You know that partnerships matter for your business, and to address critical challenges that can help you deliver on impact. Yet how do you find potential partners, determine which types of partnerships are best for your business, which are best to advance your high-impact goals, and how to position your company for growth?
Partners help us address gaps that may exist, and ensure our businesses are working within our strengths. Partnerships that are designed right, built around the concept of comparative advantage, and that offer mutual benefit, will keep resources at a minimum and help ensure greater efficiency in your efforts. The concept of partnership building can seem overwhelming when there are so many potential partners out there. Where does one start? How do you know which are the best partners for your organization? Which partnerships will advance your impact and propel the success of your efforts?
Let's examine the three most important partnership types.
1. Service Delivery
Once you have determined what your organizational priorities are, and what impact you want to make as a business or nonprofit, identifying the most effective service delivery partners is crucial. These types of partners can range from customers to suppliers, employers to in-country project leads. Partner organizations or individuals that keep your programs moving, budgets in line, follow programmatic timelines and help deliver on prioritized goals or program objectives are service delivery partners. These partners should have a mutual benefit in helping you stay accountable, as their own organization or individual goals will be improved in doing so (at least in an ideal partnership). If you are an international nonprofit, your service delivery partners are often local nonprofits that help liaise with local governments or communities. If you are a company, service delivery partners are often suppliers, factory managers or those who you rely upon for following your company plans.
Your organization has a story. Your partners do too. Joining together to capture insights and ensure others understand the impact you are making helps ensure your story is cohesive and targeted to those who need to hear it. Being held accountable to the facts, being transparent and honest about the work you are doing is truthfully one of the most important elements in delivering true impact, so partners that encourage that honesty are among the most critical.
In order to advance your business aim, as well as your high impact goals, you will need the resources. For example, if your goal is to donate $10,000 a year to a local hospital, and you don't have the funds to do so, you will need to tap into your network or be creative working with suppliers or customers to raise that money. Finding ways to dedicate resources to causes that you and your colleagues care about can seem intensive. You don't want to go down a rabbit hole trying to achieve your high-impact goals, because that's just too expensive. Finding the right types of funding partners can save you time and ensure you have the resources you need to acheive your goals.
Brainstorm all of the partners that you have engaged with in the past, and that you can potentially engage with in the future. Think about which partners can benefit your potential impact from a service delivery, marketing/story-telling or fundraising perspective before narrowing in on which are the most suitable for your organization. Discuss with colleagues and determine which types of partnerships ignite excitement. Those are the types of partnerships to pursue. Ask prospective partners to share ideas, examples and existing project cases, but be prepared to do the same. Go one step further and share some ideas you may have for your impact goal. Be willing to give a little and offer up some creative Intel or information that will encourage the partner to engage with you and share resources, ideas, networks, and most valuably, their time. Don't forget that this is your chance to work on identifying your comparative advantage in order to engage partners for the benefit of your impact goal, the growth of your business, and to ensure mutual benefit for them too.
Wondering where to begin with your partnership journey? Reach out to discuss.
Some tools that may help:
Partnership Evaluation Tool
Fundraising Made Simple
20 Ways to Find New Partners and Amplify Your Impact
As we approach the final few months of 2019, many of these institutions are re-evaluating their goals, recognizing that while change has occurred, we are still on a path towards the true seismic shift we all expected. We are running out of time, though. 2020 is just around the corner and there is still quite a lot of work to be done.
In 2015, the United Nations created the Sustainable Development Goals, (“SDGs”), a set of 17 critical priorities that businesses, governments and civil society must work around together to create a healthy, resilient and thriving planet for all people, nature and animal life that live here. The release of the SDGs gave these actors an opportunity to reframe their 2020 goals, and look towards 2030, the year the SDGs are targeting for their finish line. As 2020 approaches, 2030 becomes the new beacon for many of the same goals that were set back in 2000.
Has your business examined the SDGs? Have you considered what role you play?
