Nonprofit board members tend to have big dreams. What a wonderful place it would be if there were enough resources to support every one of them. The fact is most nonprofits can only achieve so much on their own.
When your nonprofit’s goals and plans are bigger than the budget, strategic partnerships bolster your efforts and allow your nonprofit to have a more significant impact.
Strategic partnerships also benefit a nonprofit’s partners. Partnerships create a mechanism that enables partners to reach their philanthropic goals.
We’ll explain strategic partnerships, outline the benefits of partnerships, and describe how to form and leverage nonprofit strategic partnerships.
What Is a Strategic Partnership?
A strategic partnership is any kind of collaboration that a nonprofit enters into with another party. Strategic partnerships are sometimes also called strategic alliances. Nonprofit partnerships can take the form of associations, joint programming, shared services, or mergers.
The purpose of strategic partnerships is to leverage the strengths of both parties to achieve a common goal.
How Nonprofits Benefit from Strategic Partnerships
Nonprofit boards can utilize strategic partnerships to scale, strengthen their programs, streamline operations, and increase their influence.
Without the benefit of strategic partnerships, many nonprofits find it challenging and painstakingly slow to scale their operations. Strategic partnerships make it easier and less costly to address complex problems where multiple stakeholders are working together.
Strategic partnerships enable nonprofits to strengthen and expand their programs and services beyond what they can do alone. Also, partnerships position nonprofits to improve the quality of their services and perform better overall.
Overhead and operational expenses can significantly cut into your nonprofit’s bottom line. Partnerships allow both parties to streamline back office and administrative duties to enhance efficiency for both partners.
Partnering with corporations and other organizations also opens up new networking opportunities. Partners can share their contacts and strategies that enable both parties to expand into new territories, provide new services, or expand the reach of beneficiaries. Shared networking also improves your nonprofit’s ability to build awareness of your mission.
An Example of a Strategic Partnership in Action
City Year, a nonprofit organization that’s dedicated to helping students and schools succeed, provides an excellent example of a strategic partnership in action. The nonprofit established a strategic partnership with Timberland, a New Hampshire-based footwear and apparel company.
Timberland chose to partner with City Year because they wanted to make a stronger connection with their female customers. Their goal was two-fold — to address women’s footwear needs and help address the relevant issues to their female customers.
Timberline accomplished that by sending 50 of their employees to Inwood House in New York City, a nonprofit that provides education and counseling services to prevent teen pregnancy. The team painted bathrooms, installed new smoke detectors, added garbage receptacles, stained fences, and spruce top outdoor furniture. It was a win-win situation for everyone involved, as well as the community at large.
How to Form Nonprofit Strategic Partnerships
The best place to start planning for strategic partnerships is with your annual strategic plan. You will likely find that there are a host of potential partners that are eager to join forces with your nonprofit.
Strategic partnerships can be complex or straightforward. What’s for certain is that all partnerships are unique. Regardless of the type of agreement your board wishes to make, the following seven steps will get your board on the way to forming strategic partnerships.
7 Steps for a Nonprofit Strategic Partnership:
Discuss your nonprofit’s needs and what you have to gain by collaboration.
Think about the benefits your organization could only realize by forming a partnership. Factor in the level of integration that your nonprofit needs and how long the partnership would need to last to achieve the desired impact.
Identify potential partners.
Utilize market mapping and landscape analysis to target the candidates with the best potential.
Map out implementation challenges.
Determine the impact of the potential partnership on your staff and leaders. Also, consider the impact on your administration, governance, and systems. Gather input from key staff to hear and address their concerns. ”
Approach partnership agreements with due diligence.
In your discussions and negotiations, discuss all the major and minor details. Be sure both partners agree with all decisions and feel comfortable with them.
Be adaptable during the initial implementation.
Problems may crop up until all processes are formalized. Communicate and adapt as necessary until processes are flowing smoothly.
Put agreements in writing.
Establish a written agreement in a memo of understanding or written legal agreement that outlines all the expectations and responsibilities of each party.
Arrange for a legal review.
Agreements are usually legally reinforcing, so it’s wise to have an attorney review your partnership agreement to ensure clarity and that it protects your legal interests. This is a crucial step because if the partnership results in an issue such as financial loss or property damage, the agreement will determine which partner is responsible or if both partners share in the liability.
As a note of caution, nonprofits that engage in collaborations or partnerships with for-profit entities should evaluate the risk of legal prohibitions of private benefit. If the IRS perceived the partnership as a private benefit transaction, it could disrupt your nonprofit’s tax-exempt status.
Nonprofit Strategic Partnerships Take Various Forms
Nonprofit strategic partnerships can take various forms, including the following:
- Integrated associations
- Joint programming
- Shared services
- Legal mergers
As our world changes, the needs across the globe continue to increase. For that reason, strategic partnerships are becoming an increasingly crucial organizational strategy for nonprofits.
There is massive potential for inter-organizational collaborations. For instance, strategic partnerships enable gains for both partners and possibly multiple partners. Collaborations aren’t limited to corporations and nonprofits. Governmental entities are also often willing to partner with nonprofits to perpetuate more significant social progress.
Overall, nonprofit strategic partnerships allow it to tap into innovative efforts to produce new solutions to complex problems.
Your BoardEffect board management system is the perfect platform for managing such complex collaborations and ensuring that you document your efforts every step of the way.