Best practices for a corporate and nonprofit partnership

There is lot of talk in the Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) industry about corporate-nonprofit partnerships. Such partnerships have become a key component of a company’s CSR and employee engagement programs. However, it’s one thing to talk about creating an effective partnership, and it’s a totally different thing to be able to do it.

A recent survey asked nonprofit organizations to identify some of their greatest challenges in starting and maintaining ongoing corporate relationships. More than 80% report they have difficulty building strong corporate partnerships around employee engagement with their limited staff and resources. Another 90% said that they have a challenge in sustaining ongoing relationships with corporate and other funders.

These same nonprofit organizations understand that strong corporate-nonprofit partnerships can facilitate and achieve mutual goals, but they find it difficult to work with their corporate partners. When a company asks them to do something such as provide a volunteer opportunity for their employees, the nonprofit wants to say yes even if it presents a challenge due to their limited resources. Sometimes they are too eager to please the funder without understanding the goals and objectives being put upon them.

Today, we want to share some best practices for a corporate-nonprofit partnership. Hopefully, you will be able to learn from these practices and avoid the pitfalls that often occur when trying to create a partnership. The goal is to encourage companies to be more strategic in their requests to the nonprofits they work with.

Look at Existing Relationships

Most corporations already have existing relationships with a number of nonprofit organizations. You are making corporate donations, and your employees might be volunteering with the same organizations. There is some alignment already and creating a deeper partnership might make sense rather than trying to identify new nonprofit organizations to engage with and support. Don’t start over, but try to enhance the partnership with your existing nonprofit organizations.

Make the Partnership Mutually Beneficial

The most important part of the partnership is ensuring that there is a good fit between your company and the nonprofit.  Nonprofits are eager to have a strategic partnership if there is mutual value and benefit. Take time to identify the things you want to accomplish through this partnership.

For companies, be clear on your objectives and expectations of the nonprofit. Understand that each party brings a unique set of values and needs. By working together each group can achieve some key benefits that aren’t available without the partnership.

A partnership is two-sided. As a company, be prepared to know what you want to achieve through this partnership. Is it increased sales, more brand awareness, enhanced opportunities for employee engagement, employee skill development, or greater recognition for the good you create in the community?

Be Clear on Expectations and Goals

Once you have identified a potential nonprofit partner that you think is a good fit for helping your company meets its objectives, the next step is to have a detailed conversation with that partner to define what you want to accomplish and how you will define a successful partnership.

Set clear, realistic, and shared goals that will benefit both partners and specify who is responsible for delivering what. Impact depends on what goals you set, so it is important to identify what metrics you will use to measure “impact” or success.

Sometimes success is measured immediately upon the completion of a project, or it may take a few years to measure what is being accomplished through the partnership. The key is to define early in the partnership the objectives and to be clear about what success means.

Corporate partnerships

Be Realistic

Don’t set unrealistic demands on the nonprofit to collect data. Measuring impact should not be about collecting more data but rather focusing on what is absolutely necessary to prove your success. Your nonprofit partner might not have the human capital or skills necessary to collect additional data. Identify what is needed to measure the program’s success. As a company, you don’t want to burden your nonprofit partner. At the same time, don’t be afraid to look to them to help provide some of the answers and indicators of success.

Tell the Story

Both the corporate partner and the nonprofit partner need to communicate the story of the partnership and the impact that is being made by working together. Use traditional media outlets but also encourage employees to push out their involvement and experiences through their social networks.

More and more companies are publishing CSR reports and highlighting their nonprofit partnerships. Your nonprofit partners should be encouraged to use their networks to promote the impact of the partnership. 


It is important to understand the limitations as well as the possibilities of a strong corporate-nonprofit partnership. When built upon clear objectives, mutual responsibility, and identified outcomes, a partnership is a great tool to further both the corporation’s philanthropic and employee engagement objectives as well as the nonprofit’s need for additional funding and volunteers to support their critical mission and programs.

The sum of the partnership should equal something greater than each party will achieve on their own. Keeping that in mind makes it worth it.