Transforming Private/Non-profit Partnerships: The Road to Sustainability
By Sabrina El-Chibini
Partnering between independent entities to generate innovative solutions to societal challenges can be daunting to say the least. This definition of partnership, compatible with a transformative community involvement (TCI) approach (1), is vastly different from partnering on a transactional basis. It does, however, represent the highest expression of multi-sectoral collaboration with an ultimate measure of success being the generation of positive, measurable societal and business impact. It means doing business from the outside-in, contrary to convention. Figure 1 below presents an actual (blinded) example of how one private/non-profit transformative partnership is evolving to fill an unmet societal and business need.
Figure 1. Stages of a Transformative Partnership
These kinds of partnerships need not necessarily happen on a massive scale from the outset, in a way that is cost-prohibitive for both business and non-profit organizations. If decision-makers of both the business and the non-profit have a transformative mindset, small, pragmatic, proof of concept solutions will be borne that eventually spur larger-scale transformative partnerships.
A smaller-scale example is the case of a company that partnered with a non-profit to address a need common to its office and its community. A team of employees volunteered to devise a solution in collaboration with the non-profit partner. The employees then volunteered to maintain the program in the office and to contribute to the community project. Provisions are made to measure both the business and the community impact relating specifically to the team’s input. Evidence collected demonstrates that the partners generated an innovative (small-scale) solution to a societal challenge that neither party could have addressed alone. The program is replicated with additional partners or with the same partner in different geographies, spurring more transformative partnerships and larger-scale impact.
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Transformative partnerships that solve real problems lead to exceptional story-telling that engages employees, consumers, and even investors. Furthermore, companies that welcome employee involvement in building transformative partnerships and acting as company and community ambassadors generate even greater benefit overall. Leadership skills are developed through expertise transfer and teams unite to solve problems of common concern, all of which lead to personal and professional development. Employees become involved in non-traditional ways that extend beyond donating to playing an active role in helping a company reach its social responsibility goals – and employees want this (2). Addressing social issues in this real way attracts the attention of the rising Aspirational consumer (3) who is defined by a desire for responsible consumption(3). Investors also increasingly care more about social responsibility than many executives believe as evidence mounts that sustainability-related activities (environmental, social, and governance) are material to the financial success of a company over time (4). Furthermore, all groups are astute in filtering through communications that are immaterial to real and meaningful progress so it is crucial to embark purposefully.
Transformative partnerships typically result in both anticipated and unanticipated benefits and long-term collective success that feeds the cycle (Figure 2).
Figure 2. The Transformative Partnership Cycle
What Non-Profits Can Expect
Non-profits are operating in an austere environment with funders increasingly demanding impact for their investments. Traditional fundraising is difficult and the market is event-saturated. With the exception of a select few organizations, event planning is inefficient and consumes disproportionate resources. Even umbrella organizations that historically cornered the corporate campaign market are experiencing downward trends in revenues. In the field, we see companies increasingly seizing the opportunity to administer their own programs as the topic of social responsibility takes the limelight. Engaging in transformative partnerships represents a tremendous opportunity for non-profits who have built a competitive edge. Even a small organization, but one that has been strategic, can excel in this approach. Much like companies should proactively seek aligned partners, so too should non-profits. Mapping existing relationships with a potential to grow or identifying new opportunities relative to the non-profit’s value proposition is a key initial step to embarking on this path.
If well-executed, transformative partnerships will lead to steadily increasing revenues while revenues from traditional fundraising decrease and finally stabilize (Figure 3). In our experience, two key elements account for a non-profit’s success in this journey: 1. Unanimous Board buy-in and 2. Continuing traditional fundraising activities as the longer-term transformative partnerships are secured. The cycle for reaching a transformative partnership agreement is longer than transactional fundraising, so if this approach is new for a non-profit organization, a pipeline of transformative partnership prospects must be built while shorter-term fundraising continues simultaneously to sustain operations. The pipeline also hedges against lengthy and resource-consuming negotiations that may not convert to an agreement. However, once success is achieved, the non-profit heads towards sustainability.
Figure 3. Relationship between revenues from transformative partnerships
versus traditional fundraising over time
Non-profits embarking on this path should carefully assess risks and opportunities, identify gaps and develop plans to address these. Figure 4 presents risks, namely expertise gaps, versus the opportunity to be sustainable. If a non-profit is not in a position to acquire resources to fill those gaps, creative solutions should be considered. For example, the non-profit can identify an implementation partner, from any sector, that can fill the gap on a risk share basis. If the right partner is engaged, a compelling combined skill set and value proposition can be proposed to the potential corporate partner.
Figure 4. Non-profit risks and opportunities
Hurdles and Strategies to Overcome These
The word collaboration is widely and loosely used by all actors today, including business and government, as being essential for future growth and sustainability. We intuitively know, as a society, that independent entities will need to leverage complementary skill sets to spur the most innovation in a way that can’t be achieved by any entity acting alone. In practice, however, attempts at true collaboration, the foundation for success in transformative partnerships, can fall short for a number of reasons. Table 1 presents hurdles to transformative partnership building and strategies for overcoming these.
While the path to transformative partnerships is not the easiest nor the shortest, organizations that step outside of their comfort zones to grow business from the outside-in will lead us towards an innovative, sustainable future for all.
The Collaboration Vector Inc. (TCV) is a next generation consultancy firm specialized in transformative community involvement strategies, transformative employee involvement programs, proactive stakeholder mapping and engagement, transformative partnership designs, partnership facilitation, and impact measurement, reporting and communications. TCV has a team of strategists, business professionals, and researchers in health and wellness, economic growth, education, poverty reduction, entrepreneurship, leadership and climate action. The company works with clients in the private, non-profit, and public sectors.
For more information, contact firstname.lastname@example.org
©The Collaboration Vector Inc. 2016. All Rights Reserved.
El-Chibini, S. Transformative Community Involvement: What it Means, What it Takes, What it Gives; March 2016;
2016 Cone Communications Employee Engagement Study
June 2016 - Global study by BBMG and GlobeScan
Findings from the 2016 Sustainability Global Executive Study and Research Project, MIT Sloan Management Review and The Boston Consulting Group