Guidelines for Forming Nonprofit-Business Partnerships

Guidelines for Forming Nonprofit-Business Partnerships

By: Eugene Fram

Ashley Halligan, an analyst at Software Advice,, has conducted a pilot study involving business and nonprofit managers, “4 Steps Nonprofits Can Take to Establish a Lasting Business Partnership.” The study has recently been mentioned in the New York Times. Following are a few ways she (in quotations) and I suggest the steps can be implemented to initiate partnerships with business organizations.

1. Assess your Goals – The nonprofit should try to align with businesses that roughly have similar client goals as expressed in terms of the nonprofit’s mission, vision and values. <!–more–>

“For instance, Trees for the Future, a nonpro0fit, wanted to plant more trees in developing countries.” Partnering with international Celestial Seasoning, the nonprofit was able to sponsor the planting of more than one million trees. The relationship between the two was evidently based on the firm’s need for international PR & sales, and the nonprofit’s mission to sponsor the planting of more trees in developing countries. There often does not need to be based on a direct product/service relationship such as cancer prevention nonprofit and a drug company selling cancer drugs.
2. Develop a Shortlist of Potential Busyness Partners – “Look (first) for (local) businesses that have commonalities with the (nonprofit) organization.” They are the most likely to know about the nonprofit’s social values, present and past directors, staff professionals and clients the nonprofit has helped. Seek higher-level executives from the short list companies as nonprofit directors.
3. Start Some Conversations – In developing these conversations, make sure that persons representing the nonprofit are fully comfortable in dealing with senior level business executives. My observations are that few executive directors have a high comfort level in these situations. That is why I strongly recommend the nonprofit’s chief executive officer hold the title, president/CEO. This allows the businessperson to quickly know who has final operating authority. An old adage concludes, “Principals Talk With Principals.”
4. Initiate & Nurture the Relationship – “…[A] Nonprofit-Business relationship requires time and nourishment to flourish. … While the (relationship is) business (to the nonprofit), it is important to remember that the relationship is a highly personal one. Demonstrating a return on investment (ROI) is also important. … Track as many benefits to the company as you can, so you can provide a strong ROI.” *

*See my blog site: and my article: “Using Imperfect Metrics Well: Tracking Progress and Driving Change,” Send request for copy to:

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