The GuideStar Blog retired September 9, 2019. We invite you to visit its replacement, the Candid Blog. You’re also welcome to browse or search the GuideStar Blog archives. Onward!

GuideStar Blog

Use Social Partnerships To Make Your Nonprofit Stand Out

In a recent article for Nonprofit Quarterly, it was posed that nonprofits are just professional beggars and virtual panhandlers. The nature of nonprofit organizations dictates that senior management spend a significant time on fundraising to support the mission of the company. But smart executives know that the founding vision cannot be subordinate to the fundraising. Instead, the corporation has to build a socially conscious foundation that people want to fund. Business sector partnerships can do that if the fit is right and makes sense for both parties to earn revenue.


Nonprofits have a reputation of being all soul and no brains. A 2013 study by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce Foundation found that nonprofit organizations have difficulty managing internal functions like human resources, fundraising and communications. Even successful nonprofits have challenges in creating functional websites that are interactive and give succinct visual representations of their programs. By partnering with a successful for-profit, the charitable organization makes itself more credible from a consumer's point of view. The partnership lends professionalism to the nonprofit.

Remembering that not all support comes as cash, using the corporate partnership to create a professional infrastructure opens opportunities for in-kind donations of time and equipment as well as internships. These corporate opportunities benefit both organizations. The nonprofit becomes an expert in the industry and the for-profit gets staff training and tax breaks on capital expenditures from equipment donations.

Play To Consumer Self-Interest

When creating a social partnership, a for-profit business is looking for a good company-cause fit. This fit is what will mediate the consumer's behavior when it comes to things like switching brands. For the nonprofit, the company-cause fit creates a media message that is delivered by every member of the for-profit company. A solid company-cause fit is a win-win for everyone.

If the fit is a good one, consumers become invested in both organizations; they feel a self-interest in the companies. For example, in 2013 AARP partnered with L.A. Kitchen to aide in ending older adult hunger--a partnership with a $1 million tag. Since AARP is devoted to issues of people over the age of 50 and L.A. Kitchen serves the same age group, the company-cause fit is strong and the consumer self-interest will promote an increase in membership for AARP and a media promoted donation base for L.A. Kitchen.

Another of AARP's fruitful partnerships is with The Hartford, a leader in multi-line insurance coverage for businesses and consumers since 1810. This partnership was established in 1984, entitling the Hartford to be the exclusive provider of auto and homeowners insurance coverage for AARP members. The union of these companies has recently been renewed until January of 2020, but will likely extend indefinitely based on its strong company-cause fit that has proved extremely beneficial for not only the companies, but also their members.

Be Proactive

Charitable organizations that are proactive in getting for-profit social partners have a better chance of fiscal sustainability. The simple solution then is to make a list of businesses that would make a good company-cause fit and go get them. Unfortunately, there are certain practical difficulties with this plan. Deciding what would be a good fit means that the nonprofit would have to have an in-depth understanding of itself and its corporate mission. For many vision-based companies, this is an issue.

To be strategically proactive, you must first have a strategy. If you do not have one, create a business plan that centers on your company's mission. If you do have one, make sure that it is updates and use this as your template for pursuing for-profit business partners.

Marketing Is Marketing

You may help the environment, save children, or protect baby pandas, but when it comes to delivering a company message, it is still all marketing. The rules of marketing still apply to nonprofits. Your 501 (c) 3 status does not change that. By creating a corporate partnership, you are trying to produce a positive consumer reaction that results in increased revenue for your company. This is the basis of socially responsible marketing. When it comes to funds development, every good deed needs a good press release.

One of the reasons that a company enters into a social partnership is to bring up its social esteem in the eye of the public. The only way to do this is to promote the partnership. There needs to be a press release at the time of the partnership, one for every event, and one at the perceived conclusion of the campaign. This partnership also should be on both company's websites and social media channels with an option for supporters to get involved. Make sure involvement in the charitable organization includes opportunities outside of monetary donations. When a person wants to volunteer, always give him or her the means to do so.

The preceding is a guest post by our regular contributors, SocialMonsters. Formerly known as DigitalPartner, you can find all of their previous contributions for here on their author page.