Today’s social and environmental challenges require cross-sector collaboration to drive effective and meaningful change. Corporate-nonprofit partnerships through initiatives such as Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) offer a tremendous opportunity to leverage each partner’s unique strengths and work toward a collective goal. Prior to engaging in a partnership, it’s critical that nonprofit organizations along with their corporate partners consider their shared purpose.
What is Shared Purpose?
Shared purpose is a collaborative approach to corporate-nonprofit partnerships that honors the core competencies of both the nonprofit and the business. This approach aligns both parties’ interests toward one common goal. With shared purpose at the heart of the initiative, the two entities are active program participants, driving unique transformation.
On the contrary, partnerships that do not consider shared purpose become transactional. Both parties do not contribute equally to the program, and it may result in the nonprofit doing CSR for their corporate partners. In the short-term, this ‘check-the-box’ approach to corporate philanthropy may generate funds or offer a temporary boost to employee engagement. However, it does not generate long-term value.
What are the benefits of Shared Purpose?
With partnerships baked in shared purpose, both parties consider their collective interests and motivations for engaging in the partnership at the outset of the engagement. As a nonprofit organization, you won’t feel obligated to accept a proposal or funding that may not quite fit your values or qualifications. This ensures that both your organization and your intended corporate partners’ needs are met.
As these partnerships require time, attention, and resources from both parties, shared purpose ensures that the effort will be mutually beneficial. This intention from the beginning of the engagement will set the stage for a long-term partnership versus a one-off campaign.
Ultimately, a corporate nonprofit partnership formed with shared purpose will build trust. With trust leading the effort, all those the partnership seeks to serve will benefit.
How do you incorporate shared purpose within your corporate partnerships?
1. Define your individual goals and interests.
Prior to developing your partnership’s action plan, it’s important that both your organization and your corporate partner consider your unique motivations for the partnership.
Some questions for nonprofits to consider:
- Why do you want to engage with this corporate partner (beyond funding or sponsorship dollars)? For example - can the business offer recommendations to streamline your operations?
- What do you hope to gain from this partnership? Will this contribute toward mission fulfillment?
Some questions for corporate groups to consider:
- What is my core business, and how does that align with my intended nonprofit partner’s mission?
- What is my goal for participating in CSR? Is it to build brand awareness, boost employee engagement, or incorporate sustainability more fully within my business practices?
2. Develop a common vision for your partnership.
With your individual goals identified, together you can develop a vision for your partnership. Think big, incorporate your cause, and inspire your stakeholders.
To effectively set your vision, you should develop a vision statement. This vision statement should guide your decision-making and reflect your shared purpose.
Let’s look at an example. National 4-H Council addresses the digital divide through their Tech Changemaker Program. This program empowers “teens to lead digital skills training and educate lawmakers on the importance of broadband access.”
4-H partners with several corporate groups to deliver this program including Microsoft. This initiative aligns perfectly with Microsoft’s core business as a technology corporation. Here is a vision statement that guides 4’H’s partnership with Microsoft:
“National 4-H Council and Microsoft are working together to close the connectivity gap in rural areas by empowering teens to bring technology and digital skills access to their communities.”
This statement ties both organizations together, identifies the common cause, and lists the means to contribute to this cause.
3. Determine your common goals and measures of success.
How will you know if your partnership is a success? Not only is it important for each partner to track individual goals (dollars donated or an increase in employee engagement) but both parties must also consider their collective goals.
Let’s reevaluate the example of National 4-H Council and Microsoft. Some of their measures of success may be:
- What percentage of teens who participated in the program enhanced their digital skills?
- How many students noted an increase in civic engagement after participating in the program?
- What percentage of program participants developed a deeper understanding of digital literacy and security?
Shared purpose offers a framework that allows both nonprofit and corporate partners to work collectively toward a common goal. With a partnership based in trust and common interest, authentic transformation will take place.