Capacity Building Through Cross-Sector Partnerships

Just Between Us

Non-profit organizations (NPO) have a history of strategic partnerships as a basis of fulfilling their respective mandates. These partnerships (e.g. between advocacy and program delivery focused organizations) have increased in frequency due to combinations of sector challenges including shrinking funding pools and volunteer base. They have also resulted in value-chain efficiencies with respect to capacity building at the sector level.

Beyond capacity building, NPO partnerships have also provided opportunities to realize greater operational synergies. For example, a consortium of NPOs can achieve procurement savings by purchasing as a collective instead of as individual entities. One could argue, therefore, beyond the influence of regulatory considerations, that NPO partnerships function as an effective risk management tool which enables NPO leadership to address both strategic and operational priorities. But what of cross-sector partnership –between NPOs and private sector (PS) organizations; can they also support the NPO mandate? Increasingly, research studies suggest that the answer to this question is yes.

Opportunity Knocks

Changes in the business landscape are providing strategic opportunities for developing cross-sector partnerships. These changes include an evolution in leadership thinking – which recognizes that social responsibility is fundamental to longer term financial performance, shifting consumer behaviours and more vocal employee expectations for positive corporate citizenship efforts. A recent ThirdSector study suggested that PS organizations are realizing that partnerships with NPOs offer the potential to favourably impact their market reputation as well as employee productivity. The culmination of these factors suggests that PS organizations are increasingly receptive to cross-sector partnerships as part of their business activities.

What’s In It For Me?

The value proposition for building cross-sector partnership should be no different than that which brings two NPOs together – it’s an effective risk management strategy. Cross-sector partnerships offer opportunities for sustained access to qualified Board/program volunteers and functional/technical expertise. Beyond access to a spectrum of resources, research findings also suggest that these partnerships build an effective connection to the NPO which improves the likelihood of securing on-going program funding from both employer and employees.

A Relationship Building Roadmap

As with any successful partnership, there are common areas of interest which present themselves through dialogue and interaction. So as part of your strategic planning efforts, step out of your comfort zone. Someone once told me that it is physiologically impossible for a turtle to move forward without sticking its head out of its shell. Translation: no risks, no rewards.

Consider attending select local industry association networking sessions or connect with business leaders through your existing donor relations to get a pulse of business priorities/challenges. Also, poll your volunteers who are employed in the private sector to better understand how the volunteer experience might better align with their job/career expectations.

Next, review these collective insights against your strategic/operational mandates to identify potential areas of organizational synergies and reciprocity with select PS organizations. Consider using a S.W.O.T approach, for example, to gauge level of strategic alignment. Perhaps their business focus can benefit from your outreach or advocacy competencies (e.g. your Strengths). Also, consider where partnerships can address mutual organizational Weakness/environmental Threats. For example, how do your Human Capital needs align with their Talent Management priorities?

The changing business climate has presented NPOs with opportunities to extend their PS relationships, beyond philanthropic donations, to ones that offer sustained capacity building.

What is your organization doing to leverage this momentum?

Written by Dave Nanderam, Ph.D., President of TapestryBuilder