Trend Alert! Achieve Greater Success Through a Nonprofit Partnership

January 8, 2024
6 minutes
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If you haven't read our 2024 trends article already, one of our top trends for 2024 is strategic partnerships. When we put out the call for trends our nonprofit friends saw on the horizon, multiple responses hyping nonprofits helping nonprofits landed in our inboxes, and we knew the nonprofit sector was looking at something special coming. Let's listen in to two of our favorite nonprofit experts' takes on strategic partnerships in 2024 and then give you some guidance so you can build your own special relationships.

Tony Sasso, Funraise Co-founder and Chief Product Officer, brought up the point that consumers feel so connected to brands that when your nonprofit partners with a relevant brand, their trust in your nonprofit skyrockets.

Tony Sasso explains, "Increase IRL brand awareness and trust and become a real part of your supporters' lives by connecting with brands that supporters already love and trust."
He goes on to say, "Social media will be ablaze in 2024, so nonprofits considering increasing their reach and top-of-mindedness are looking at visibly partnering with businesses in their area. Whether these are nonprofit or for-profit, strategic partnerships offer new ways for supporters to interact with you as they go about their daily lives."

But Tony wasn't the only one thinking about partnerships in 2024. David Bowden visited the Nonstop Nonprofit podcast to break down Spoken Gospel's strategic partnership success with David Schwab, Funraise's resident marketing expert.

...we learned the most by partnering with people who traditionally would be seen as competitors, but we saw them as collaborators. ...if we work closer together, we're both going to get better. And doing that, we created a better resource and different distribution partners because we weren't afraid to partner with competitors.

Now that you've heard some of the trend-setting talk, it's time to apply it to your own nonprofit!

Think creatively—form an unusual partnership

Sometimes, you’re walking down the street, and you see a couple that makes you do a double-take. “Them? Together? Really?” you think, while plotting your next romance novel. But all across the world, there are unlikely duos that make it work. People, animals, products, and businesses that join together to solve problems, increase value, and make change. And you, dear nonprofiteer, could be among them.

All nonprofits lean on others to some degree. We’re all about donors and volunteers and boards and partnering with the local coffee shop to raise funds for bingo night every other Tuesday. But when it comes to all the other nonprofit organizations out there, we tend to walk a lonely road—and that’s to all of our detriment. By establishing a creative partnership with another organization, you’ll both reap the benefits. Check it out, partner.

Get out of your comfort zone.

For any resource-strapped nonprofit, innovation is pretty low on the to-do list. And yet, it’s crucial if you want to step up and keep up. By establishing an innovative partnership with an organization outside of your industry, you’ll be exposed to new ways of doing things and new ideas as well as people with different areas of expertise.

Grow your network.

Unalike partners have unalike networks, and that means working with another organization exposes a whole new audience (that’s already demonstrated a commitment to making the world a better place!) to your amazing work.

There’s power in numbers.

Simply put, you’re more likely to solve problems together than alone. You’ll have greater capacity, more hours, more resources, and more ideas.

Flex your creative muscles.

You’re already doing some out-of-the-box partnering, so why not let it all hang loose? When it comes to partnering with other organizations, you have permission to get creative and try new things.

Focus on interconnected issues and systemic change.

Most of the problems nonprofits seek to address are complicated and interconnected. By joining forces, you can get closer to the roots of these issues and work toward long-term solutions.

Showcase your values.

You’re a nonprofit, so clearly you’re all about those values. But sometimes, it can be difficult to present those values to your stakeholders. By partnering with a nonprofit whose values reflect yours, you can build your image as a values-driven organization focused on greater community development.

What makes for a successful partnership?

So, partnerships=good, but what makes for an effective partnership that benefits both parties? Here’s your collaboration to-do list.

Good communication across both organizations.

As with any collaboration, the two of you need to be able to talk it out. This ensures that everyone feels like they’re getting value out of the partnership. As part of the co-creation process, be sure to establish regular check-ins and touchpoints so that no one gets too far off track and you can course correct as needed.

A shared vision.

This isn’t going to work if you’re not on the same page as your partner org. While your specific goals might differ, you should agree on a shared vision for what a successful partnership looks like.

Setting measurable goals.

As with any campaign, you need a clear goal to work toward. Then, you need KPIs to measure whether it was indeed a success so that you can make future partnerships even more effective.

Getting buy-in from staff at all levels.

A successful partnership between two organizations really means a successful partnership between each nonprofit’s people. Get your leadership on board and get your staff on board.

Establishing clear timelines, processes, roles, and responsibilities.

All those little details matter for any campaign, event, or project. But when you’re working with another organization, which likely has its own Ways of Doing Things, you need to agree on everything upfront. Do they work asynchronously or simultaneously? Are same-day turnarounds acceptable? Who signs off on each item? Etc., et.c, etc.

Being flexible.

You’re both new to this whole partnership thing, so give each other grace and space. You’ll learn as you go, so don’t be embarrassed to say, “Whoops!” and try, try again.

So, what does a successful unlikely partnership look like?

