When grappling with pressing challenges and global problems like economic resilience, healthcare, access to clean water, ensuring shelter, food and basic needs for all, working in silos is simply not an option. Partnership and collaboration must be at the forefront of every company’s business strategy.
Increasingly companies look outside their zone of genius to partner, as they should for comparative advantage. While companies may have global footprints, there are some needs that a corporate solution cannot solve, even under the best market conditions. Partnerships with government actors, customers or suppliers, and increasingly non-governmental organizations (NGOs) like nonprofits, associations or even philanthropic funds, are essential for companies to deliver goods and services efficiently and effectively, while also working to address some of the world’s social impact needs.
Individuals within companies are increasingly interested in giving back, as well, through philanthropic efforts that allow them to support NGOs’ fundraising or volunteering needs. Thus companies look to form solid relationships with NGOs that can grow over time and provide both the company and the NGO the value they seek.
Why would NGOs want to partner with companies? There are several reasons. A financial commitment will more than likely always be the first and foremost reason – whether it be to obtain grant capital and/or matching employee giving. Additional reasons for NGOs to partner with corporations include receiving skills-based expertise and best practices as well as to address social, environmental or economic development in places where the need is high. Figuring out how to partner, and with whom, then becomes the big question. Knowing what makes a potential corporate/NGO partnership successful is also critical to ensuring a lasting, collaborative relationship. Below I lay out five key elements for success:
1. Decide on 1-2 areas where your organizational missions align and do not go beyond them. Trying to do too much together at once will dilute your delivery and impact. Focus on making a partnership strong around one area of overlapping interest and build from there. This helps teams with communication, storytelling and knowing where to make improvements as well.
2. Ensure leadership buy in. Aligning around mission-critical work is important at all levels of an NGO and corporate partnership, but leadership buy in will keep the partnership growing and evolving over time. Keeping leadership engaged will also help bring needed resources to the partnership to support any future needs.
3. Partner to fill gaps, not replicate skills. Find unique and innovative ways to support each other and improve inefficiencies, including building out skillsets. Companies shouldn’t partner with organizations unless it’s clear their inputs (time, money, technical assistance, in-kind support, goods, services, etc.) will be put to use to fill gaps their NGO partner has. NGOs have a specific role to play as well. Find complementarity for success.
4. Find individuals within partner organizations who can be champions and guide the partnership development process. Work with this champion on defining roles, a budget, program parameters, timelines and agreed upon points at which to monitor and evaluate the partnership’s success. Roles and responsibilities are critical for a successful partnership, as well as those time-bound metrics used to evaluate success. Check in frequently to be sure the partnership is moving in the right direction.
5. Patience is truly a virtue in a successful partnership. Lasting change can’t happen overnight. In the right partnership, good communication, a keen sense of what each partner brings to the table, strong personal relationships and high-impact results are inevitable.
Relying on these elements will make learning from and growing with partners a symbiotic and positive process. Effective partnerships make change a possibility, and provide an invitation to truly co-create solutions that our planet needs. Finding clear points of mission alignment, clarifying where skills are comparative, and knowing how to resource partnerships will scale ideas and uncover boundless success for corporations seeking to make impact in the world.
Joanne Sonenshine is Founder + CEO of Connective Impact, a global community to grow and scale through funding and facilitated collaboration. A development economist with a passion for partnership development, and experiences working with government agencies, large and small corporations, and nonprofits, Joanne is passionate about societal change, and has devoted her career to helping non-profit decision makers, corporate leaders and entrepreneurs partner for greater impact in their work.