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Key takeaways: 

    • It’s important that your nonprofit partner aligns with your foundation or company values and mission. Look for partners who can further amplify the work you’re already doing.
    • When it comes to sourcing partners, leverage your enterprise and community relationships. 
    • Be clear about your expectations and the values of your foundation or company. 
    • Tools like Benevity, NGOSource, and many others can help your vetting process.

Today, countless enterprises are supporting various nonprofit organizations (NPOs), whether through their own corporate foundations or other giving programs. 

The relationship between for-profit and nonprofit companies should be mutually beneficial. Corporate partnerships are among the most effective ways for NPOs to raise money and awareness. Furthermore, 90% of corporations say they gain trust when partnering with reputable nonprofit organizations, and 89% believe such partnerships enhance their ability to drive societal impact, according to 2023 stats from Nonprofits Source

Still, your company’s reputation is on the line when announcing any public partnership, and if you intend to foster this relationship for years to come, you want to get it right from the start. 
How can you source impactful partners that reflect your own company’s mission and core values? During a recent ESG & CSR Board panel on advancing your philanthropy and partnership strategies, three senior-level social impact leaders shared their best practices for vetting new partners.

1. Look for a partner who amplifies your philanthropic goals

When evaluating a nonprofit group, it’s key that the organization’s mission and vision align with your enterprise. One example can be seen through the partnership between Hard Rock International ECPAT-USA, the nation’s leading anti-trafficking policy organization.

Vice President of Global Social Responsibility Paul Pellizzari said ECPAT’s mission strongly aligned with the programs Hard Rock was already focused on, and as a result, the partnership has been powerful. 

In 2022, Hard Rock International announced it signed the ECPAT Tourism Child-Protection Code of Conduct — the first and only voluntary set of business practices to implement the sexual exploitation and trafficking of children. 

Additionally, the two organizations came together to create a youth education program to prevent the online luring of children into human trafficking. The program was utilized by over 60,000 high school teachers across the country, effectively educating 1.2 million students. Paul said they now plan to expand this program to Mexico, and other areas of their global operations. 

“We did prove that there was an increase in online safety literacy by 13% overall,” Paul said. “Those are the long-term kinds of value that we try to get out of our partnerships.”

“We want to lift all boats together. If we’re helping you achieve your goals, you’re helping us achieve our goals.” – Paul Pellizzari, Hard Rock International

2. Utilize your community and enterprise relationships

When sourcing impactful NPOs, Ali Mathias, Head of Community Responsibility Strategy and MassMutual Foundation Vice President, saw a big win from leveraging cross-department relationships. 

Since 2018, The MassMutual Foundation has supported Way Finders, a nonprofit organization dedicated to strengthening housing and economic stability in Western Massachusetts, near MassMutual’s headquartered city of Springfield. 

In 2022, MassMutual Foundation announced a $2 million gift to help fund Way Finder’s City of Homes initiative to address the need for quality, affordable homeownership in Springfield. 

In line with their focus on enabling local housing opportunities, Ali was invited through MassMutual Law Division’s pro bono program to attend Housing Court and meet with a local judge. 

She said she used this opportunity to discuss how MassMutual could expand its impact in promoting financial literacy and capabilities training for first-time homebuyers. Following two years of conversations, the foundation decided to fund research on revising a Massachusetts receivership program to enable first-time home-buying opportunities. 

According to the Massachusetts Housing Partnership, the law allows the state to seize buildings to ensure sanitary codes and place them under the control of a supervised receiver. Rather than provide that opportunity to a landlord interested in flipping the property, Ali said they evaluated a way to have a nonprofit receive the property to provide a first-time buying experience to community members of color.

“Now, one of our existing grantees [Way Finders] was approved as the nonprofit receiver,” Ali said, adding that this collaboration wouldn’t have been possible without the introduction from their law division. 

Additionally, Ali advised foundation and philanthropy leaders to listen to their communities to determine where help is needed most.

We are not the experts. We are not here to tell anyone what they need to do. We’re here to support or amplify the good work that’s happening in the community.” – Ali Mathias, MassMutual

3. Present clear expectations and values

Determining whether an NPO is a good organizational fit can be challenging. Executive Director of the Motorola Solutions Foundation Karem Perez said it’s important to be very clear about the values of your foundation. 

She said they should be published on the website, included in all assets and materials, and frequently discussed on informational calls. 

“We have to clearly communicate what we value and communicate the types of organizations that we look to partner with,” – Karem Perez, Motorola Solutions Foundation

Of course, during the application process, it’s important to determine if the NPO reflects your values and desired outcomes. However, Karem also shared that you tend to get a stronger sense of alignment after a grant has been issued. 

She suggested regularly touching base with your grant partners to really get to know the organization. 

“We like to sit in the programming whenever possible so that we can see the amazing work that they’re doing,” Karem shared. “That’s really where I think we’re able to develop a much better gauge of culture and assess if it’s a good fit.” 

Unfortunately, you may determine that it’s not a partnership worth continuing long-term, but that’s okay.

4. Leverage available tools

Ali echoed Karem’s statement on presenting transparent expectations and said the MassMutual Foundation is working on being hyper-clear about the outcomes they want to drive and communicating those criteria based on data. 

They leverage a partnership with Mission Measurement, an organization dedicated to standardizing, benchmarking, and predicting social outcomes. Through the company’s creation of the Impact Genome Project, Ali said they’ve collected data to determine what strategies have been most successful. 

“Being able to communicate that clearly to our partners was a whole new conversation for us, and really changed our understanding of our partners, in terms of what we’re both trying to accomplish, and what we expected of each other,” Ali said. 

Karem also showcased some of the tools that have been helpful for her team, including NGOsource and TechSoup, which help them vet charitable organizations outside of the U.S. 

Additionally, they use their giving platform, Benevity, to ensure they’re not granting to groups that are “unsavory.” Karem said Benevity screens if an organization is on a sanctions list or government watch list and other important considerations.

When it comes to selecting the right tool, Paul shared how Hard Rock International leaned on its network of peer support in the ESG & CSR Board.

“The ESG & CSR Board was critical in us doing the research on different platforms that were available,” Paul said.

Leaders like Paul, Ali, and Karem have access to real-time unbiased peer insights in the ESG & CSR Board — the confidential peer-to-peer community for senior social impact, ESG, and sustainability leaders at the world’s biggest companies. 

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