Profiles in Partnership
A series on best practices and sound advice for developing and maintaining successful cross-sector partnerships – partnerships between two or more from the nonprofit, for-profit, education or government sectors.
Northern California Grantmakers is an association of foundations, corporate contributions programs and other private and public grantmakers. Started as an initiative in 1965 and incorporated in 1981, NCG has grown to support the activity of 170 member grantmakers active in the Bay Area, with combined grantmaking of more than $3 billion annually. NCG enhances the effectiveness of philanthropy by supporting regional grantmakers’ efforts to learn, promote the field and connect to peers and resources.
BB: The corporation is offering many ways for them to get involved, such as in-kind, cash, volunteers, etc. Isn’t this good for the nonprofit?
CL: This is a great scenario for the company- it’s just not always a great scenario for the nonprofit. Let’s say I’m a nonprofit organization that’s doing well, I have a small staff and now I’ve got to figure out how to coordinate your 10 people that you just sent over to volunteer, and I need to figure out the 8 things that my people already have on their plates. Who’s going to actually do that? Am I as the CEO? I know it’s going to benefit me, but I’ve got to go through all of that hassle to do that and that’s what I mean by the social structure isn’t necessarily supportive of it.
BB: What if the nonprofit and for-profit work up a plan to avoid such overload situations, so that what the for-profit offers can really be used by the nonprofit?
CL: Let’s take a nonprofit organization that has 10 staff, which actually is a lot. They get into a conversation with a couple of corporate entities. Let’s take a mid-sized law firm that doesn’t have a big name but it has 50 attorneys, and it wants to be in a partnership with the nonprofit. In most cases the original conversation started with just trying to get some money, but the law firm says, oh, no, we want to be more involved in this relationship?
It’s not about bad planning, it’s about a cultural difference. The business is thinking they’re moving to a really good place to not only give money, they’re going to give you some people and do more for you. That small organization didn’t have the time or idea of how to do that. What needs to be created is an understanding that when the business offers help they probably need to give a coordinator as well, to do it.
BB: I don’t think you’re advocating that the company not approach the nonprofit to provide volunteers or other services?
CL: I’m not blaming the company because they’re new to that experience as well. And that’s the key issue for me: the ideas and these big goals of let’s be more philanthropic, let’s have a triple bottom line, it’s beginning to sink in, it’s hitting the hearts of people and they’re seeing a business model around it. But the sense of how to actually do it is not quite there yet.
And so when you ask me about the shift and I say the shift isn’t happening yet, it’s not because I don’t think it’s going to get there, I think that there is a social context and a set of intermediary structures that have to happen and have to be realized by these communities, both the corporate community as well as the nonprofit community, so that those things would actually work.
BB: They need role models and they need best practices.
CL: That’s right.
Up Next: Part 4: The corporate position as sometimes being “selfish”.
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