5 Must-Ask Questions for Corporate Partnerships with Nonprofits

May 17, 2023

Collaborating with nonprofit partners plays a significant role in achieving your company’s social impact goals, especially as it relates to employee engagement. Nonprofit organizations have deep expertise and experience in the areas where your company seeks to create impact along with an ever-evolving sense of the best ways to get involved – whether that’s through donating financial and in-kind resources or through traditional and skills-based volunteering.

When you are first reaching out to a nonprofit or NGO to start conversations about how your company can provide support, you’ll want to ask a few questions to ensure a potential partnership will be mutually beneficial. And that’s the first key factor to establish – that the work you may do together will benefit both organizations and that your business needs do not overshadow your nonprofit partner’s needs. After all, they are truly the experts in improving a particular social condition or working with a specific population, and the greatest opportunity for a successful collaboration comes from working alongside each other to create shared value.

Here are five questions to help you identify and elevate their needs in order to determine ways to partner together:

  1. What are you hoping to achieve through your mission? Do you have current projects or programs that align with [COMPANY IMPACT AREA, such as education, environment, workforce development, veterans, etc.]? Of course, you’ll want to do some internet and peer research about the organization first, before you approach them. But confirming their mission, goals and offerings will ensure you start out on the same page. This is also a great time to ask about diversity in leadership and equity in operations to ensure values align.
  2. Are there things that you have wanted to do but haven’t had the resources? For example, is there a population you haven’t been able to serve, a need you haven’t been able to meet, or internal processes you’d like to improve? Allow them to dream big but also be transparent with the amount of support you’ll be able to provide. Do not push them out of their core work if their mission would be compromised and new programs wouldn’t be sustainable.
  3. Are you currently working with any other organizations or companies on this issue? It’s always a wise idea to understand your potential nonprofit partner’s current corporate partners and to get a feeling for their experience working with other businesses. Keep in mind, if they are a smaller or newer NGO, they might not yet have an extensive track record. However, if your company or corporate foundation does have strict guidelines around duration of nonprofit status, you’ll want to ask that specific question at the outset.
  4. Would you be interested in collaborating with another organization to support this issue? Remember, the goal is to create a synergistic relationship, and your potential partners may not have the bandwidth or capacity to bring along another corporate partner. Let them be transparent with you. Should they need to decline, follow up with them at a later date or ask for recommendations for nonprofit organizations with similar missions or goals.
  5. Do you have ideas for ways to engage our employees in volunteer projects to support your mission, whether they are in-person or virtual, traditional or skills-based? If it’s service opportunities that you seek, let them know that upfront. Follow up with additional questions around capacity, resources (people, processes and technology) they might have in place to support these opportunities. Not all nonprofits have access to the same resources, so they may not be able to accommodate your volunteers meaningfully now. If measuring the impact of employee volunteers is paramount to the partners you choose, ask this question, too, so that data collection and a shared sense of impact can be developed. You might have just the expertise and capacity to help them think through creating and measuring meaningful opportunities via your volunteers and budget.

By asking these questions, businesses can gain a better understanding of the nonprofit partner’s values, programs and impact, and ensure that the partnership is aligned with their own goals and values. This can help create a more effective and sustainable partnership that achieves outcomes and benefits both parties and the communities or causes your company’s social impact strategy aims to support.

Katy Elder
Vice President of Corporate Insights, Points of Light

Spending 20 years in the corporate social responsibility sector, Katy mixes creativity and strategy with expertise in employee engagement and corporate citizenship to develop resources and learning opportunities that advance corporate social impact.