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Building Purposeful Partnerships: Start with Who

Building Purposeful Partnerships: Start with Who

What if your nonprofit could do more than just get a one-time donation from a corporation? What if your nonprofit and the corporation could build a purposeful partnership aimed at having a greater impact on the world?

Over the past 30 years, corporations have damaged their reputation as good corporate citizens along with the public’s trust, as highlighted by several watershed moments including the Exxon Valdez spill in 1989, the Enron and Arthur Anderson meltdown in 2001, and the financial crisis in 2008. While the public is often informed of the negative effects that corporations have on society, a growing sub-sector of companies have begun to authentically transform and work to  improve social conditions through their day-to-day business operations.  Since the publication of Michael Porter and Mark Kramer’s “Creating Shared Value” article in 2011, a transformation has taken place in the ever-evolving relationship between the private sector and nonprofits. In the past, most companies viewed their philanthropy primarily as a charitable tax deduction and a way to build their reputation as  a “good community citizen.” Today, many companies have begun identifying opportunities for aligning their business to “solve” a social challenge.

This transformation has had a profound effect on the nonprofit sector. Nonprofits used to view corporations primarily as “funders” who provide donations to worthy causes. Now nonprofits can approach corporations with a desire to build partnerships to create deeper impact.  

In order to build these partnerships with the corporate sector, nonprofits need to have a firm grasp of the key stakeholders who represent a corporation’s philanthropic engagements. Corporate ecosystems are large and complex. If a nonprofit is to build a long-lasting and purposeful corporate partnership that adds tangible value to its mission, it must understand who is responsible for the company’s social engagement.  

After more than 27 years of working with the private sector, I’ve identified the four most common departments nonprofits will engage with as they seek to build these partnerships.

1. Corporate Foundation

Key Phrases: Grantmaking, Charitable Giving

Relevant Positions: Corporate Foundation Director, Grantmaking Associate   

Generally speaking, a corporation’s foundation focuses primarily on the company’s charitable contributions in the community and has limited interaction with its overall business operations and day-to-day functions.  While some corporate foundations are more closely tied to corporate strategy, many foundations focus on supporting generic social issues that do not have a direct link to the company’s business. Corporate foundations are generally more transactional than the other departments highlighted below.

2. Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR)

Key Phrases: Corporate Citizenship, Community Outreach, Social Innovation

Relevant Positions: CSR Manager, Global Citizenship Officer, Community Engagement Manager

The CSR department generally acts as an internal and external representative of the company’s CSR vision and is responsible for raising awareness and generating publicity for the company’s engagement around social issues. Increasingly, CSR departments are tasked with taking a more strategic view of the types of initiatives the company supports by linking activities either directly or indirectly to the company’s core business. Most frequently, CSR is aligned to a company’s Marketing and Communication team, and often liaises with the Public Affairs and Human Resources divisions as well.  

3. Employee Engagement

Key Phrases: Corporate Volunteerism, Global Pro Bono, Skills-Based Volunteerism

Relevant Positions: HR Director, Director of Talent Management, Employee Relations Officer

Often overlooked by nonprofits, a company’s Employee Engagement team can be a meaningful partner in ways that go beyond financial support. Specifically, corporate volunteerism is becoming common practice for many corporations that want to meaningfully engage their workforce while providing tangible impact in the community. Nonprofits with the staff and resources to provide valuable volunteer experiences can become a vital component of a company’s employee engagement strategy. These volunteer relationships can also open opportunities for partnership in other areas as well. In some companies, Employee Engagement sits in the Human Resources department, in others it is a function of Corporate Social Responsibility.

4. Executive C-Suite

Key Phrases: Shared Value, Social Innovation, Priority Social Issues

Relevant Positions: Chief Executive Officer, Chief Marketing Officer, Chief Sustainability Officer

While most companies implement their “doing good” initiatives in the divisions highlighted above, a handful of corporations are aligning profit-making initiatives to social issues.  This strategy creates a competitive business advantage making the organization more profitable, while also producing deeper and more sustainable social impact. By authentically positioning themselves as an integral partner in this alignment, nonprofits can create long-lasting partnerships that enhance the nonprofit’s mission.

Join John Holm on Thursday, February 8 for the webinar “Nonprofits and Corporations: Building Purposeful Partnerships,” to learn more about the importance of mission alignment, and the key stakeholders to connect with in the corporate space.

John Holm: Building Purposeful Partnerships

JOHN HOLM  is the VP of Strategic Initiatives at PYXERA Global. He specializes in cross-sector engagement and shared value creation in emerging markets, and has advised multinational companies including Subway Restaurants, IKEA, and Starbucks. In the foundation space, he has developed partnership engagements with the Sustainable Development Philanthropy Platform and the Diaspora Investment Alliance respectively. John is also a member of the Helvetas USA board, A Swiss Inter-cooperation focusing on global poverty reduction and water rights and is an advocate on the implementation of the Sustainable Development Goals.

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