Corporate Partnerships: A Guide for Nonprofits

Corporations are teaming up with the nonprofit sector more than ever before. Your community’s companies can be a powerful ally to your organization. In fact, a recent Conference Board survey concluded that for roughly two out of three large North American corporations, using philanthropy to advance their business goals is a top priority. Most importantly, nonprofit partnerships with corporations can lead to real social change. 

What’s more, successful corporate partnerships can help your nonprofit access skills, funding, resources, and people to extend your reach and your impact. When this relationship is sustained over time, your nonprofit can even explore new strategies for developing solutions for social problems.

What is a corporate partnership?

Historically, the relationship between nonprofits and for-profits has been sponsorship-focused. According to Inc Magazine., corporate sponsorship is a “form of advertising in which companies pay to be associated with certain events.” Today, nonprofit and corporate partnerships are more dynamic.  Companies and nonprofits with common goals and missions are linking up for the benefit of one another and for communities. Partnerships may involve employee volunteerism or in-kind donations. As a charitable organization, it may be beneficial to explore a variety of relationships with community entities like for-profit businesses. 

Our corporate partnership definition: A mutually beneficial relationship formed between a nonprofit or charitable organization and for-profit businesses whose purpose is to pursue a common goal based on the shared values of participating organizations. 

What do successful corporate nonprofit partnerships look like?

A successful private-nonprofit partnership model should contain the following pillars: 

  • Mutually beneficial: The partnership should benefit both the nonprofit organization and the business. These benefits should outway any costs to either entity. 
  • Alignment of values: Does the business represent the values of your nonprofit? Your cause should reflect the company’s model or industry, and the business should operate in a way that is respectful to the perspectives and values held by your organization and its community members.
  • Open communication: Communicate and agree upon expectations of the partnership. What are you hoping to get out of the partnership? What is the company hoping to gain from the partnership? Transparency is key to a fair partnership. 

How do nonprofits benefit from corporate partnerships?

Taking the time to facilitate corporate partnerships can be immensely beneficial to your organization. For-profit businesses have the resources to help nonprofits grow. Here are some key benefits of nonprofit corporate partnerships:

  • Generate revenue: Many companies opt for sponsorship of a charity event or cause. In exchange for advertisement on event materials and your website, businesses will donate to your cause. In turn, these donations are key to sustaining–and growing–your programs.  
  • Grow your volunteer program: Make the most of corporate partners with employee volunteer schemes. You’ll have access to lots of helping hands. When employee volunteers have a positive experience the first time, they’re more likely to volunteer with your organization again. You can also invite employees to bring family members and friends to further multiply impact. 
  • Improve community visibility: Increase awareness of your organization, programs, and cause. Businesses are great at networking, and part of their strategy is building trust with consumers and community members; this trust can transfer to nonprofit partners. Employees and employers promote your organization–internally and with customers–boosting your marketing and awareness efforts. 

How do companies benefit from partnerships with nonprofits?

Why do corporations give to nonprofits? Today, it’s not enough for companies to simply sell a good product. Partnering with nonprofit organizations benefits for-profit companies–and nonprofits have a lot to offer. In order to build a successful partnership, it’s important to understand a business’s motivation:

  • Employee satisfaction: Companies that partner with nonprofits and facilitate community engagement initiatives tend to have better employee retention, satisfaction, and engagement than those without. Increasingly, employees want to feel proud of their workplace. Do-good companies can save time and money on employee turnover in the long-run. 
  •  Professional development: Volunteering can offer opportunities for professional development, especially when employees specialized skills are utilized. These skilled volunteers can make the relationship more meaningful for the company and the nonprofit. 
  • Public Image: Today’s consumers are especially careful about the products they choose to purchase. Corporate social responsibility and corporate philanthropy programs improve consumer confidence and can even lead to an increase in revenue. 
  • Marketing: Corporate sponsorship for nonprofits can offer relatively inexpensive marketing opportunities. It’s a chance for businesses to improve community-wide reputation and trust and, when executed effectively, can lead to a positive return on investment. 

In the past few years, the rise of B-Corporations has signified a clear shift in strategy among corporations. To be certified as a B-Corporation, a company must  “meet rigorous standards of social and environmental performance, accountability, and transparency.” Increasingly, other for-profit companies are declaring their role in the fight for social change, and are working to do their part for collective impact efforts.

Corporate and Nonprofit Partnership Models

Corporate partnerships with nonprofits can take on a variety of forms. Some companies simply want to donate money to a cause or a specific event. Other businesses want to take on a more active role in community-based programs. As you learn how to build corporate partnerships, you’ll want to consider the types of relationships your organization needs. Here are some common examples of corporate nonprofit partnerships:

Workplace-giving programs

Workplace-giving programs offer an efficient and easy way to make charitable contributions to causes a company cares about. Some workplaces allow employees to deduct the donation directly from their paycheck, which can make their contribution more financially manageable. Nonprofits can also leverage fundraising corporate partnerships, in which employers match the cash contributions of its employees. This is a popular way to encourage employees to donate more. Galaxy Digital is active in employee giving through the United Way of Asheville and Buncombe County’s Middle School Success Program. Our company also participates in donation matching for our local United Way.

Cash and in-kind donation

There are two kinds of donations that can be made to a charity. Many companies offer cash donation, or the transfer of funds to a nonprofit. There is also an in-kind donation, which is the transfer of any other type of asset. Some examples of in-kind donations include computer software; a used car; a skill, like legal counsel; or a service, like administrative support. Some nonprofits work to form an in-kind partnership with a company so they can rely on the regular support and resources in exchange for marketing and professional development.

