Do you really know what you want to do in a partnership?

July 10, 2014

Part 18 from the Win-Win for the Greater Good series

Why what how

Before beginning the deep dive into what your organization would like to do through a cross-sector partnership and then defining your key objectives, there is a critical first step – asking the question:Do you know your WHY? The products or services your organization provides is the what you do. The manner in which you deliver these products or services to your customers or the public is how you do that delivery. However, the most important question that you and your organization must determine is why you do what you do. The why must come first. The why is your driving motivation. It’s what inspires you, your employees, your donors, indeed all your stakeholders, to take interest in your organization and to support it wholeheartedly. Without a strong and articulated why, you are just another nuts-and-bolts organization (in any sector), and one of the very many.

The similarities to what we have described as a glowing business are obviously related to the why. Glow starts from within, and radiates outwardly, and so does the why. You can’t have a glowing organization unless all your stakeholders are inspired and motivated, thrilled to be involved and thrilled to tell others about this involvement. My belief is that the best and maybe the only way to create this glow, this why, is by embedding a cause consciousness into the very essence and culture of your organization. When your organization stands not just for your own benefit, but far more importantly, for what you can do for others and to create a greater good…that’s the glow, that’s the why.

Simon Sinek wrote the terrific book Start With Why. He writes, “By WHY I mean, what is your purpose, cause or belief?” And further on, “People don’t buy WHAT you do, they buy WHY you do it.” And my favorite line: “… all those who share the organization’s view of the world will be drawn to it and its products like a moth to a light bulb.”

With the understanding of your why firmly in place, now you can move on to what you want to do. We have explored the multiple benefits that can come from a cross-sector partnership. But practically speaking, your organization must choose the specific objective or a very short list of priorities that are the highest priorities. For example, you may decide that your top priority is to raise the sales revenue of a particular product or service, provide employee volunteer opportunities in your community or to open up a new store or business location. If you are a nonprofit, your primary objectives may be to increase your donor base, fund and open a new project or program, attract corporate volunteers, develop an earned income opportunity, etc.

To assist in determining your “What do you want to do?” process, you may wish to utilize the two “Top 10” lists: Benefits a for-profit organization can receive by working with a nonprofit organization and Benefits a nonprofit organization can receive by working with a for-profit organization, provided earlier in this book, or preferably, review the complete lists of benefits which can be found in the Resource Center at Now you have over 30 distinct benefits your organization may be able to receive in a cross-sector partnership and these will serve as a guide in determining which objectives would have the greatest positive impact on the needs, challenges or opportunities facing your organization. When developing your strongest case for what will work best for your organization, and in due course what will provide the best partnership opportunity, you need to select from these ideas or objectives your top three, and then very clearly, define and agree upon your number one objective.

By defining your top objectives, and especially by selecting one as your top objective, you significantly increase your potential for a successful project or campaign. If you try to address too many objectives you will weaken the energy, resources and talent, and potentially not accomplish any of your objectives.

Please visit for more information about cross-sector partnerships and Win-Win for the Greater Good.

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.

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True sustainability comes through creating multiple links between organizations

March 13, 2014

Part 10 from the Win-Win for the Greater Good series

Imagine two pieces of leather connected by one simple thread. You hold one piece and your friend holds the other. Now imagine that you both pull on the separate pieces of leather. The thread breaks very easily. Now imagine the two pieces of leather are connected by three threads. You pull again. You feel a brief bit of resistance from the three threads, but still they break without much effort. Now imagine that there are 10 threads connecting the two pieces of leather. Now pull, pull hard. With quite a bit of effort you might be able to break a few of the threads, but probably not all 10. In any case, the resistance was strong, the bond of the 10 threads held firmly.

And so it is with cross-sector partnerships. When the relationship consists of only one linkage between the organizations, let’s say the for-profit organization buys tickets to a nonprofit’s annual fundraising dinner, that link (or thread) can easily be broken. For example, no one from the for-profit organization may actually go to the dinner but it wanted to show their support for the nonprofit’s mission. There was no bond, no real relationship. Now imagine that there are three links between the for-profit and the nonprofit – the for-profit organization bought the fundraising dinner tickets, had donated some used computer equipment to the nonprofit and some of their employees spent a Saturday painting the nonprofit’s dining room where they provide free meals to the homeless. Now there is a pretty strong relationship with these three linkages between the organizations. Each year when the for-profit reviews their community relationships and contribution strategy, they will look favorably upon this nonprofit organization where they have developed three good links.

Now imagine the two organizations have developed 5, 6 maybe even up to 10 linkages. Now imagine trying to pull these two organizations apart. It’s very difficult, indeed darn near impossible, to break apart such a strong, binding relationship.

