I like to believe in good intentions but they often lead to unintended consequences. A good intention with a bad approach can lead to a poor result. There was a little boy at our primary school who was a tearaway. He disrupted the class, often fought with other kids and took out his frustrations on the furniture. In an attempt to calm him down his mother would pick him up at the end of the day with treats to placate him. I’m sure she was trying to divert him from destructive behaviour. All he learned was that kicking his classmates and saying sh*t to the teacher earned him toys and doughnuts.
When we set out to build a partnerships program, we have the best of intentions to get great results for the cause and the corporate partner. However, despite the most determined effort of the partnerships team it sometimes gets derailed. It’s often the leaders that are unintentionally sabotaging partnership success.
Your non-profit may have a yawning income gap, but it matters nothing to the corporate partner. NFP leaders can put pressure on teams to fill the income gaps by the end of their financial year. But timing is totally beyond your control. Corporates work to different financial years and your EOFY priority is a mid-year irrelevance to them. Corporates increasingly are planning their community commitments 2-3 years ahead. They are using the same approach as for other major projects; they are ensuring that budget is committed and quarantined, but it might not be the timing you need.
Leaders need to plan for income beyond the immediate months and look towards the next financial year and beyond. Don’t harangue your partnership manager about finding a million dollars by June. If you want quick money, hit up your major donors. If you want transformational value, nurture your corporate partners.
Leaders often have fundraising experience but little exposure to corporate partners. That leads to the assumption that partnerships are all about cash. Yes, there can be big income potential from partnerships but there is plenty of other value too. A recent survey in the UK showed the difference between non-profits and corporates in desired outcomes. Non-profits generally wanted fundraising, greater impact, access to skills and greater reach. But corporates wanted brand profile, help to deliver on ESG goals, employee and customer engagement, talent attraction and competitive differentiation. Leaders who focus on the needs of your own non-profit can become blind to the key priorities of the corporate partners. It becomes a one-sided conversation and frustrates the relationship building process. Developing perspective and a deep understanding of your partner’s needs and outcomes will remove potential friction points and open up new opportunities.
Leaders sometimes have the misguided view that simply hiring someone to take care of partnerships is job done, income already banked. Whilst partnership people are some of the most talented, versatile and creative humans on the planet, they aren’t miracle workers. If the organisation isn’t ready for partnerships and the core foundations aren’t in place, they’re simply putting lipstick on a pig. Leaders need to be clear on the organisational vision and priorities and understand where a corporate partner can fit into the strategic goals. Leaders also need to be active participants in the process by helping nurture senior level relationships. They don’t have to become partnership managers, but they do need to mobilise the organisation to support them. Do you have a partnership manager you think is failing? Take a hard look at the reasons why. Do they have clarity on what your organisation needs? Are you supporting them with the right resources and KPIs or are you burying them in admin for the existing portfolio? If you want them to develop new prospects, how can they be strategic if they’re having to beg for internal resources?
If you are a non-profit leader, you’re probably committed to the cause and ambitious for results. Before you lean on your partnership manager, think about your role in their success. Good intentions married with a poor approach are a recipe for disappointment.