NonProfits rarely see the need to find a business partner.
At best, they find a favorite auditor, attorney or supply vendor and
essentially develop no-bid contracts with their favorites. Stuart Mendel and
Jeffrey Brudney found that nonprofit and business partnerships were only 10% of
Partnerships mean that both partners get something that they
want from the relationship. Nonprofit CEOs are nervous about relationships that
might make a business – more profitable. Actually, every time that you pay your
auditor, I assume that they get richer! So there is nothing illegal or
unethical about partnership with business.
What are bad partnerships with Business?
Brand Risk – The biggest risk is Brand risk. If you
choose to partner with businesses that don’t match your values, mission, or values
of your clients, you can seriously damage your brand. Partnerships with
business should hire a coach to help you review partner proposals with your
leadership team, board, and stakeholders before you proceed. For example, the
company in New York that has done audits for Mr. Trump also pushes aggressively
in the nonprofit space locally. Would it affect your nonprofit brand if you
chose the same auditor? What questions would you raise before you made the
decision? Your coach can help.
Kentucky Fried Chicken partnered to give money for breast
cancer cure. They printed a month of pink buckets for chicken. Media quickly
seized on the links between calories, obesity and breast cancer. There was
nothing unethical with the business relationship but the nonprofit failed to
consider key implications of their brand. Proceed slowly and use a coach!
Process Risk – A second risk is process risk. The
processes and corporate cultures of all companies are far different. When any
two groups develop a partnership, there needs to be a written charter that the
coach helps you to carefully spell out details
Both Brand Risk and Process Risk can be managed. Leaders
lean into the danger, use a coach, and do risk management! You can partner with
What’s a good reason to partner with Business? Mendel and
Brudner list four reasons and I add two more!
Your nonprofit needs money – Pampers
diapers and UNICEF were partners for a long time and UNICEF got funding for its
mission. Pampers added to its brand strength by being interested in children. Find
a business owner who really likes your mission.
Your nonprofit helps a Business that helps
your clients – A family doctor has a practice locally that easily accepts
cash and his prices are low. Any nonprofit that helps low income families would
be helping their clients by referring them to the doctor if there are not other
Your nonprofit needs more expertise – A
local construction company is willing to partner with your nonprofit with
internships. You have a training program for people released from prison but no
expertise in introducing your best graduates to the job market. The
construction company gets a supply of semi skilled workers that come there with
Both you and the Business want market share –
You realize that a local bakery attracts young parents whose children would be
eligible for your school. You already have 200 parents who don’t go to that
bakery. If both companies give discounts to each other’s customers for a month,
then both groups of parents are now potentially interested in both companies.
Sumo Number Four – Bernie Brenner suggests
that you find a partner who is 10x bigger than you and partner with them. For
example, a real estate developer suddenly gets bad press about rodent
infestation. They need a brand partner who will help them clean their brand. They
donate money to your nonprofit and rebrand as the safe rental for families. This
partnership is the most risky for the nonprofit but potentially the most
More Respect Than Government – Government
partnerships are often take it or leave it contracts. They add conditions
without reflecting on the costs of compliance. They assume that they are the
head in the partnership and your nonprofit is the hands and feet. Business partners
can be different, You can search until you find the right business to partner
but you can’t easily choose another government to partner if you don’t like the
Conclusion: Partnerships are critical in the growth
of nonprofits and often welcomed by business. You will be treated as a co-equal
partner by the right Business. Remember:
This is not a plan for next week – it’s in your