I use this example for two reasons. When multiple linkages are developed between the for-profit and nonprofit organization, a very strong bond and relationship is established over the years. This nonprofit organization is uppermost in the for-profit’s contribution strategy. Their employees are volunteering time to serve that nonprofit and their organization is receiving the benefit of higher morale and employment retention because of the satisfaction they receive from working in the community on their company’s behalf. Going down the list of potential linkages, the individual partners realize that many if not all of those involved in their organization have become engaged in this relationship, and all are benefiting from it. So much good is coming from this relationship, from these linkages and benefits.

The second reason I give this example is what happens in challenging economic times. When a down economy may cause a for-profit company to struggle, they will look to areas where they can decrease their expenses, and naturally, one of the areas they will analyze is their corporate philanthropy and their nonprofit relationships. If their management, community relations department or foundation decides to reduce their annual contributions by say 10%, who will they cut out of their nonprofit funding or partnership plan? Yes, the easiest to come off the list are those organizations where they have the fewest linkages. While these nonprofits may be doing good work in the community and the company likes supporting them, the bond between the nonprofit organizations and the company is rather weak.

Now just try to recommend pulling funding and company support away from the organization with whom the company has spent many years developing a close and strong partnership relationship, and where they have 5, 6, or maybe 10 linkages. One of the company’s senior managers is probably sitting on the Board of Directors of that nonprofit organization, and they certainly are going to object. The company’s employees who feel great pride in their commitment and volunteerism to that nonprofit will not want to see any change. The media coverage that the company has received from the relationship would stop and they don’t want to see that happen. There is a long list of reasons why the for-profit will not want to sever ties with organizations where they have developed such strong linkages.

This is also a very clear message to nonprofit organizations. In difficult economic times, the companies that have the strongest linkages and partnerships with a nonprofit will, to the extent that they can, fight hard to continue to keep that partnership going. They have too much to lose and will receive too much resistance from their employees and all those involved with their organization. In most cases, they will look to lessen or possibly terminate their relationships/ funding with other nonprofit organizations with whom they have fewer linkages and a weaker relationship. Don’t be on that list.

Nonprofit, for-profit, education or government sector – it doesn’t matter. The more threads, the more benefits developed between the organizations through cross-sector partnerships, the stronger and more lasting the relationship becomes, and the benefits to all partners and their stakeholders continue to grow.

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

Turning the Tables: Presenting a Business Value Proposition

March 6, 2014

Part 9 from the Win-Win for the Greater Good series

The usual nonprofit/for-profit scenario is that the for-profit organization is providing funding in a more philanthropic manner, while the nonprofit is seeking funding to meet the needs of its organization’s mission and services to the community. Business value is rarely part of the equation. Yet providing a mutually beneficial business value is what creates a strong attractiveness to work together and subsequently, a much more lasting bond between the organizations.

Think about the typical situation. A nonprofit organization has a particular need or program it wishes to develop that requires external funding. They write up a carefully prepared description of this need, how many people it will impact and how this need or program will further their community mission. They certainly will estimate the amount of money that seems reasonable to request from a corporate funder. This amount may be based on the for-profit’s past giving history to this organization, or what the for-profit has given to other nonprofits before. The nonprofit is very careful not to ask for too much, yet they want to ask for enough to impact their need.

The nonprofit also realizes that the corporate funder or local business is probably being approached by many other nonprofit organizations seeking funding. So they want their presentation to have dramatic impact, a strong case for funding. That is usually the nonprofit’s primary focus – a strong argument for the needs of their cause.

Now let’s turn the tables and look at this situation from the for-profit organization’s point of view. Imagine you are a for-profit executive who has been listening to or reading proposals like these typical nonprofit pitches, over and over again. And in walks a nonprofit executive with a well thought out, business value proposition which clearly shows that by working with their nonprofit your for-profit business will receive multiple benefits – benefits such as increased sales of your products or services, ways to increase the morale of your employees, opportunities that will raise your brand awareness, and a long list of other benefits. Now that is a very different approach. Which would be most effective?

What I mean by business value proposition is that each side addresses the marketing and business objectives of the potential partner. They have done their homework, read the other organization’s promotional materials and annual report, conducted an Internet search for press coverage and other information about their potential partner, maybe even talked to a friend who works or volunteers at that organization, and so they have a good understanding of the business priorities of this potential partner. With this understanding, they put together a presentation which shows that by working with their organization (for-profit, nonprofit, education or government), multiple benefits towards the others business or mission objectives can be achieved through a partnership.

This is the business value proposition approach, and it is by far the most successful way to create a lasting cross-sector partnership and bring multiple benefits to all partners. By understanding this business value mindset you have a huge advantage over your competition, no matter which sector or side of the partnership equation you come from.

