Achieve more benefits than you can possibly imagine through cross-sector partnerships

March 19, 2014

Part 11 from the Win-Win for the Greater Good series

From my experience, most people and the organizations they represent begin their exploration of a partnership with a fairly limited list of partnership goals. Usually the “ask” is fairly simple and straightforward. The nonprofit might approach a for-profit organization for a donation to a particular project or program, or to sponsor a table at their annual fundraising gala. The for-profit organization may be seeking to raise the morale of its employees by arranging a one-day event where the employees would volunteer at a local homeless dining room or shelter. The misconception here is that cross-sector partnerships are not about philanthropy, cash donations, “one day and done” volunteer events, or sponsorships such as a breast cancer 3-day event or pledge walk. By definition, a partnership is a relationship. Many times there are contractual stipulations, but in nearly all cases, the partnership is based on a relationship meant to be long-term, jointly beneficial with many linkages.

In my workshops, participants are asked to write down all the benefits they think a nonprofit organization can receive by working with a for-profit organization in a partnership. Then we flip the exercise around, and they write down all the benefits they think a for-profit organization can receive by working in partnership with a nonprofit organization. And what I have found is startling.

To the question of how many distinct benefits a nonprofit can receive from partnering with a for-profit organization, the answer is, at least as of this writing: 31 distinct benefits. And to the question of how many benefits a for-profit organization can receive in a partnership with a nonprofit organization: 38 distinct benefits. That is one heck of a lot of benefits for each partner to receive in a partnership. However, what surprises my workshop attendees the most is the fact that for-profit organizations can potentially receive more benefit than can nonprofits. Most people think it would be the other way around.
These benefits are the real “secret sauce” of my work. There is an extraordinary amount of benefit that can be achieved by all partners in a well-designed, trusting, objectives- driven, cross-sector partnership. This has been proven so often over the last 35 years that I can make the following statement with absolutely no reservations:

2. The Promise

An innovative public relations program, the most clever social media campaign, the funniest or most emotional advertisement, the deepest discount or the biggest sale, the largest benefit race or the most successful fundraising gala – none of these can come even close to the multiple benefits that come from a cross-sector partnership.

Rather than detail all 31 nonprofit benefits and the 38 for-profit benefits here, in the next part I’m going to list the 10 most important ones, at least in my opinion, from each category. The complete listing of all 69 benefits can be found in the free online Resource Center at By the way, you may be able to add even more benefits for either list, and I ask you to email me personally with your discoveries.

Please visit for more information and to view Win-Win for the Greater Good.


Interview with Colin Lacon, CEO, Northern California Grantmakers

October 11, 2012

Part 2

Colin Lacon, CEO, Northern California Grantmakers

BB: There would seem to be clear differences within the nonprofit sector itself.

CL: The nonprofit sector is a wide sector and philanthropy sits in a place that doesn’t have most of the general markings of what people consider charitable, they are not on the receiving end.  So, it creates a distinction.  It also creates, frankly, a power dynamic within the nonprofit sector, between the philanthropic and the  receiver, and there is a lot of tug-of-war in that, and there a lot of uneasiness. So there definitely is a distinction there.

BB: But while differences exist, aren’t they more closely aligned than with the for-profit sector?

CL: They are all within the nonprofit sector and some of the driving forces behind why they operate are actually much more common, which is very different than if you have a corporate entity that has a different driving force.  I never lose site that there is a distinction between a for-profit and nonprofit, and that’s the intent of the purpose and why it’s in existence and why it’s doing its work.

When something has been created to   grow the public good, that’s a really important seed that you can’t forget.   I  talk about what’s blurred in terms of the way we operate  and the way   we seek out support and resources,  and  who is functionally going to operate the organization. These activities are similar much more blurred.  But the intent and the purpose of why the nonprofit sector is in existence are distinctly different from the for-profit sector and I think that matters.

BB: Are you seeing the for-profit sector sincerely engage in social issues and causes, rather than just to sell more products or services?

CL: I think what we need to recognize, first of all, that the parameters of our social environment and the social context which we operate in right now don’t provide incentives for the corporate world to fully engage with the nonprofit community. They’re seen as a place to get funding.  But a lot of corporations don’t have relationships or ways in which they are involved directly.  They don’t serve on the board of the nonprofit grantee, it’s just a transactional relationship. Of course, there are corporations that get involved. Gap is a great example, they do get involved.

However, in many cases there is still that kind of distance. Then you are forcing the nonprofit to make a decision; “Do I want to gain the involvement of volunteerism or the relationship of being peered with the name of that corporation, or do I just want their money.”  Oftentimes you don’t get both.  You get one or the other.

BB: That challenge must also exist on the corporate side?

CL: Yes, the corporation has the same kind of challenges. .  Do they get invested in the  nonprofit where it might mean a long-term relationship? Can they really relate to it?