Skills-based volunteerism

According to the Corporation for National and Community Service, “Skills-based volunteering means leveraging the specialized skills and talents of individuals to strengthen the infrastructure of nonprofits, helping them build and sustain their capacity to successfully achieve their missions.” The popularity of SBV is growing; over 50% of companies with a volunteer program are doing skills-based volunteerism. Corporate volunteerism also offers opportunities for team-building and improved morale among employees, not to mention professional development opportunities and increased feelings of job satisfaction. 

Cause marketing

Cause marketing partnerships are formed when a nonprofit and a business agree upon a mutually beneficial marketing strategy. Corporate partners will leverage the goodwill that is associated with a social or environmental cause, and use it to differentiate a product in the hopes of encouraging consumers to switch brands, increase loyalty, or drive sales. Nonprofits benefit in that they enjoy heightened visibility to potential donors, as well as an influx of funding for their cause. A notable example of cause marketing partnership is Coke’s relationship with the World Wildlife Fund. This marketing campaign has raised over three million in donations to date!

Corporate sponsorship

It’s especially common for nonprofits to seek out corporate sponsorship. Corporate sponsorship for nonprofits involves asking partners to “sponsor” a particular event or program. The corporate sponsor will make a donation in exchange for promotion in event materials, on your website or through other marketing efforts. Often, a nonprofit or charity organization will use the company’s name in the event title, or by displaying corporate logos on promotional materials. The intention is to draw positive associations between the corporation and the event or program. Start by developing a clear sense of  what corporate sponsors look for in a charity partnership or nonprofit relationship. You’ll better manage expectations and work toward mutually beneficial outcomes. 

How to Find Corporate Sponsors

Need to know how to get corporate sponsors? Here are a few criteria for securing successful corporate sponsors for nonprofits:

  1. Do your research: Look for companies who already have a presence in your community. These companies may include branches of larger companies, local sports teams, and corporations headquartered in your area. 
  2. Strive for relevance: Look for companies whose resources, skills and interests make sense for your program. For example, Habitat for Humanity often look for sponsorship from home improvement and construction companies. 
  3. Utilize personal connections: Board members, staff, and friendly neighbors may have connections to businesses in your community. Don’t be afraid to ask around for referrals. 
  4. Discuss values: Once you’ve identified potential sponsors, dig deeper to understand corporate culture and values. Make sure you’re organization is okay with placing your name next to theirs. You may want to set-up an initial phone call with representatives to learn more before committing to a more formal meeting. 
  5. Check out these guidelines for nonprofit partnerships with corporations from the National Council of Nonprofits.

How to Engage Corporate Partners

Once you have decided on the types of partnerships you want to form, you’ll want to establish your corporate partner engagement strategy.  Building robust partnerships

Set your price

When proposing sponsorship, you’ll need to establish a value on promotional opportunities. How much will you “charge” the company? It’s important that you don’t undervalue your organization, but you should also help sponsors see the return on investment. Fees associated in event marketing can range from a few hundred dollars to several thousands, depending on its scope. You’ll also need to cover the staging of the event, and any advertising and administrative costs. If you are working with smaller businesses, you may offer the option to co-sponsor an event or program with other small businesses.

Communicate your mission

Engagement is about more than one-time participation. If you want to develop lasting partnerships, you’ll want your sponsors and employee volunteers to believe in your cause. While you can’t force employees to care about your nonprofit’s mission, you can help volunteers understand how their efforts make a real difference. Volunteers and donors are more likely to engage in your organization when they feel their efforts are making a real difference. Before employees begin volunteering, take the time to introduce your program and mission. Speak to how their time, expertise, or donations will directly impact your community. What’s more, a volunteer management software can help you track volunteer hours and recognize the value of their impact. 

Use volunteer engagement and management tools

A volunteer management software can help your organization:

  • Connect nonprofits with local businesses with ease.
  • Efficiently manage a number of volunteer groups and events. 
  • Simplify registration and onboarding processes, leading to happier volunteers. 
  • Manage event and opportunity schedules with automated reminders. 
  • Track collective volunteer hours to demonstrate impact. 

Have a social media presence

You may already have a social media strategy in place, but your social media platforms are a great place to find and engage companies in your area. Consider featuring your most active partners in a Facebook or Instagram post to (1) thank them for their continued support and (2) encourage future participation from other companies. It’s also an opportunity to promote your sponsors.  

Report on impact

There’s a good chance your corporate partners will ask for documentation or proof of their corporate responsibility efforts. Galaxy Digital’s volunteer management software automates volunteer hours tracking and can even produce reports on group’s (like employees of a company) total impact value. Your corporate partners will get an accurate picture of partnership outcomes and can demonstrate to corporate responsibility to their consumers. 

Corporations and nonprofits working together can result in powerful outcomes. The benefits of partnerships between nonprofits and for-profits cannot be overstated. Ninety-one percent of consumers are more likely to switch to a brand associated with a good cause, if that brand is of the same quality and price. Moreover, 84% of company executives reported increased bottom-line benefits after they started an employee volunteer program. And a nonprofit can profit from the new skills, funding, resources, and helping hands that a corporation can provide. What’s most important, nonprofit and corporate partnerships can result in happier, healthier communities. That’s a win-win-win!