I once asked an international development expert what she really wanted from a corporate partner. Her response wasn’t what I expected. Rather than ask for a large amount of money for more programs, she said this. ‘There’s a copper mine near one of our biggest programs in Chile. I’d love the company to shut it down so the local communities could have better water, less pollution and their own land to grow food again. We wouldn’t need to run programs there.’
Conny was playing what Simon Sinek would call ‘The Infinite Game’. She thought beyond the next arbitrary milestone and considered what would make the community thrive for generations. How many times have you heard organisations talk about ‘being the best’ or becoming number one’? Pepsi may have made it their mission once to ‘beat Coke’, and their share price is outperforming it, but they’re both fighting a backlash away from junk food and drink.
We see non-profits falling into the same trap with a finite mindset around partnerships. You need to think differently.
Focus on mission performance.
It’s the start of a new financial year, so most organisations are fixated on financial growth. I know there are plenty of NFPs struggling to pay staff and keep the lights on. But what’s going to transform your organisation is mission performance, not financial growth. Simply growing your organisational income isn’t going to solve the wicked societal issues we face. For example, if a corporate partner called today and offered you $1mln, $10mln or $50mln, would that do it? Bill Gates gave $1bln to eradicate polio and he’s still not finished yet.
Create impact from within
To achieve your NFP’s core mission, you need to think about how you can leverage the full strengths and assets of the corporate partner, not just their financial base. The Marriage Equality campaign gained traction in Australia once corporates lent their voices and their PR to amplify the Yes vote. Want to address gender equity and respect for women? Think about working with corporates to get them to close the gender pay gap (currently 13.8% and holding firm), encourage greater female participation and enforce respect in the workplace. Just like Conny’s copper mine in Chile, the biggest impact you could achieve for the world may not be achieved by growing your own balance sheet.
Think about mission not brand
It’s a frequent bug bear of philanthropists and corporate leaders that there are too many non-profits. ‘Why can’t you just work together?’ they complain. It’s easy for charities to get caught up in promoting their own brand and identity and in the business of being a business. But what’s going to make you stand out for corporate partners is mission clarity. Don’t fall into the Pepsi trap of ‘being number one’. Being number one is useless if you haven’t solved the big societal issue yet. Think about the outcomes you want to achieve and why you exist in the first place. Acknowledge that you can’t do it by yourself, and you don’t have the monopoly on good ideas. Then you’re opening up the opportunity for a corporate to collaborate and create with you. That’s a much stronger basis for a partnership and more likely to get traction on those big societal problems.
If you define success as mission performance and impact rather than financial growth, you’ll escape the finite mindset that dooms non-profits to pitching for program support. See what you can achieve by getting inside the DNA of a corporate partner and brace for impact.