BB: Are you seeing a shift for the better in these relationships?

CL:  It’s hard to see that kind of shift if the social base doesn’t really support that or hasn’t created some general rules about how that relationship should move forward.  It’s very, very hard to quantify.

I’m looking at the nonprofit who is trying to make a decision about both survival as well as make a decision about the product they want to deliver.  And it can be a moral judgment also. The discussion lies in making a choice of what kind of relationship they want.

Up Next: Part 3:  Cultural differences between nonprofits and for-profit organizations

For more information on developing highly successful partnerships please visit:

Interview with Kevin Hunting, California Department of Fish and Game

September 18, 2012

Kevin Hunting, Chief Deputy Director, California Department of Fish and Game

Part 5

BB: Are there initiatives where you proactively seek partners from other sectors?

KH:  I’d like to say that we do a lot of that but we really, most of the time, they’re coming to us.  I think it’s partly because it’s an evolving culture here at the department. Not everybody’s on board with creating proactive partnerships, not everybody recognizes the value of the partnerships or some may have had a bad experience with one.  So, we don’t do as much as we could of reaching out, trying to create partnerships, but we end up responding most of the time.

BB: So what advice would you provide to a nonprofit organization or a school or anyone that wanted to form a partnership with your department at the state level?

KH: Don’t be afraid to come and talk to us. If you have something in mind, articulate a goal that resonates with us, it’s likely we’ll do it. However, there’s a difference between somebody who has the beginnings of an idea and is really looking for us to just implement that versus somebody who’s thought through that idea and sees a role for us, them and others in getting to some sort of mutual goal. We’ll bite on that.

BB: I’ve found in my experience that it’s sometimes hard to sell management, corporations especially, on the value of these relationships, these partnerships, if they can’t see an immediate economic benefit.  It’s not a sales program, its longer term, and may be it may be more of a community benefit.

KH: I think you’re right.  State government is a little different situation than a private company; we’re not strictly bottom-line oriented, so we have a little more latitude to do some things maybe the private sector doesn’t.  That said, the private sector is a lot more nimble by design than state government and often have the resources to take on some things that we can’t.

BB:  Are there any particular partnerships you can think of that involve the education sector?

KH: We have Project Wild, which is a curriculum-based education program that is not used as much as it could be. Unfortunately it’s on life support because of the lack of resources and probably ripe for a partnership.  We have recent a National program called Archery in the Classroom which is introducing kids to archery.  We participate in that and have a pretty robust program there.

BB: Any last thoughts?

KH: I appreciate the discussion.  Partnerships are an area that I’m really interested in and I want to get us better as an organization at doing them.

BB: By the way, Hunting is a great name for the Fish and Game Department.

KH: The past Department of Water Resources director was Lester Snow.  The person that works on our bond funding is Bryan Cash.  But it’s not a requisite.

Interview with Kevin Hunting, Chief Deputy Director, California Department of Fish and Game, Part 2

September 6, 2012


Kevin Hunting, Chief Deputy Director, California Department of Fish and Game

Part 2

BB: Are there any particular partnerships that stand out to you because of how the partners have all come together and made it work?

KH: There’s a couple.  One was a partnership that arose out of a state administration policy initiative relating to renewable energy development incentives and policies. The American Recovery and Reinvestment Act funding created strong fiscal and policy incentives for increasing the renewable energy portfolio in California.  It was literally the new  gold rush., especially in the California deserts but really throughout California.  As a state agency, reacting to this economic and energy policy shift required the creation of multi-agency and non-governmental organization partnerships. The one that stands out in my mind is the  Renewable Energy Action Team. So partly out of necessity and partly out of the need to work more efficiently, we’ve have a group of eight State and Federal agencies and NGO’s (nongovernmental organizations ) that monitor, track and deliver either permitting, technical expertise or new policy to renewable energy development projects in California.  It goes beyond just the state government coordination between agencies, it’s really been a lot of different disciplines, a lot of interests and a lot of different kind of areas of expertise, all coming together in a more or less seamless way to help deliver those renewable energy projects and big commercial projects on the ground.  I’m pretty excited about that one.

BB:  Did that come out of your Department?  Or did someone come to you with that idea or was it regulatory in nature?

KH: It got its roots pretty organically just between four organizations – ours, the Energy Commission, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the Bureau of Land Management.  My counterparts at the other agencies  hatched it and now it’s much bigger.  A secondary, higher level  partnership created by the California Governor’s Office and Department of Interior – the Renewable Energy Policy Group – was formed to provide a policy discussion and resolution forum for the state and federal government and has grown to include policy and decision makers from Washington D.C. It’s a very efficient way to address major projects. For example, if you’re coming into California and want to build a thousand-acre solar panel renewable energy site in the California desert, what do you do?  Together we know how to get all the pieces there, transmission and everything, to get them on the ground and do it, and do it right.  It has proven to be a good model for integrating policy and regulatory programs for a common outcome.

