A business is a business, and that’s something many nonprofits tend to forget. No matter the type of change you hope to create in the world, a nonprofit is still a business — one that requires not only a business plan and all that entails (think market analysis, financial projections, implementation strategy, and so on), but also a full understanding of business principles.

If you want to make a lasting impact, remember that it’s rare to do so single-handedly, and partnering with for-profit businesses becomes an essential component to achieving more than just fundraising goals. Even a single partnership with a small local business can provide a nonprofit with shrewd insights it might otherwise go without.

Of course, approaching businesses about a possible partnership can be a struggle — especially for organizations new to the nonprofit space. But it’s not impossible, you just need the right strategy.

Weighing your partnership options

It’s sometimes difficult for a nonprofit’s development team to determine exactly how a business partnership might fit with the overall strategy (beyond the potential to raise funds, of course).

If you were a coach, you’d want to play to each team member’s strengths. Sometimes, these strengths aren’t always apparent, and it takes time and a keen eye to scout out how a business might be an asset to your charitable organization. Perhaps even more important, though, is determining how your nonprofit can be of help to your array of potential business partners.

Recent research found that a business’s charitable giving affects 73% of consumer purchase decisions, so that’s one angle to take when pitching business partnerships with nonprofits. Not to mention 50% of consumers say they’d switch to a brand that supports causes they align with. There’s another angle to approach with.

Even then, however, it can be difficult to find businesses willing to contribute to your mission. When it comes to business partnerships with nonprofits, there has to be a commonality between both parties to move past the ask and develop an actual relationship. 

The question then is: How exactly do nonprofit and for-profit businesses meet in the middle?

Development Ideas for Nonprofits

Even though you’ll have to do some legwork up front, it’s possible to find like-minded businesses in your area that want to start partnerships and contribute to your cause in some way. After all, most businesses these days seek out more ways to contribute to their local communities.

As a general rule of thumb, consider the following tips to determine where you should focus your efforts first:

1. Identify businesses with shared values 

Any business practicing social responsibility commits to a select few social, cultural, or environmental issues, and these are often based on its core values. If these values align with the core mission of your nonprofit, you’re more likely to reap positive results.

Research small to midsize businesses in your area. Chances are good they haven’t been approached by other nonprofits. You can glean a lot of information from their websites: About pages will usually contain information about their mission, values, and past philanthropic activities, and team pages should give you some idea of who to talk to.

2. Communicate clear win-wins

Partnerships should always be mutually beneficial, and that’s still true when it comes to business-nonprofit partnerships. Besides detailing how your organization makes a direct impact on the local community, highlight what a partnership could mean for the businesses you’d like to work with.

Remember that one of the main benefits of partnering with a nonprofit is marketing. A purpose-driven business does have a competitive advantage because more and more people now buy goods and services from businesses that reflect their values.

Yet another benefit of partnering with a nonprofit is how that partnership can support employee retention and recruitment efforts. Most people prefer to work for companies that share their values; in fact, 87% of people rate the pride they have in their workplaces as very important, and 46% value a company’s ability to impact society positively.

In other words, emphasize the mutual benefits for both parties and share how your nonprofit supports its supporters. Is it through employee volunteer opportunities? Improved business visibility? Partnerships can certainly strengthen a business’s reputation, so there’s always that.

3. Don’t focus on the money

Many nonprofits enter partnership conversations with a dollar amount in mind — but that’s not the first topic you should bring to the table. Instead, direct the conversation toward other benefits of partnering with a nonprofit.

Consider for a second that 66% of employees expect ongoing training to help them get better at their jobs. Maybe you could position a potential partnership as an opportunity for a business’s employees to develop new skills. That’s certainly a value-add for any organization.

Because most small to midsize businesses serve the same community as nonprofits, it’s also important to position how a partnership could strengthen both your efforts to benefit a specific demographic or cause. 

Let’s consider my local RE/MAX as an example: With the rise of COVID-19, it directed its philanthropic efforts to benefit first responders. Our organization could’ve easily just written a check, but we also discussed other opportunities to participate in that initiative — be it in marketing, social media, and so on.

Long story short, your partnership pitch should include more than a fundraising goal. At least during the initial conversations, hone in on community engagement, volunteerism, and other value-adds before you tackle the big ask.

4. Check-in regularly 

Securing a partnership is definitely something to celebrate, but your work is far from over. Just as much time and effort should be devoted to maintaining your relationships. To ensure a successful partnership, touch base regularly.

Share what a company’s funds or volunteerism are doing for the community. Highlight success stories, acknowledge its contributions and provide at least some proof of return on investment. Many businesses will even ask for documentation or proof of impact, as they want an idea of the partnership’s outcomes to quantify the return on investment.

Come prepared with data, such as how much exposure the business received during a campaign. This could be in the form of likes, shares, and reach on a social media post that the business-sponsored for a charity event.

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Using your business plan to secure partnerships

Establishing your first partnership can feel somewhat intimidating. You’re working with an established business, so the natural reaction is to look for more ways to prove your worth. If that’s really a concern, one simple way to do so is to come prepared with a business plan.

While the idea of business planning reads like a for-profit organizational term, having one for your nonprofit is absolutely vital for long-term success. It helps define your mission for potential partners, provides an outline of strategic and financial efforts, and displays a trackable understanding of how to effectively manage cash flow to accomplish organizational goals

Having all of these elements prepared and presentable can make partnering with your nonprofit an easy decision. And just remember that these partners share your goals and mission — they want to see your nonprofit succeed just as much as you do. Start with these tips, roll them into your business plan, and you’ll surely be on your way toward sparking long-lasting, mutually beneficial partnerships.

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AvatarGreg Deline

The president and CEO of DeLine Holdings, Greg DeLine is an entrepreneur and philanthropist. Greg has started and owned more than a dozen successful companies. He has a passion for relationships and helping others reach their full potential.