The employee response was overwhelmingly positive. Employees sought out volunteer and event information, and my director of public affairs even joined the organization’s “action team.”
Go ahead and write some big checks if you can; your money will probably do a lot of good. But don’t expect it to buy you a meaningful, ongoing, mutually beneficial relationship. You have to put in time and effort to make it work but trust me, it’s worth it.