Be My Valentine! Winning Partnerships for the Greater Good

Partnerships among nonprofits, and between for-profits and nonprofits, will be among the best innovations that are driven by this tough economy.  The benefits include cost efficiencies, revenue opportunities for nonprofits, more sustainable nonprofit organizations, and better services for communities in addressing vital issues in conservation, education, healthcare, the arts, and economic development.


Partnerships need not be full scale organizational mergers.  There is a spectrum of possibilities.  Business people on nonprofit boards, entrepreneurial nonprofit executives, and foundation funders should explore the following opportunities for nonprofits they care about:


  1. Share back office operations, space, and equipment: Examples include Blue Ridge Foundation New York, an innovative incubator founded by hedge fund investor John Griffin; BRFNY provides back office space and operations to all its grantees.  The Atlas Performing Arts Center in DC, another great example, is home to a group of 13 diverse performing arts groups.
  2. Create partnerships between nonprofits and for-profits:  In NY, for every customer who switches to electronic billing, Con Edison is donating $1 to Trees New York’s tree planting fund. So Con Ed is providing an incentive for customers to collaborate with the company to reduce paper waste and lower greenhouse gas emissions by planting trees through a nonprofit partner.  Con Edison also partners regionally with Global Learning and Observations to Benefit the Environment (GLOBE), an organization whose international model is built on partnerships.
  3. Collaborate for greater impact through hub and spoke models: Food Bank for New York City provides free tax assistance through 12 community agencies in the 5 boroughs of New York involving volunteers from corporations and law schools, the City of NY, the IRS, and unions.
  4. Merge nonprofit organizations strategically: In many cases, larger organizations are absorbing smaller nonprofits in order to ensure that core programs are sustained; multi-year funding assurances from key donors are important to seal the deal.  For example, Northern Virginia Family Service assumed responsibility for services previously provided by the Center for Multicultural Human Services. Each year, NVFS helps more than 22,000 people find affordable housing, counseling and child care; access low-cost medical and dental services; utilize foster and respite care; participate in job training; benefit from trauma recovery; and more.
  5. Build program collaborations among a multitude of partners for the greatest reach into the community: Relight New York, a program of Children for Children, partners with schools, businesses, nonprofits, and Mayor Bloomberg’s office in a large volunteerism campaign to switch homes and offices over to CFL light bulbs to conserve massive amounts of energy. 
  6. Consolidate the regional chapters of national organizations: Many national organizations are investing in more business-like national infrastructures and fewer, but more vital regional chapters that are strategically located – a model that is designed for cost efficiencies, more rigorous measurement and quality oversight, and better outcomes.

Economic pressures are stressing the nonprofit sector in delivering much needed services, but the pressures will also drive savvy funders, nonprofit boards and executives to pursue innovations, partnerships, and efficiencies.


P.S. Here’s a holiday tip: you can give your Valentine eco-friendly flowers and benefit The Nature Conservancy!



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