Nonprofit Partnerships: Why They’re Important and How to Find Them

Tina Jepson
Tina Jepson

Between your donors, volunteers, board members, fellow staff members, and clients, you’re in a constant state of relationship-building. And it’s a wonderful thing! You get to forge these awesome, deep connections in order to make a significant change in your community that REALLY matters.

But with all the socializing, mixing and mingling, and transactions with your biggest stakeholders, it’s easy to overlook a very valuable asset: your community partners.

I’ve worked with a number of nonprofit organizations, and every single one of them relied on partnerships within the community to fuel their mission. Unfortunately, these relationships weren’t always a priority for my nonprofits. After all, when there are donors to reach and board members to train, and we’re all stretched pretty thin to begin with, strategic partnerships get pushed aside.

However, I can’t emphasize enough how important your community partners are for the overall health of your organization. Who are your key community partners? How do you foster these relationships? Why do they matter?

Let’s dive into the heart of community partnerships and how your nonprofit can use them to benefit your community.

a black and white photo of people shaking hands

What is a Nonprofit Partnership?

A nonprofit partnership is a relationship between two or more organizations in which each agrees to contribute resources to achieve a shared goal. Partnerships are formed to pool resources and expertise, reduce duplication of services, and expand the reach of programs.

The key elements of a successful partnership are trust, communication, shared goals, and mutual respect. Nonprofit partnerships can take many forms, from informal alliances between organizations with similar missions to more formal arrangements such as joint ventures and mergers.

The benefits of nonprofit partnerships include:

  • Increased efficiency: by pooling resources, organizations can reduce duplication of services and achieve economies of scale.
  • Expanded reach: by partnering with other organizations, nonprofits can extend their reach and impact.
  • Shared knowledge and expertise: partnerships provide an opportunity for organizations to share best practices and learn from each other.
  • Greater impact: by working together, nonprofits can have a greater impact than they would by working alone.
  • Enhanced credibility: partnering with other reputable organizations can increase the credibility of a nonprofit.

Nonprofit partnerships can also be a way to build capacity, share risk, and access new markets.

Types of Community Partnerships

Your relationships with community entities aren’t always one-size-fits-all. There are different types of partnerships with various anticipated outcomes. These are the four main categories of community partnerships you’re likely to experience.

  • For-Profit Partners: Small and large businesses, corporations

    community partnerships
    Media company, Thomson Reuters, participates in this World Bicycle Relief online fundraiser]
  • Nonprofit Partners: Nonprofits, charities, and religious establishments. For example, World Help partners with local churches to activate their communities in both development and relief work efforts.
  • Government-Led Bodies and Community Support Organizations: Local and state officials, schools, police, libraries, healthcare and service providers.

    community partners
    The Motherhood Collective often partners with health service partners for programming and also campaign sponsorships
  • Coalitions/Organizations: Associations that band together for a purpose, such as affinity groups, economic development coalitions, and event organizers

Why These Partnerships Matter + A Success Story

You probably partner with others in your community because you see a problem that needs all hands on deck. When everyone gets involved, there’s more buy-in and accountability to meet your goals and make real, long-lasting change.

Partnerships matter because they work. Here are some of the key benefits of establishing community partnerships:

  • You Engage Bright Minds: By bringing together key movers and shakers from across the community, these leaders, thinkers, and doers can analyze, research, plan, and implement using their knowledge and experience. When you have the opportunity to bring the best to the table, do it!
  • You Pool Resources: Nonprofits are strapped thin and achieve a lot with very little. Partnerships pool these resources and leverage them to go further. Whether it’s a grant, access to top-tier fundraising programs, or superb marketing materials, when everyone brings their best, the partnership starts out on the right foot.
  • You Build Credibility: Especially if you’re a small-to-medium nonprofit or are lesser known, the right partnerships can help validate your efforts and improve your credibility.
  • You Increase Your Value: The more work you do in the community, the more essential you become. Partnerships help secure this value.

To illustrate the importance of partnerships, take a look at the work of The United Way of Asheville and Buncombe County (UWABC), a North Carolina-based nonprofit I’ve worked with extensively and respect deeply. Based on research and local trends, it was brought to UWABC’s attention that there was a correlation between academic success in middle school and high school graduation rates throughout Western NC.