We cannot deny, nor should we, that businesses need to make money as a first priority. At the end of the day, businesses exist to provide customers with goods and services. That said, businesses of all sizes have a role to play in society, too. The SDGs allow businesses a roadmap, of sorts, or even a menu of options to consider, as they evaluate this role. To play even a small part in advancing the SDGs, businesses will need to prioritize what's possible. It won't be easy to land on a solution for no poverty, or clean water and sanitation for all, or zero hunger in isolation. Collaboration will be essential. Now is the time to take a look within, however, to consider what role your business does play, and how your goals can align with the SDGs.
So where does one begin?
Working through these steps should give you a good sense of what elements within the SDGs are feasible for your company to commit or contribute to. It will take all of us working together to address the SDGs. Change is possible if we focus and act with intention. Let's make the next ten years count.
I can’t stop thinking about the immigrants at the southern border of the United States. Images from the news haunt me. Stories of neglect and utter deference for people’s humanity disgust me. Feeling powerless to the enormity of the situation, from the violence prompting families to leave their homes in Central and South America, to the sheer lack of civility portrayed by the American people, let alone our inept leadership, I do what I know how to do best – I figure out ways to encourage economic support in the places where these people are fleeing.
I tweet and retweet news that the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) is turning to the private sector to help build sustainable markets in places like Honduras, Nicaragua and Guatemala (despite funding cuts on the public side). I share ideas with corporate executives who are considering new and innovative ways to source products or services from different parts of the world where labor is needed and costs are lower. I help create partnerships for companies that do, still, provide them with profit but also provide a sense of long-term investment for communities where poverty has taken such a strong hold that the only solution is to migrate and face our borders.
I imagine the families I’ve met, not just in South and Central America, but in East Africa, in SE Asia, in the Middle East, in the Pacific, and think creatively about how market-based solutions could provide some semblance of economic advancement such that not only is migration held at bay, but violence too.
I am an idealist, no doubt. I am someone who believes in the power of Purposeful Profits and the ways businesses can use their purchasing power for good (consumers, too, by the way!) I am also someone who reads between the lines when USAID releases their strategy calling for ‘self-reliance.’ This means that as the U.S. Government retreats from its position of aiding those communities that cannot support themselves, and focuses investments on humanitarian and emergency assistance, funding to match private sector investment that helps propel ‘self-reliance’ in places where USAID operates is of crucial importance. Matched funding from the private sector will allow a dollar spent by U.S. taxpayers buoying local communities in places in economic turmoil to be matched by a dollar (or more) of private sector market building, with the hope that these two dollars will provide a return of three, or four or five or ten dollars into the future.
I believe it’s possible. I am seeing it happening. It’s one of the bright lights of this Administration and it means that if the private sector continues to come to USAID with a dollar in hand, USAID will match that dollar and help countries find the self-reliance that encourages fewer families to face the horrible decision of staying or leaving their homes.
If you are working in the private sector, or WITH the private sector in any way, consider how to pair your investment with that of the U.S. Government. It does not have to be through USAID. MCC, State, USDA and others are keen to work with the private sector to advance economic scenarios in developing economies. The results will benefit these communities in the end if we all work together towards this common goal.
As published via LinkedIn
It wasn't the first time I heard this, and I know it's not the last. During a standard prospecting call with a well-known impact fund (i.e. nonprofit) based in Europe, a potential client emphasized his need for investors, not just donors. "We are trying to transform lives here, not just put a bandaid on them" he indicated, ensuring I got the point. Not only did I get the point, but this notion of transformation, investment, impact and long-term change is rearing its head in virtually every call I have with potential and existing clients.
"We are not a nonprofit, we are an impact fund." "We don't just implement projects, we change lives."
He continued to share with me the rationale for investment, why a rate of return on this fund's projects is better than putting money into a similar European government fund, and why the projects this fund is leading are poised to systemically transform communities in several parts of East Africa. He sent me prospectuses, investor profiles and testimonials.
I kept thinking, but you are a nonprofit, not a stock or debt instrument.
He repeated one more time, before we ended our call, why corporate donors in particular would want to invest in his fund. "We offer a higher ROI than most impact funds in our area of expertise. We can guarantee measurable impact within 5-years."
Guarantee impact? Definitely music to a corporate social impact investor's ears.
Catch the drift here?
The .org is effectively dead. What is growing in its place is the impact fund.
