Blogs & Comment

Five things to know about partnerships between corporations and non-profits

The bad news is most "partnerships" aren't really partnerships. The good news is it can be fixed.

(Photo: Gianluca Fabrizio)

Last week I was pleased to participate as a speaker in the 2011 Canadian Business and Community Partnership Forum presented by Imagine Canada and Volunteer Canada. The intent of the Forum was to bring together leaders in business and the charitable and nonprofit sector to discuss social initiatives and corporate community involvement.

I came away from the Forum with five key learnings about the state of partnerships between corporations and non-profits in Canada:

1. Most relationships between corporations and non-profits that are referred to as “partnerships” are not. Predominantly, they are transactional ($’s from corporations to charities) and don’t leverage other assets such as knowledge, communications channels, suppliers, and so on.

2. Most of the relationships that are considered effective partnerships include opportunities for employee volunteerism with charities. While volunteerism can be a strong driver of employee engagement (and, as a result, contribute to increased retention, lower turnover, and reduced training costs) there are also related challenges. These include balancing the interests of employees in doing community work with the reality of being more accountable in their jobs.

3. Focusing partnerships on capacity building was identified as an important emerging trend. This involves corporations ensuring that non-profit partners have the right mix of resources to maximize social outcomes. For more information see: Capacity Building: Investing in not-for-profit effectiveness, a discussion paper developed by the PricewaterhouseCoopers Canada Foundation.

4. Smaller non-profit organizations still face significant hurdles in building partnerships with local businesses. A combination of limited internal capacity and the lack of connectivity with the business community makes partnership building a real challenge – there doesn’t seem to be an easy way to address this significant gap.

5. Understanding the business and social outcomes of partnerships between corporation has become an imperative. However, very few corporations understand the business impacts of their community investments and only a handful of non-profits are able to demonstrate social outcomes.

My presentation was about how partnerships with non-profits can contribute to a corporation’s return on integrity. While it’s not yet clear how to benchmark and track integrity as a performance indicator, it is clear that intangible assets such as integrity are a very  important part of the partnership mix.