Before we launch into some examples of dream nonprofit duos, let’s check out a few IRL examples of unrelated companies forming strategic partnerships. Here are some corporate partners that rocked their collaborations.

  • Taco Bell + Doritos. One’s a fast food chain and one’s a chip, but both appeal to anyone with a serious case of the munchies. This duo came together for a fruitful partnership, selling Doritos Locos Tacos: a Taco Bell taco with a Doritos-flavored shell. It was a huge hit; in fact, it was the most successful product launch in Taco Bell’s history. (Meanwhile, we’re still missing the days of the seven-layer burrito.)
  • Target + Jason Wu …and Rodarte …and Lilly Pulitzer …and Marimekko We call it Tar-jay ironically, and yet Target’s various collabs with big-name, high-end designers have all been hugely successful, boosting Target’s image and getting those designers’ names out to a whole new audience.
  • Starbucks + Spotify. Who doesn’t love sipping a latte while listening to some Indigo Girls? While food and music are an odd couple on the surface,  Spotify and Starbucks partnered to give customers a holistic coffeehouse experience, allowing Starbucks employees to curate their own playlists through Spotify and play them in the store. It increased exposure for both brands as well as some artists.

9 unexpected nonprofit partnerships that work

What can a winning partnership look like for your industry? Here are some ideas to get you started, but we encourage you to be flexible. You never know what will work until you try it!

Food insecurity + transportation assistance

You know how Uber launched Uber Eats during COVID, and now they’re still doing it? That could be you, but getting food and transportation to those in need rather than to us lazy millennials! (Listen, sometimes we just want our avocado toast delivered.) Nonprofits that provide transportation assistance aren’t using their fleet 100% of the time, so this is a great way to a) help more people and b) increase efficiencies. Plus, you’ll have double the network for your next fundraising campaign: a new climate-controlled bus to keep food from spoiling! Talk about community innovation.

Animal shelters + elder care

Everyone loves a furry friend, whether it’s dog, cat, or naked mole rat. But for seniors, that sense of connection is particularly meaningful. Animal rescue organizations can join with elder care organizations to provide companionship and promote adoption. A campaign fundraising to buy supplies for seniors who’ve recently adopted senior pets? We love to see it.

Youth coding orgs + local museums

There is nothing better than stumbling upon a small local museum with a highly specialized area of focus. We’re here for it all! But sometimes, their technology is … not the best. Rather than stretching budgets, how about stretching young minds? Local museums can forge a strategic partnership with a youth coding group to give them IRL experience in getting outdated data into shape. The kids learn some history, the museum learns some technology, and everybody posts adorable pics on social media.

Theater orgs + LGBTQIA+

Theater is a safe space to express yourself and embrace the possibilities, making theater and LGBTQIA+ nonprofits a match made on Broadway. Consider a P2P campaign that sends LGBTQIA+ youth to theater camp for the summer, or host a panel with LGBTQIA+ thespians speaking about the importance of theater. Either way, it's all about fostering community development while raising spirits.

Domestic violence + animal welfare

Sometimes, issues can seem unrelated but have a lot of overlap in their mission. For example, a study of families being investigated for suspected child abuse found that pet abuse had occurred in 88% of the families (Humane Society). A big, collaborative year-end campaign could bring together domestic violence prevention and treatment with animal welfare, with messaging around ensuring every living being feels safe.

Environmental + health and medical

If we’ve learned anything from wildfires and hurricanes and bomb cyclones (oh my!), it’s that environmental factors and your health are inextricably linked, from air quality making you cough to the simple inability to get outside and stretch your legs. Environmental orgs and healthcare nonprofits can work together toward a common goal: a healthier community. We’re envisioning a matching gift campaign, where for every dollar raised for a health nonprofit, an environmentally conscious donor donates to their green partner.

Faith-based orgs + human rights

At its core, faith is about believing …in being good and doing good. Regardless of the specific belief system, that makes faith-based organizations and human rights nonprofits a match made in heaven (or wherever!). Consider spreading awareness by having human rights advocates speak at weekly services, or getting supporters from both nonprofits involved in some community organizing.

Animals + at-risk youth

At-risk youth benefit enormously from positive mentorship relationships, but animals can teach them to be in a mentor role themselves. After extensive training on care-taking and compassion, raise money for shelter pets and youth in need by giving youth in need the opportunity to care for animals in need.

Women’s rights + music

Have you ever sung loudly and proudly along with a female vocalist in your kitchen, using your spatula as a microphone? (Um, us, either.) Music can be incredibly empowering, and so could a partnership between a women’s rights organization and a creative expression/music nonprofit. Hold a concert, highlight new voices, and increase accessibility with a joint campaign. (Now we've got that Barbie driving scene with "Closer to Fine" in our heads!)

Just as a baby lion and a baby lamb (we know it's redundant) are adorable separately but pure magic when cuddling together, unusual partnerships can yield a sum far greater than their individual parts. Get out there, shake some hands, and start working—together. You might be surprised how far you go.

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