How You Can Identify and Optimize Nonprofit Partnerships

When companies and philanthropic organizations join forces, business and community benefit together.
How You Can Identify and Optimize Nonprofit Partnerships
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Thank you to Tammy Tibbetts, Founder and CEO of She's the First, who co-wrote this piece.

Today’s workplace is changing for the better as employees demand ways to serve a greater social good by joining their professional skills with their personal passions. As we entered 2017, 76 percent of young professionals said they regard business as a force for positive social impact. If they are going to spend much of their lives working, they want to make the world a better place while they do so. 

But with so many different causes to support, it can be difficult for companies to choose one nonprofit organization over the others. It's also challenging for businesses to devote time, money and materials to these missions in a truly effective manner.

Related: 5 Ways Entrepreneurs Can Enhance Local Communities

If you're considering a partnership with a nonprofit, it's important to choose an organization that aligns with your company's ideals and shares some common long-term goals. Here are a few guidelines as you assess various elements of each. 

Seek compatibility across cultures and values.

Many nonprofits grow from an entrepreneurial mindset, kicking off with grassroots campaigns on social-media platforms or crowdfunding sites. Businesses that developed from startups themselves can appreciate the challenges facing such organizations as they scale. Startups also understand the scrappiness required to make it in today's environment -- and can provide appropriate advice and much-needed resources.

Shared values should be explored as well. These might include cultures of transparency, education and learning. As you uncover each, integrate it in your approach toward meaningful growth for both nonprofit and business interests.

Related: How to Turn Company Values into Shared Employee Beliefs

Grow your network externally

Networking is key, especially at events that focus on diversity and inclusion. Here, you can meet like-minded professional from business and nonprofit worlds alike.

I first connected with Tammy Tibbets, founder and CEO of She's the First, at a women’s leadership event. We immediately bonded over our mutual mission of championing education for women. AppNexus’ relationship with She’s the First grew from there -- as did our shared network of women’s advocates.

Encourage employee attendance and participation in events that support philanthropic causes. Invite your clients and partners, too. This can lead you to discover the values you share and enhance your ability to serve as "force multipliers" to increase the nonprofit's reach.

Related: This Entrepreneur's Inspiring Journey Shows Success Comes From the Courage to Dream Big

Tap your internal network.

Your employees don't work for a nonprofit. Even so, they shouldn't feel as if their jobs have no social purpose and are focused solely on the bottom line.

Consider hosting community forums and creating internal messaging channels so you can spread the word about philanthropic causes and get feedback from employees who seek ways to contribute. Identify a list of nonprofits that align with your business values. This helps employees find initiatives more likely to "click" with their worldview. Then, give them the freedom to decide which of these organizations will benefit from their personal time and talents.

Ask questions.

Companies often fail to take the extra step of understanding a nonprofit partner’s true needs. While monetary donations always are helpful, that money all too often flows strictly to well-known initiatives. Meanwhile, other areas of the organization are overlooked.

Your business might have other available assets that can do more to advance the nonprofit than a cash donation would. Take stock of the technology and professional skills within your company and look for ways to fill gaps. It's essential to do your research and develop a two-way dialogue with your nonprofit partner. This way, you know you're directing your goodwill where it can be truly transformative.

Related: 4 Ways Your Startup Benefits by Aligning With a Cause

Open your doors.

Many nonprofits simply cannot afford office space in the communities they serve -- especially in urban centers with soaring real-estate prices. Hosting a nonprofit in your unused or underused office space is one of the most supportive actions you can take as a company.

It's more common than you might think. AppNexus hosts Girls Who Code, and She’s the First occupies donated space in the offices of The Foundling. Adopt a Cause provides an easy way to find a match. The platform enables companies to invite nonprofits to share desks that otherwise would sit empty.

Create a formal structure for volunteerism.

Establishing a philanthropic steering committee and a framework for volunteerism weaves nonprofit initiatives and opportunities into the work day. One important aspect of this is a dedicated time-off policy that allows employees to engage in social issues local to their cities. Build a volunteer structure that supports employees' efforts to apply their skills in service of philanthropic causes -- without feeling as if they're losing out on productive work or personal time.

Related: This CEO Abandoned a Life of Decadence to Serve Others

There is truly limitless potential when thoughtful employees direct their commercial skills and resources for social good. We urge the professional community to partner up in support of causes that matter to them. Any company can (and should) work to identify its available assets and put them to work for philanthropic initiatives. Because there's no end to what we can achieve when companies and nonprofits combine forces.