Nonprofits looking for good corporate fit

Todd Cohen

When they research corporations, nonprofits should look for ways to make it easier for prospective corporate partners to see the connection between the mission of the nonprofit and the values and direction of the company, experts say.

That means finding companies with missions aligned with their own, identifying assets a company can use to help address social problems the nonprofit cares about, and showing the impact it is making fixing those problems.

“It begins with understanding the way that companies think about problems,” says Margaret Coady, director of the Committee Encouraging Corporate Philanthropy, or CECP.

“Companies like to take big, complex problems and break them down into solvable pieces as quickly as possible,” she says.

So nonprofits should work to help companies recognize the complexity of a big social issue like hunger, illiteracy or domestic abuse, she says, and “look for opportunities to break it down into more solvable problems, and create an action plan for how they can work together to begin to do that.”


Ellen Luger, a vice president at General Mills who oversees corporate giving and is executive director of the General Mills Foundation, says “demonstrating alignment” with the mission of a company or foundation is critical for nonprofits looking for support.

General Mills, for example, has partnered for over 30 years with Feeding America, the national network of food banks formerly known as America’s Second Harvest.

Officials of the company, for which hunger and nutrition wellness are a primary focus, were involved in helping to form the network, and General Mills initially provided it with grants.

More recently, General Mills created a cross-functional “product-donation action team” of employees from the company and from Feeding America to look at the issue of hunger and think about news ways to attack the issue.

And the company’s Health & Wellness Center of Excellence, an internal entity that focuses on health and wellness related to the company’s products, is partnering with Feeding America, looking for other ways to collaborate.

The company also partners with Second Harvest Heartland, Feeding America’s affiliate that serves the Twin Cities region, and recently made a commitment to give $1 million to the Hunger-Free Minnesota campaign spearheaded by a coalition that includes Second Harvest Heartland.

“The strongest relationships begin small,” Luger says. “Over time the relationship can evolve, if the nonprofit is willing to start small and grow with the corporate partner.”

Mapping needs

Coady of CECP says nonprofits are “very good at mapping and understanding needs,” and also should be able to map and understand the needs of corporations.

That requires “understanding what assets might be easy for the company to give that you could ask for in addition to or beyond cash,” including tangible as well as intangible resources that each party has or lacks.

A company might be able, for example, to help a nonprofit renegotiate its telecommunications contract or lease, or provide conference facilities for a nonprofit’s staff training or assist it with a mailing.


In addition to finding ways their respective priorities, resources and needs are in sync, says Coady, nonprofits and institutional funders should be looking for “partnerships and relationships that they can sustain.”

Specifically, the nonprofit and funder each should try to identify “core components of sustainability” in their relationship.

That would include a “mapping of complementary resources on both sides, so when these institutions come together, they are truly more than the sum of their parts,” she says.


Luger of General Mills says nonprofits should be open to more than just financial support, and should be able to show their ability to track and report the impact of their work, showing that they have made a difference on an issue a corporation or foundation cares about.

Employees are one of the strongest assets of a corporation, she says, so nonprofits should be looking for opportunities to engage a company’s employees.

A company, for example, might be able to marshal the expertise of its employees or enlist them in volunteer projects for nonprofits, which also might recruit corporate employees for their boards.

To find how its priorities, assets and needs match those of a corporation, Luger says, a nonprofit needs to do research on the corporation, typically through its website and publicly-available documents that show its mission, focus and funding priorities.

“Really it’s about the mission of the company and alignment of the nonprofit,” she says. “Both organizations are mission-driven, so how can you as a nonprofit connect with the company in a way that really supports your mission.”

To help understand who might be a good corporate partner, Coady says, nonprofits should “take a careful look at what the company is saying about where it’s trying to do.”

Nonprofits can find that information in corporate documents, typically available on a company’s website or the website of the federal Securities and Exchange Commission, that spell out the company’s goals, direction and challenges.

To connect, nonprofits do not need to compromise their integrity but simply need to figure out “how we can connect,” Coady says.

The key, she says, is identifying what is “keeping the people inside that company awake at night.”

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