By Karen Voci and Josh Kraft
Lately it seems that partnerships between corporations and nonprofit organizations have become the grand slam of fundraising. When these collaborations are well-managed, the nonprofit enjoys a steady source of financial support, often along with a corps of volunteers and executives who serve on their boards and understand the mission, goals, and challenges of the organization from the inside out. In return, the corporation earns a reputation for being socially responsible, while enhancing its brand and position as a good corporate citizen and a great place to work. It’s a perfect arrangement, right? If only it were that easy.
Boys & Girls Clubs of Boston (BGCB) and Harvard Pilgrim Health Care Foundation have worked together for more than a decade, joining forces to make the Clubs the go-to healthy food and fitness resource for thousands of members.
But every partnership faces a few bumps along the way. There have been staff changes, logistical challenges, and more than a few program reworks. But we’re still at it and our joint initiative,
Farm to Family
, continues to elevate the nutritional quality of the food that members eat every day. Over time, we’ve discovered what makes a productive and effective partnership — one that goes beyond funding and branding — and improves lives in the communities we care about.
Here are the top 10 lessons we’ve learned along the way:
Remember the Why:
Good partnerships are grounded in service, not selfishness. No one does all the work and no partner should seek more recognition than the other. Working in service to others helps to keep everyone humble.
Commitment is an Act, Not Just a Promise
: Support at the highest level of each participating organization can help ensure positive outcomes. Partnerships are most effective when leadership teams, staff members, volunteers and board members are informed, engaged, enthusiastic, and actively involved.
Be “In” for the Long Haul
: Success doesn’t happen overnight. Without a long-term commitment it’s hard to gauge reach, influence, and impact. Writing a check is fast and easy but may not lead to meaningful results. Right from the start, determine what value
each organization brings to the partnership and build on shared interests.
You Can Do Anything, But Not Everything
: Call on experts within and outside your organizations who can help improve and advance your initiative, even if they are not directly involved. Mobilize employees, recruit colleagues and, most importantly, involve those your program is designed to serve.
Bend, Don’t Break
: Flexibility is essential. Effective campaigns require partnering organizations to pivot, change direction, and evolve over time or in response to shifting dynamics. Don’t be afraid to rethink initial suppositions, retool action plans, and revamp tactics.
: Address regional, generational, social, and cultural preferences. Understand your target audience; determine what resonates with these stakeholders and be sure to recognize interests, concerns, likes, and dislikes.
Throw Ideas at Problems, Not Money
: Don’t be tempted to simply throw money at a problem to solve it. Remember that change requires a consistent and strategic investment of time, funding, and other resources.
What Isn’t Measured Isn’t Managed
: Don’t wait for your program to conclude: measure, evaluate, and analyze findings throughout the course of the project. Agreeing upon metrics at the outset allows you to refine practices, redirect resources as needed, and adjust goals. While partners may have educated guesses and anecdotal information, nothing beats periodic check-ins and data.
A lack of communication can strain relationships and lead to misunderstandings. Create a chain of command, schedule regular updates, share news in a timely fashion, and work in tandem to resolve issues as they arise.
Frustration WILL Happen:
Problems will arise, but don’t let bad feelings build and fester over time. Encourage partners to approach one another when something needs to be addressed. Coming together to solve a problem should always be the goal.
Karen Voci is the President of the Harvard Pilgrim Health Care Foundation. Josh Kraft is the Nicholas President and CEO of the Boys & Girls Clubs of Boston. During their decade-long partnership they have focused on building healthy families and healthy communities. Josh is also the President of New England Patriots Charitable Foundation where he oversees numerous initiatives, such as Game Change: The Patriots Anti-Violence Partnership, the Community MVP Awards, and Celebrate Volunteerism.