Whether it's due to declining donor engagement, mission creep, donor fatigue or something else, the role of the nonprofit is slowly declining. Nonprofits are rebranding themselves, or coming up with new models to engage more innovative sources of funding and longer-term investment. Donors want a return, they want to show shareholders that valuable dollars go towards true impact, not just into another nonprofit-led, 3-year project. Gone are the days of bilateral philanthropic money handovers by corporate philanthropists to special causes or charities. Employee engagement is the new volunteerism, and you better believe that this engagement program deliver on business aims at the same time. Impact, purpose, mission, cause. The words are all jumbling together but the aim is the same. Organizations want to make a difference and they want to see their money spent wisely.
What does this mean for nonprofits? It means funds are harder to come by. It means being more direct with messaging and prospecting. It means figuring out how partnerships with companies, governments and foundations can be game-changing and not just about a tax write-off.
We have seen an insurgence of social enterprises popping up in developing communities, identifying ways to create lasting change and market-led programming. My company is getting inundated with requests from small social entrepreneurs in every corner of the world, wondering how to tap into the evolving funding pools from USAID, MCC, OPIC, corporates or foundations that are keen to turn a dollar into two. Economics are driving a sea change whereby "market-led" is a priority. Traditional .orgs that simply provide handouts must evolve.
Harsh? Maybe. But it's true.
To my .org friends out there, don't lose sight of what your work is doing to change the world. Figure out how to shift gears and focus on the long-term gains. Make sure your messaging is resonant with the changing winds of donors and keep in mind that these donors also want to be investors.
They want to see a changing world... One where they make money too.
No. This is not a political statement. Instead, it is a story about a billionaire who has established a corporate vision for our generation that could single handedly save us from ourselves. I am not speaking about Michael Bloomberg, although some may argue that this description fits him too.
Laurence Douglas Fink was born in 1952 in California, a son of an English professor and shoe store proprietor. A successful business student and eventual MBA, Fink started in the bond business in the 1970s when bond business was just starting to hit its stride. Laurence (or Larry for short) weaved in and out of the financial markets until the late 1980s when he founded BlackRock, an asset management firm that has since grown to be the world’s biggest, with $6.5 TRILLION under its auspices. One may think that Larry Fink, the billionaire who he is, and with the success he’s achieved, would be pleased amassing wealth and prestige, not thinking about much else. Perhaps in the older days of his asset management career that was the case. Nowadays Larry is most known for setting the high bar for corporate executives to lead with purpose and intent, and to make the world a better place.
Every year Larry sends out a letter to the companies in which BlackRock invests as part of the company’s Corporate Governance program. In 2017, Fink recalibrated on his 2016 letter where he suggested companies needed to start thinking longer term for greater value to shareholders, by suggesting that going forward, BlackRock will make determinants on investments based on the key ingredients that support long-term value, which include environmental, social and governance functions. Sustainability was mentioned several times in the 2017 letter as a key determinant of how companies are looking at growth. That growth isn’t just about shareholder returns and short-term gains, but about how a company can invest in global improvements.
By 2018, Fink’s letter took on a more urgent tone, requesting that recipients of investment dollars think strongly about the way the public is depending on companies to make a positive contribution to society given the pressing issues of our time. Fink says “without a sense of purpose, no company, either public or private, can achieve its full potential. It will ultimately lose license to operate from key stakeholders.” Fink’s letter goes on to question the role companies indeed play in society, and whether companies want to be known for being stewards of the environment and communities in which they operate.
When we live in a time when politics, business, philanthropy and technology seem to swarm with billionaires, and when society begins to doubt the audacity of said billionaires to give back in a way that is impactful and can effect change, it’s hard to give credence to these moves by Fink to inspire companies to do the right thing. That said, the waves Fink made by writing his imploring letters, and subsequently the changes we’ve seen in big companies wanting to play a bigger hand in the space of sustainability, are monumental. Whether you take these actions at face value, or like some, see them as a pure money making ploy, that’s your choice. My perspective is that leading companies are figuring out how to represent their business interest in a way that has positive humanistic and societal implications. Stakeholders and shareholders are responding well, and that will only continue as investors, partners, governments and ultimately consumers support those companies doing the right thing, without question and without hesitation.