After digging deeper into the problem and facilitating focus groups of teachers, administrators, after-school program leaders, religious organizations, etc. UWABC recognized that the problem was striking in their community, and thus, they developed solutions to fix partners

The result is Middle School Success, a program that involves partnerships with for-profit businesses, nonprofits, local government, and multiple community organizations. This program is a model that attest to the power of community partnerships.

Forming Partnerships to Promote Change: 6 Action Steps

I know you’re eager to start forming partnerships right away, but there’s a process to follow that ensures the bonds you’re making are worth your efforts and beneficial to your community.

Follow these 6 action steps as you form community relationships to guarantee maximum effectiveness.

1. Identify Community Needs

Imagine you went all-in on an initiative to provide clean water to area residents, only to realize that the city water was perfectly safe to drink. That’s a lot of wasted time and resources, right?

As you form partnerships, it’s important to first consider the needs of your community and identify how those needs fit within the scope of your mission. Do you have high poverty rates? Are graduation rates low? Are stray dogs and cats prevalent?

Once you determine the problem you want to address, perform an assessment to determine just how big the problem is. Conduct forums and distribute surveys– talk to the people most in need of a solution. That will give you a clear idea of what you must do moving forward.

2. Pinpoint Potential Partners

After understanding the problem, create a list of potential partners who have a stake in the game. Whenever possible, include prospects from all four partnership categories: nonprofits, for-profits, government, and coalitions.

3. Outline A Simple Action Plan & Desired Outcomes

Before you go into an official meeting, define the problem you want to address, including findings from your initial research.

Briefly outline the following to present to potential partners:

  • The problem
  • The solution or solutions (if applicable)
  • Relevant research
  • Examples of other communities and how they addressed the problem
  • A possible role or set of guidelines for each partner
  • Estimated resources needed

You by no means need all the answers before you show up on Day One. Instead, use this planning time to get a grasp on the problem and prepare some ideas and talking points to discuss with your potential partners.

4. Meet & Form A Partnership

You can choose to meet one-on-one with potential partners, or schedule a single meeting for every prospective player to attend. At the meeting, outline the problem you want to address and how you think each organization/entity can help with the solution. Allow time for discussion and provide partners some time to consider the role they can have in the process.

Don’t forget to schedule a follow-up meeting in the coming weeks. If possible, ask each potential partner to name a point-person for communications.

5. Implement Strategy

As you begin to craft a strategy and implement it, remember to occasionally take a step back and evaluate your processes. Continue to get suggestions from your community and your partners.

If your plan includes fundraising campaigns, advocacy initiatives, and volunteer support, use a formal system to help track your progress and calculate your true return on investment. For example, Junior Achievement of Greater Washington mobilized community partners in a Bowl-a-Thon event. They used CauseVox to power the campaign, organize fundraising teams, and monitor the results of the partners

6. Evaluate and Adjust

After a set amount of time, team up with your partners to evaluate your process. Ask the following:

About the Strategy

  • Are we providing the service and/or solution we intended?
  • What is the impact to-date?
  • Are we collecting data efficiently?
  • What areas can we improve in?
  • What are we excelling at?
  • What is the response from our clients/those impacted by our work?
  • Have there been any changes to the way other communities are handling the problem? If so, can/should we evaluate our processes and implement any of these changes?

About the Partnership

  • What is each partner’s role?
  • Does each party feel as though they have a voice in the process?
  • Are partners fulfilling their intended purpose?
  • Have we surveyed partners about their experience?

Then, use your findings to deepen your relationships and continue using your community partnerships strategically.

Community partners are essential if you’re looking to make widespread change where you live, work, and play. Spend time developing the relationships through collaboration and shared goals, and remember to evaluate the partnership from time to time to ensure it’s the right fit for everyone involved.

Who are your community partners and how are you collaborating for the greater good? We’d love to learn about your strategies for fostering partnerships and using them to advance your mission!

To learn more about creating strategic partnerships, check out our eBook: Cultivating Relationships With Your Community.

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