Book & Guide

How Nonprofits Should Work With Partners & Brands

There’s power in partnerships.

When you work together, you can create something bigger and more successful than if you just worked alone.

Let’s find out the two major types of partnerships that you should be leveraging.

Two types of partners

Resource partners

Resource partners are those who can provide the resources necessary for your fundraising campaign. Typically resource partners are companies, foundations, and major donors.

Common examples of resource partners can include…

Promotion partners

Promotion partners are those who can help you raise awareness. This helps you reach new networks of potential supporters and donors.  Typically promotion partners are companies and brands.

Common examples of promotion partners can include…

  • Point of sale donation
  • Website advertising
  • Google Adwords for nonprofits

You can leverage both types of partners for online fundraising and crowdfunding.

How to work with a brand or partner

Identify an event

There has to be a defined purpose for working with the partner and brand — whether it be a corporate sponsorship or promotional event. Your purpose could be shared values, a social need, or a global humanitarian need. These events create urgency which gets everyone on board towards a common goal. This can help you cut through the red tape when working with larger brands.

Share a target audience

For promotional partnerships, having a similar or the same audience is very important. Think about your current support base. Figure out your demographics and find brands that share similar demographics in their target audience.

For example, if your nonprofit attracts a lot of professionals, then you might want to partner with a brand that sells to professionals.

This creates a win-win partnership in which the brand can directly see the business case that you bring to the table. As a result, you’ll be able to create a more productive partnership.

Create business value

Speaking on business case, you ultimately have to bring business value to the partnership. At the end of the day, most large companies and brands are publically traded and responsible to shareholders. They need to see an increase in goodwill, awareness, and financials from the partnership.

Write an agreement

Put things in writing. Not only does this help each party define expectations and get on the same page, but it also helps the higher-ups at brands to take ownership of the partnership. They’re not going to sign off on something that they don’t fully understand or support.

5 tips in working with corporate brands

Typically, you look at companies as donors, but there is a huge potential for cross-sector partnerships.

Kate Olsen, the Director of Partnerships at Network for Good, says you should look at the relationship holistically. Ask yourself, how can nonprofits and brands marry complementary assets and values to create greater mutual impact?

Nonprofits can learn a lot about online consumer engagement and marketing from brands, not to mention leverage a corporate brand platform to spread messages and recruit supporters through cause marketing and sponsorship.

The best nonprofit-brand partnerships help nonprofits recruit new supporters and access support (financial and otherwise) they would never have achieved through their own core donor cultivation activities.

Here are Kate’s five tips to help you develop partnerships with corporate brands.

1. Be true to your mission

Every opportunity for corporate funding and collaboration should be evaluated against your organization’s priorities and impact goals. If a potential partner requires you to compromise your mission or stray too far from your core capabilities and priorities, then that opportunity is not a good fit. Yes, it can be hard to turn down money, but not every dollar is created equal.

2. Know your value

Take an inventory of your organization’s assets. Your brand, staff expertise, network, community status and other assets (both tangible and intangible) have worth to the right corporate partner. Don’t come into the relationship with your hand out. Come to the table as a true partner.

3. Solve a problem

Anything your cause program can do to solve a problem your corporate partner faces in achieving its core business goals will strengthen your position and deepen the partnership. Is the brand trying to connect with new consumers who are passionate about social issues? Is the company expanding to a new market and need community connections? Demonstrate that you understand the brand’s business and how a cause program fits within the larger picture.

4. Measure everything

To truly evolve a partnership over the long-term, you have to know what’s working and how to make incremental improvements. Measuring impact is the key to proving the program value to the brand and adding to that value over time. Design the program to measure what matters to you and the brand. Success has to be defined across both business and social impact.

5. Tell the story

In addition to the hard data, capture the anecdotes and learnings that will bring life to the story of your partnership and program results. Brands are all about telling a compelling story, and now more than ever, inviting their consumers to co-create that story from shared values and experiences. Cause programs provide a unique platform to connect to consumer passions and share meaningful stories about making the world a better place. That is ideal for spreading your mission and powerful for a brand looking to differentiate itself in a crowded noisy marketplace.

  1. Ensure you find a brand that suitably matches your mission and culture as a social enterprise.
  2. Do not ask for funding. Instead, come to the table as equal partners and offer what you can do that the brand cannot. (For instance, if your constituent base is millennials and the brand’s is baby boomers, you have an advantage). Find your ace in the hole and offer that as why you are the valued partner.
  3. Plan, plan and plan (did I say plan).
  4. Develop the roadmap at the start and insure both parties agree to the steps and desired outcomes. Divide and conquer when it comes to outreach as both parties should be doing so to amplify results.
  5. Schedule milestones and regular check-ins.
  6. Report, measure and rework throughout the engagement. The beautiful advantage about the online social ecosystem that we live and work in today is that we can retrench and redo without huge costs and investments.

Next, let’s see brands and partners in action!

Case: Aligning core capabilities with Ryder


As a logistics and transportation company, Ryder is able to provide donated or discounted vehicle rentals and sales, skilled volunteering through its Six Sigma Disaster Logistics Training Program and additional employee volunteering and communications support to further the American Red Cross disaster relief work. This approach results in a strong collaboration across five areas of giving: financial, in-kind, training, volunteers, promotion.

Case: Leverage Employee Expertise with Deloitte Consulting


Deloitte is a global consultancy and advisory firm that helps their clients solve business issues through strategy and technology. Deloitte encourages its consultants to take on pro-bono assignments to benefit nonprofit partners working in strategic areas such as education and human services.

A commitment to pro bono service both strengthens nonprofit capacity and mission effectiveness and allows employees to enhance skills and infuse social purpose into their work life. Deloitte has pledged $110 million in pro-bono services to nonprofits so far.

Case: Prem Rawat Foundation

Prem Wat Foundation

Let’s see how a resource partnership played out for Becky Straw from The Adventure Project.

“We partnered with The Prem Rawat Foundation, a nonprofit focused on supporting food, water and peace around the world. We proposed to align and leverage our two networks to support our water program in India.

Prem Rawat benefitted from a great program, increased awareness about their work, and The Adventure Project agreed to blog on their site and send bi-annual reports. We benefitted from their awareness, and the ability to create urgency.

Instead of saying, “if you donate, it will be matched,” we said, “If we raise $25K in 24 hours, TPRF will match $25K.” By making it urgent and conditional (saying we’ll only get the $25K if you help) we were able to rally everyone behind the challenge.”

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