Nonprofit Partners may be your Ticket to the Golden Age of Social Impact

Like many other Millennials, my formative years have been filled with terrorism, financial crisis, equality struggles and global warming.  Over 20 years, we’ve experienced a rising tide of societal issues that seem insurmountable.  But, we’ve chosen to take action!  Our generation – those who have grown up with 9/11 memories, women’s marches, LGTBQ advocacy and milestones – have founded Benefit Corporations (B-Corps) like TOMS, launched nonprofit organizations like, and even won the Nobel Peace Prize for our actions on gender equality and education.  We are creating, thriving and demanding more from our favorite brands, our employers, and our government during what might just be the Golden Age of Social Impact.

2018 was a big year for Corporate America’s role in this Golden Age.  Some even called it the year of Brands Taking Stands. We witnessed several high-dollar ad campaigns from brands like Nike featuring Colin Kaepernick and Gillette’s effort to redefine masculinity.  Leaders of LyftGoogleIntel and Apple, made public statements on issues around immigration, racial inequality and transgender service in the military.  While awareness is helpful, companies are also putting their money where their mouth is – so to speak.  There are now over 3,000 Benefit Corporations like Patagonia and Ben & Jerry’s in more than 75 countries with a unifying goal to balance profit and purpose as part of their existence.  Many legacy brands are embarking on social enterprise investments instead of philanthropic donations to effectuate more tangible social change.  Consumer-packaged goods powerhouse, Unliever, recently reported that their purpose-driven brands are growing 69% faster than the rest (up from 50% in 2018).  However, it begs the question, “With corporations stepping up, buying in and prioritizing their purpose-driven work, what role does a nonprofit organization play in a company’s commitment to change?”  Are they obsolete?  Or, has the traditional funder/beneficiary paradigm between companies and nonprofit organizations simply shifted?

Nonprofit Partners


It’s the latter.  Building a true partnership with nonprofits is one of the best ways to strengthen your Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) program and create a lasting impact on your community.  The keyword here is partnership, which transcends grantmaking or “checkbook philanthropy”.  Nonprofits can serve a variety of roles for your company.  If found, the right nonprofit partner can serve as a:

  • Connector – providing opportunities for your employees to connect and impact the causes they care about (case in point: Rotary International)
  • Storyteller – producing mission-related content about your impact on a social issue, a critical component of CSR for your most valued people (case in point: Charity:Water)
  • Changemaker – the expertise, infrastructure and logistics you need to make change (case in point: Starbucks’ Foodshare with Feeding America)

But, finding the right nonprofit partners can be difficult to find and even harder to maintain.  In a time where bold ad campaigns or social stances can miss the mark – presenting significant reputational risk and even lost sales – a company’s approach to determining what and who they will align with must be calculated, diligent and sophisticated.  There are five main guideposts a company should consider when embarking on this crucial journey:

  1. Start with the Issues – consider all stakeholder opinions and issue affinities (i.e. consumers, employees and investors), and pair them with the core values of your company to arrive at 1-3 key issues your company will stand for and can make substantial impact on.
  2. Find the Right Nonprofit Partners – consider aligning your core issues with the UN’s sustainable development goals, identifying which nonprofits can help you gain traction on these goals, run due diligence and understand their capacity to support you.
  3. Define Proactive Value – identify the value you are looking to gain from having nonprofit partners at the onset. Many companies look for content, expertise, and engagement opportunities for their employees as starting value points, to name a few.
  4. Set Expectations – work with nonprofits who understand and can support your needs around legal registrations, partnership time-to-market and reporting requirements.
  5. Measure Success – proactively track your comprehensive contributions toward a nonprofit (financial and human), the impact it has had on your reputation, people and community, and the value it has brought back to your company across multiple departments.

The long-term effects of building sustainable and mutually beneficial nonprofit partnerships can prove significant for your brand.  To dive into more specific tactics, stories of missteps and success, and formalize your roadmap for building the right partnerships in 2020, watch Brittany’s deep-dive webinar!