Where Do I Start With Corporate Partnerships?

May 22, 2019

Corporate partnerships have become a subject of increasing interest to both nonprofits and corporations alike, with many economic and business arguments being made for why a business should incorporate social elements into their business strategy.

Nowadays, most large nonprofits have their own corporate affairs department dedicated to the sole purpose of establishing such partnerships.

Today, we are happy to have with us long-time corporate partnerships consultant, Derry Deringer, to share more about how you can set up such corporate partnerships and what goes into making a successful partnership.

Elevate: Hi Derry, thanks for joining us today.

Derry: My pleasure.

Elevate: Perhaps to start off, could you tell us why corporate-nonprofit partnerships have become so popular. What sets these arrangements apart from other avenues for giving to a nonprofit?

Derry: Today more than ever, nonprofits are seeking to diversify revenue streams to assure long-term sustainability. Corporate partnerships provide that additional source of support since many nonprofits start off or have traditionally grown through foundation grants and individual donations. What sets these partnerships apart from other avenues is that a nonprofit can benefit from many sources of support from a single entity, for example: employee giving, executive level board placement and straight cash gifts.

Elevate: That makes sense – there’s definitely a lot more diversity with how to engage corporate donors as opposed to private foundations and individual donors. And how should a nonprofit prioritize or decide what it wants or should be getting out of nonprofit partnerships?

Derry: Prioritizing or deciding what you want from a corporate partnership is identified by a mixture of what the nonprofit needs in terms of cash, in-kind and service resources, what your corporate donor audience wants to give and what is realistic for the nonprofit staff to implement over the partnership period. I would gather information in that order and refine the list as you go. A better question to ask during this exercise is – what the nonprofit wants to get out of the partnership and what the partner wants to get out of the partnership as well.

A common mistake of a nonprofit is to look to the business to define the partnership. You take the lead with very large dose of curiosity and empathy for what the business wants and needs.

Elevate: So what you’re saying is that it is better to be clear on the partnership parameters or conditions that your nonprofit will offer before engaging in talks with a corporate partner. How narrowly would you define your partnership parameters?

Derry: I’m a big fan of first being clear on partnership parameters before officially pursuing partnerships. But you can certainly engage your corporate donors and community as you are identifying and creating your parameters. Just be clear about the purpose of the meeting or call. Also important to have beforehand is your gift acceptance policy.

For partnership parameters, I recommend a timeline, minimum cash support requirement and the large building block activities and benefits. How broad and narrow to get with the activity and benefit parameters has a lot to do with what staff can realistically implement and what partners see as the most valuable.

Elevate: In your experience as a corporate partnerships consultant, what are the top 3 ways that corporations like to give or partner with nonprofits?

Derry: Businesses want to give in ways that are aligned as closely as possible to their business needs and that provide benefits that they are not able to get by other means. So, I’ll share a top three in that context and in no particular order:

  • Giving cash, in-kind or combination that allows product exposure with a new audience;
  • Employee engagement that increases fulfillment, loyalty and meaning to their day job. Types can be a volunteer day, executive on the board or technical advisory role; and
  • Long term (say 2-3 years) partnerships that blend a mixture of giving and benefits around a single nonprofit or cause that allows the company to get a deep and broad understanding and give a more meaningful contribution and impact over time.

One business may care a great deal for getting their employees involved in a cause. Another may only care about getting their product in front of a new audience. I start with my full inventory list of ways to give, then work on developing a good relationship with the right contact in order to ask open-ended and context questions until I get a clear view of what is most important to the business.

If you have a corporate partner program, you may only have a handful of partners. So we aren’t talking about dozens of business partners.

Elevate: That is very enlightening. Do you have any useful tools or resources for helping nonprofits to decide on these parameters?

Derry: I suggest the development director and Executive Director collaborate to do a brainstorming excise to develop a list of the most compelling and actionable partnership benefits the organization could provide within their gift acceptance policy. Consider having a facilitator lead a meeting to bring out the best from the group. Bring together select key staff and other stakeholders like donors and board members. Get 10 – 15 people together and have productive hour meeting to get down a solid list then refine it. I do have my own personal resources that I have developed that I am happy to share with nonprofits who approach me.

Make sure to read part 2 of this interview, where we’ll ask Derry for more on what corporations want out of a partnership, and how you can go about finding out these answers.

Derry DeringerDerry Deringer is principal of Deringer Consulting which was launched in 2011. Previously, Derry was Director of Corporate Relations at WFP USA. He brings twenty-five years of experience with nonprofit, business and international organizations. Deringer Consulting helps executives and teams grow faster with better fundraising and better strategic planning. His favorite work is helping clients accelerate growth through a unique blend of coaching, consulting and facilitation methods. And the best place to start with every new client? … right where they are. Schedule a call with Derry today! 202.494.9170 |

About the Author:

Ethan Nava