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Corporate Giving and Partnerships with Non-Profit Organizations

Author: Raising the Roof

Date of Publication: June 2003

The dramatic increase in homelessness and shrinking traditional sources of funding have put a severe strain on frontline organizations. On a positive note, corporations across Canada are increasingly recognizing their stake in the homelessness and housing issue. Banks, financial service companies and developers, in particular, are making the link between homelessness, urban renewal, quality of life of the whole community, business bottom lines, and their sense of corporate responsibility. Many corporations are showing a willingness to partner with results-oriented, effective programs and want to know how to bring their corporate resources to the table.

Yet, many service providers feel they lack the knowledge, connections and resources to develop new avenues of support - especially from the private sector. This resource on corporate giving and partnership development outlines key issues to consider and steps to take when pursuing these partnerships.

A partnership is defined as a mutually beneficial agreement between two or more parties, with shared goals, expectations, and specified measurable outcomes.

What's in it for the organization?

For non-profits, the relationship with a corporate partner can:

  • Extend the depth and reach of what the non-profit accomplishes
  • Increase feelings of connectedness to the broader community
  • Increase media and political interest in the non-profit, its operations or a special project
  • Open doors to new corporate partners with additional resources and expertise.

What's in it for the corporate partner?

Like non-profits, businesses enter into partnerships to achieve certain goals. The partnership with the non-profit may:

  • Enhance their visibility and reputation as a socially responsible corporation
  • Allow the corporation to reach new audiences, promote corporate or brand identification, or expand the marketing of products and services
  • Foster employee and customer loyalty
  • Provide employees with volunteer and leadership opportunities in the community.

Corporate partnerships are not:

  • A guaranteed source of long term funding for the non-profit
  • A replacement for government funding streams for social services or government-funded housing programs.

What contributions flow from partnerships?

Partnerships between non-profits and businesses can lead to contributions such as:

  • Financial resources
  • Technical expertise
  • Management expertise
  • Volunteer support from employees donating their time and/or expertise
  • In kind donations such as space, equipment, or furnishings
  • Purchase of goods and services
  • Employment opportunities for clients of the non-profit organization
  • Everyday business support and problem solving
  • Long term strategic planning
  • A new ally in the advocacy work of the organization
  • Connections to new networks and access to other organizations.

Can your organization say yes to the following? Key factors in developing successful partnerships.

  • Our non-profit demonstrates a clear purpose, vision and meaningful results.
  • Our board is showing leadership and wants to be involved in partnership development.
  • We have a committed staff person dedicated to developing and managing partnerships.
  • We are building a committee responsible for partnership development.
  • Collaboration is already part of the culture of our organization.

Identifying a potential partner

A successful partnership is one where there is a good fit between the non-profit and the corporate partner, in terms of vision and values. Be prepared to research a number of potential partners at the outset.

  • Start by looking at the networks attached to your staff, volunteers and board members.
  • Canvass your organization's treasurer and lawyer for ideas about potential private sector partners.
  • If you are building social housing, use your relationships with architects and contractors: ask for what you need, they may be able to help.
  • Look at who is in your community. Consider individuals and businesses affiliated with your local United Way, community foundations, Chamber of Commerce, Board of Trade, and service clubs such as Rotary or Kiwanis.

What will the corporate partner expect from the organization?

At the outset, your corporate partner will need:

  • Help in understanding the root causes of the problems the organization or project is trying to address
  • Help in knowing how best to communicate with community groups
  • Opportunity to get to know key staff and board members
  • Opportunity to explore ideas about collaboration directly with your organization
  • Proof that your organization and project are good investments
  • Proof of past successes
  • Clear statement of what is being asked and their responsibilities within the project
  • Recognition of connection to their corporate and philanthropic interests
  • Statement of how their contribution will be recognized.

On an ongoing basis, your corporate partner will look for:

  • Updates on the project and the use of the funds
  • Proof that the project is being effectively managed within the approved budget and timelines
  • Success stories and positive outcomes
  • Evidence that their contribution is making a difference.

Pursuing the partnership

  • Identify which business or corporation to approach.
  • Research the corporation and determine their philanthropic interests. Find out how they process partnership requests. Think about how many employees they have, number of locations, and divisions or branches within the corporation. This information will affect how you network and work with the partner. Recognize the role that employees can play in sponsoring an idea: this can be key when a corporation receives many requests per year.
  • Develop a short case, tailored for the corporation you want to approach. Include a brief history of your organization and relevant statistics such as the number of clients served and measurable outcomes. Clearly state how your program makes a difference in the community and how the partnership gift will contribute to the community and the outcomes desired by your organization.
  • Obtain a contact name and number and call to discuss their interests and yours. Set a meeting. Know exactly who you will be meeting and how long you will have with them. Have a volunteer or board member go to the meeting along with a senior staff person. Prepare a package of information to leave behind after the meeting.

At the meeting

  • Be enthusiastic and positive.
  • Avoid being confrontational or criticizing any level of government, who may be an important client or contact of the corporation.
  • Have a feasible business model or plan ready.
  • Demonstrate the capacity to meet objectives and provide tangible examples of results.
  • Demonstrate an openness and flexibility to having private sector involvement on your board of directors.
  • Make a formal business presentation: don't be casual.
  • Be prepared to suggest another type of gift if the initial request is not feasible.
  • Listen and ask questions as much as you speak.
  • Adhere to the scheduled time allocated for the meeting.
  • Remember that this may be the first of many meetings.
  • Be aware that CEOs and senior staff in corporations talk to one another.
  • Follow-up to the meeting by sending a thank you note. Send any information promised in the meeting.

Nurturing the Partnership

While the corporate partner will expect the non-profit to approach them in a business-like manner, remember the human side of the individuals with whom you are liaising. Your corporate contacts will appreciate being thanked and being asked for input on an ongoing basis. Keep the dialogue going and nurture the relationship by letting your corporate contacts know about your successes, how their contribution is making a difference, and your vision for the future.

Concluding Remarks

Many corporations represent an as yet untapped resource for organizations working in the housing and homelessness sectors. While corporations and their employees may genuinely want to make a contribution, often they do not know how to get involved in solutions to homelessness. A well planned meeting and discussion that is started by identifying the need to be addressed, the potential role of the corporation and the goals that together can be achieved, may well lead to a successful partnership with meaningful outcomes for men, women and children who are homeless or at risk.

Additional Resources

Canadian Centre for Philanthropy 1996. Creating Effective Partnerships with Business, A Guide for Charities and Nonprofits in Canada. $25, To order:

Young, Joyce. Fundraising for Non-profit Groups: How to Get Money from Corporations, Foundations and Government. Vancouver: Self-Counsel Press, 5th edition. $21.95 To order:



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