BB: Do these companies looking to develop renewable energy resources present any particular problems?

KH: They’re generally green companies and they don’t want to impact wildlife and other natural resources. We advise them on where to build and how to build that minimizes these effects..  There are often cultural resource issues, water use and other avoidable and unavoidable impacts that come with large infrastructure projects. My experience has been that for the most part, they have a vested interest in being a low footprint kind of company.

BB: What’s another partnership example?

KH: The Department and a broad coalition of NGOs created a series of marine-protected areas off the California coast.  It’s a connected set of marine reserves and one piece of its work is enforcement.  You know you can’t recover fisheries in those areas if there’s a lot of poaching and we are resources constrained.  We were approached by a couple of NGOs with an idea of a semi-voluntary and semi-paid passive and active enforcement scheme for these MPAs (marine-protected areas) that involved the locals.  There are local activist groups that are interested in protecting those areas, the local governments have a vested interest in it, industry locally has an interest, and as a trustee for fish and wildlife, we have an interest in those areas.  For example, one partnership has come together in San Diego where the local diving club provides some free monitoring while they are diving and some of the boating interests there agreed to do voluntary patrols in certain areas.  We would augment that volunteer help with our patrol boats.  There was a tech company in San Diego that is interested in developing remote sensing enforcement devices that could be placed in the ocean for boats.  So, it’s all these pieces with everybody working towards the same objective that is starting to come together down there.

BB:  That’s a great initiative because it’s scalable to all of the other marine-protected areas.  Obviously money has to be involved in some of this.  Whether it’s to buy the lunches for the volunteers or pay for the gas for the boats and things like that.  Is everybody kind of chipping in to cover their own finances or are you going to any foundations or other pools of funding to underwrite some of the cost?

KH:  Right now everybody is covering their own and it’s a pilot in the South Coast area; Orange, San Diego, LA counties, and if it works, we’ll probably go after some soft money to expand it and really get it up and running throughout the coast.  Everybody’s excited about doing it.  That’s the other nice thing about it.

Next up:  Part 3, Everyone has to have skin in the game

Interview with Kevin Hunting, Chief Deputy Director, California Department of Fish and Game

September 4, 2012

Part 1

BB: I am curious as to the Department’s overall philosophy or reasons for developing partnerships with other sectors.

KH: Actually a very timely question as we just finished a year-long process that looked at the strategic vision for the Department of Fish and Game. As we went through that process, we learned there was significant interest in how and when the Department engages in partnerships. It was a very stakeholder-intensive process.  We had 52 stakeholders that represented a balanced cross-section of entities that have some interest in, are regulated by, or are in other ways connected with the Department of Fish and Game.

BB: What do you mean by the Department’s strategic vision?

KH:  A vision for the Department, in contrast to a strategic plan, is intended to re-examine our mission and re-cast the core values of our agency.  Public perceptions and values are constantly changing and a large sector of the California public would like to see the Department emphasize landscape conservation planning over more traditional programs.. Three or four themes emerged out of this visioning process and one of them was partnerships.  I think this is particularly relevant for state government as funding sources decline and functions and programs shrink. The only way to deliver on expectations from your stakeholders, and deliver as a trustee agency on wildlife and fisheries conservation, is with partners.  There’s just no other way to do it.

BB: Are you seeing this change of direction developing in other states?

KH: Yes.  I was at a conference recently and heard a presentation by the University of Colorado on defining and evaluating partnerships and what they are and how you know if they are good ones.  It was fascinating how this sub-discipline of the Human Dimensions research field has evolved out of state government. That’s really our motivation and the reason we are in the partnership business – the delivery of conservation in an otherwise declining resources environment.

BB: How did the presentation and conference affect your thinking about California?

KH: What I heard about partnerships was very compelling. I administer a large and diverse state agency and intend to integrate the partnership principles into our culture. I am planning to present what I learned at the conference to our leadership here.  It comes up all the time inside our organization – the question of what constitutes good and bad partnerships.

BB: I would assume that many organizations that once looked to the state primarily for money, don’t access the intelligence and the information that you have.  Is this the same with your department?

KH: It is and it isn’t.  That’s an accurate observation but departments come in many different flavors.  We have a history of being recognized as the central point of contact for wildlife, fisheries and outdoor conservation activities.  People do come to us for a lot of different reasons but they learned quite a while ago that it’s hopeless coming to us just for a check.  We have hundreds of partnerships, literally, spanning a wide variety of issue or topic areas and intending to achieve different things. And we contribute different things to each of those partnerships.  Sometimes it’s our regulatory programs, sometimes it’s just our working knowledge of fish and wildlife, sometimes it’s expertise that one of our staff has.  I think it varies by Department.

Next up, Part 2:  Partnerships that have really worked