I have worked with well over 150 nonprofits and rarely have I seen nonprofits utilize this business value proposition approach. Yet this is exactly how for-profit businesses operate internally. A corporate marketing or sales proposal will not see the light of day unless it provides a solid business value proposition for increasing their business. In other words: If it doesn’t make dollars, it doesn’t make sense.

So it cuts both ways. If you don’t take the effort to understand the needs and business objectives of your potential partner, how can you possibly expect them to want to support and engage in the needs and business objectives of your organization? Of course the good news is, when you present a solid business value proposition and carefully listen to theirs, you have the foundation for a truly successful cross-sector partnership.

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

New Realities Require New Responses

May 13, 2013

There is a major sea-change underway in the relationship between the nonprofit and for-profit worlds, and this change requires a serious look at current realities. For-profits are more and more realizing that they deserve to receive mutual value in the nonprofit/for-profit equation. If a nonprofit is only holding their hand out, they may be left out. This is the “new normal” and it can be seen from two perspectives:

1) For-profits: It’s my money and I will spend it were my organization receives the most business benefit, employee engagement, brand awareness, community goodwill and more.
2) Nonprofits: I must provide a business value proposition which addresses the marketing and business objectives of for-profit partners, or they will partner with someone else that does.

A lot is at stake. The social support system is in trouble and those people it supports have nowhere to turn. Anne Wilson, CEO of the United Way of the San Francisco Bay Area, warned “the recession severely compromised our community’s safety net.” As a moral public, we cannot let this safety net fail.

While some indications show that nonprofit funding is turning around, according to “Giving USA”, charitable giving grew less than 1 percent in 2012. Thousands of smaller nonprofit organizations are at high risk of closing down. This sad situation comes as the needs of the nonprofit world and those they serve have grown exponentially.

Concurrently, individual, corporate and foundation funders impacted by the decline of their income, sales or investment portfolios cannot, in many cases, maintain their past support levels when there is so much need. Tough decisions must be made – who to support and at what level. As for-profits are receiving far more requests for funding than they can support, the desire to help must be tempered by financial reality.

Consequently, many foundations and corporations have changed their philanthropy/community relations donation policies to focus on particular areas of concentration and/or will only contribute to organizations where they have a multifaceted partnership. The situation is serious and for many, this is entirely new territory. The time has passed for believing we can operate as we always have under “normal” circumstances, because “normal” doesn’t exist anymore. The answers do not come from staying the course, business as usual. The answers come in the realization that to weather this storm nonprofit and for-profit organization must find new approaches, proven techniques and new economic streams that will work, even in these challenging times.

The organizations that will lead the new normal are the ones that realize they need not and should not take on these challenges alone. There many, proven are opportunities for organizations that collaborate, indeed partner, with organizations in other sectors. These organizations will lead their sector and their community in doing good. These are the organizations and

This is not a time for business as usual. Now is the time to take full advantage of multi-benefit cross-sector partnerships, focused on the greater good. This is the new normal and its win-win.

Let me hear from you. We must raise the level of communication and urgency on this important subject.

Interview with Dr. Thomas Peters, President and CEO, Marin Community Foundation

November 29, 2012

Profiles in Partnership
A series on best practices and sound advice for developing and maintaining successful partnerships between nonprofit and for-profit organizations.

Part  5, last in series

BB: What would you encourage nonprofit organizations to do as they are trying to get through these tough economic times?

TP: To do something that’s very hard and that is to devote some reasonable amount of time and resource, at both the staff as well as board level, to asking very challenging questions of themselves about how do we describe, how do we quantify as well as qualify the work that we’re doing. And more than just what work we’re doing, or why we’re doing it or the need that we are filling.  Rather, it is to ask what is it that adequately either documents or strongly hints at the impact and the change that we’re making.

BB: Do you feel that a lot of organizations are staying to a path they’ve been on for a while and not necessarily investigating new models or where they really are today?  I’m talking with a nonprofit in San Francisco right now that is finding its mission a little out of step with what’s going on today.

TP: That’s an interesting corollary which is: Are you a specialist in buggy whips and make the finest buggy whips ever known?  So that certainly is part of it.  I’m more struck by the number of organizations that really could learn a tremendous amount from the business world around summary presentations, tear sheets, I mean these are so basic but in the nonprofit world it’s still something that needs more and more push to really get Boards as well as staffs of nonprofits to understand that even when you’re doing the work of angels, the angels need help to demonstrate what it is that they’re doing and to really document what impact they are having.

BB: I’ve met many nonprofit executives who have never been in business world, many with a social service background, and yet they take offense when someone from the business world offers some advice on business matters or processes.  Do you run into this?

