In the nonprofit world, enduring impact relies on true, cross-sector partnerships. Imagine the possibilities of achieving the UN Sustainable Development Goals with needed transformative partnerships that mobilize resources, build capacity, and transfer vital technology to where it’s needed most. Imagine creating space for the voices of community program participants who depend on what are often life-saving programs. Partnerships like these allow community organizations and nonprofits to wholeheartedly pursue their mission, whether ending hunger, expanding WASH programs, or integrating Traditional Ecological Stewardship into forest restoration for future generations.
Relying solely on sporadic or year-end giving won’t propel us forward, and transactional gifts won’t push us closer to achieving the future our CSR programs aspire to. Even amid obstacles like limited budgets, small teams, and time constraints, fostering authentic relationships with your nonprofit partners can drive meaningful change through small, actionable steps you can take today.
The Pitfalls of Transactional Approaches During Giving Campaigns
When we think about transactional giving during our campaign-focused giving initiatives, we can think of a one-way street: funds are collected (maybe matched for giving or volunteer hours!) and distributed to eligible or participating nonprofits. In some cases, giving is restricted to a specific organization, cause, or program aligned with your company’s pillars; other times, we match gifts that echo employee passions.
Don’t get me wrong, as an individual, recurring unrestricted giving is one of the best things you can do to support the causes you care about (bonus points if you cover the processing fees!). But when we look at giving on the corporate scale, transactional giving, even though it’s straightforward, comes with inherent risks that can hinder nonprofit progress. These gifts of $5,000 or even $10,000 once a year are helpful, but they are not transformative in nature and often perpetuate the status quo. They won’t allow an organization to scale, especially if there are strings attached to that gift. That future I know we all see? That stays an arm’s length from progress due to:
- Short-Term Focus: In many cases, transactional relationships tend to emphasize immediate, tangible needs, sometimes neglecting opportunities to develop long-term, sustainable goals. This is especially true when it comes to Giving Season – we advocate for employee giving, we match the gift, we distribute the gifts across multiple nonprofits, and we move on. This perspective can lead to missed opportunities for deeper collaboration and enduring impact at scale. Hunger doesn’t stop in July, and our forests are still burning in October.
- Trust Challenges: Building trust within a transactional framework can be challenging. Without a strong foundation of trust, misunderstandings and missed opportunities may hinder the partnership and maintain the unequal power dynamics between the funder and the funded.
- Misunderstood Scale of Need: While a $5,000 donation can generate an impact, it’s vital to recognize the breadth of needs nonprofits address, often requiring much more funding, including volunteer support. Persistent barriers like resource mobilization, capacity-building, and technology transfer demand sustained support.
- Overlooking Nuances: A purely transactional approach can inadvertently disregard the nuanced needs, experiences, and insights that your community partners can offer. Nonprofits and community organizations are your experts – listen to them. This oversight can result in interventions that fail to address the core issues faced by our communities.
You may be thinking, great, this all sounds ideal, but we are not there as a company, sector, or society. But when we think about building partnerships, it’s about building trust, and, according to Brené Brown in her podcast, Dare to Lead, trust is built in the micro-moments, the seemingly insignificant moments of interaction. We can implement small changes in our behaviors that add up to a tidal wave of change in how we operate effective cross-sector partnerships by leading with trust.
Building Relationships Beyond Giving Seasons
Cultivating strong and enduring relationships should extend beyond sporadic efforts during peak giving seasons or fundraising campaigns. It’s an ongoing, intentional exercise. Even with a limited budget or team, you can consider the following strategies:
- Lead With Commitment: demonstrate your company’s commitment to causes aligned with your focus areas throughout the year. Share stories of impact, provide a platform for the stories of your partners, and lead giving initiatives by proactively and strategically making gifts to partners with a call for employees to join a movement (Bonus points if you revisit your giving strategy for inequities in your definition of nonprofit readiness and its role in eligibility).
- Regular Communication: Schedule periodic meetings with community partners to discuss ongoing projects, challenges, and potential collaborations. Be sure to underscore your company’s vision for lasting relationships to set expectations early and often. This practice maintains open lines of communication and nurtures mutual understanding and trust.
- Feedback Loops: Create systems for collecting and acting on regular feedback from community partners. This practice assists in fine-tuning interventions and communicates to partners that they play a significant role in shaping decisions, further working to rectify power imbalances that persist between the corporate and nonprofit sectors. Ensure their active participation, nurturing an environment that instills a sense of ownership, mutual respect, and a shared vision for the future.
- Join volunteering and giving efforts throughout the year: Engaging in year-round volunteer and giving initiatives involves aligning your volunteer efforts with ongoing financial support while navigating constraints like a limited budget or a small CSR team. As trust deepens and strong partnerships develop with nonprofit organizations, initiate dialogues to address these challenges head-on. Ask the pivotal question: ‘How can we demonstrate an unwavering commitment to your cause, even within our budgetary limitations throughout the year?’ By proactively seeking creative solutions together, you can extend support in various ways, whether through volunteer hours, in-kind contributions, or other means, showcasing your dedication to making a lasting impact on the causes that matter most.
- Recognize and Amplify: Publicly acknowledge and celebrate your partners’ contributions (mirroring the importance of recognizing your volunteers!). This recognition not only bolsters their morale but also reinforces the foundation of the partnership. Amplify their mission (and lean on your volunteer network to amplify the work that nonprofits and your social impact team are doing!).
BOARD SERVICE PROGRAM STRUCTURES FRAMEWORK
Companies can combine the benefits of employee volunteering and giving programs through supportive nonprofit board service programs. However, board service structures are not one-size-fits-all, and social impact teams must determine which model is best suited for the company’s culture and maturity. Do it yourself with our free framework!
At the core of nonprofit work lies a profound understanding of the community being served. While transactions have their place, they offer only a superficial glimpse into the complex tapestry of community needs, dreams, and challenges. Building and sustaining meaningful partnerships is about trust, which is built in the small, seemingly insignificant moments of interaction. Trust develops partnerships, and partnerships lead to true impact.