TP: Yes. I’ve had wide experience in that area. I think the truth of the matter is that the world has changed, so I can go on indefinitely on sort of passionate rants about how the world ought to be structured and how equity and fairness ought to get a way better stand in our modern life but that doesn’t move people and it doesn’t sell.  What does is the social entrepreneurial spirit. It’s somewhere in that energy, creativity and synergy that the 21st century movement of the nonprofit world is headed.  And those that don’t make that adaptation, some will do okay, others are going to be dinosaurs, it’s going to be the La Brea Tar Pits.

BB: One of the best things about cross-sector partnerships is the opportunity for mutual learning and understanding.

TP:  I spent a weekend recently with a group of CEOs of top technology companies and what struck me was the points of similarity not so much the differences between running their business, running my business or running a nonprofit.  When you try to build out the capacity of Twitter, or to provide a greater amount of healthcare to people that are significantly in need of that care, it’s all the same principle of creativity and synergy and excitement.

BB: One of the great benefits I’ve seen is when for-profit employees volunteer with a nonprofit in their community and they bring back new understandings, new abilities that they wouldn’t have experienced in their current job.

TP: That is the deal about those kinds of multiple benefits where that kind of intermix of activity and participation. The unique feeling that nearly anybody that’s wired correctly, wired as a human, is going to come away saying, wow that was really neat, I helped somebody or helped something that really needed the help and it’s a unique kind of warmth.

End of series with Dr. Thomas Peters

Coming up next: Interview with William Murray, president and chief operating officer, Public Relations Society of America

For more information on developing highly successful partnerships please visit: 



Interview with Dr. Thomas Peters, President and CEO, Marin Community Foundation

November 21, 2012

Dr. Thomas Peters


Profiles in Partnership
A series on best practices and sound advice for developing and maintaining successful partnerships between nonprofit and for-profit organizations

Part 3

BB: It would seem that the foundation’s focus is to make the nonprofits you are working with more successful.

TP: We have developed here in the last five years one of the country’s only community foundations with a deliberately structured research and evaluation unit and part of that is to answer some questions that we and our donors have about return on investment of philanthropic dollars. And part of it is also to help the grantees build the capacity and build the methodologies and build the products that allow them to be much more persuasive in outreach to donors and other foundations.

BB: Are you providing the metrics and the measurement templates to them so that if they haven’t had these requirements and these abilities in the past, are you helping them understand what success is?

TP: Yes, what we try to do in every instance possible to sit down with the grantee or a small cohort of grantees and have that be a kind of interactive “figure eight” conversation about what would success look like.  In other words, I really don’t want us to be in the position of saying these are the metrics you will use, that is usually short-term apparent movement and longer-term subterfuge. But to help both funder and provider define together with increasing specificity what success would look like.

BB: Could you provide an example of where this process hasn’t worked?

TP: Without highlighting names, one was in the senior service arena which, backing up to that template of stages of conversation and encouragement,  looked like there was a much more direct overlap and a much more apparent probability for at least operational coordination if not something even stronger moving up to a possible merger. For reasons that to a certain extent had to do with principles of history, ownership, pride and a kind of determination to keep an independent definition, it didn’t work.  There’s only a certain amount of nudging and pushing you can do, and after that you gotta move on.

BB: Lets’ talk a bit about cross-sector partnerships.  Could you give a partnership example that involved several different sectors, such as nonprofit, for-profit or government?

TP: One, with great credit to Dr. Curtis Robinson of Mill Valley and his wife Xania and some of the founding spirits in Marin City, that really kept an optimism about the possibility of building a medical clinic  with a certain degree of capacity right in the community as opposed to always having to make referrals and trips to other areas. We would also give credit to the people in the community that really carried that torch. We and the county government both increased our investments and put some support along with Ritter Center and their board to an application to the federal government to become a federally-qualified health center under a special category having to do with outreach to public housing and/or homeless patients.  And the clinic received a two-year $600,000 government grant.

BB: That sounds like a lot of money for a small clinic.

TP: It sounds like a lot of money until you do long division, both in terms of number of months and number of patients and number of support staff.  But there’s a continued optimism about being able to do more than the theoretical, this is a practical illustration to be in better position to make a cleaner, clearer, crisper presentation to other funders including to the federal government itself.

BB: So the success in this example comes from pulling together interested community members and seeking foundation and government assistance?

TP: While the Robinsons would be quick to point out that there were many others involved, I give great credit to the Robinsons for their leadership role in that effort. So that is a model where the nexus of creativity and initial energy and definition residing with individuals and with a community effort.

Coming up, Part 4:  How to best approach a foundation

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