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How to Plan a Successful Nonprofit Partnership with a Private Sector Organization

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Special to the Philanthropy Journal

By Robert Leikind

Well-conceived partnerships between nonprofit and private sector for-profit organizations can be mutually beneficial. Ensuring that such collaborations are effective, however, can be challenging and requires time and planning. A recent partnership between American Jewish Committee Boston (AJC) and Boston-based WinnCompanies may offer some lessons for how to maximize the prospects for success.

AJC-logo3_H-tag newFor more than a century, AJC has been the leading global Jewish advocacy organization. With offices across the United States and around the globe, and partnerships with Jewish communities worldwide, AJC works to enhance the well being of the Jewish people and to advance human rights and democratic values for all.

WinnCompanies-logo copy_revisedAJC is a mission-based organization that utilizes diplomacy and partnerships with political, religious and civic leadership to advance its goals. While AJC has bureaus around the world, it relies upon regional offices across the United States to build local support for its efforts and a powerful supportive constituency that will stand behind its work. To do this, regional offices reach out to prominent community leaders and engage them in AJC’s work. One of the ways this has been done is by hosting prestigious events that introduce people to AJC’s work. In Boston, for example, AJC’s regional office hosts an annual Community Leadership Award Dinner recognizing an individual of extraordinary merit who exemplifies the values that AJC promotes and has contributed to improve the quality of life for the community.

Arthur Winn at AJC Award_revisedIn 2015, AJC honored Arthur Winn, founder of WinnCompanies, an award-winning apartment management company and the nation’s premier builder of affordable housing and military housing. A pioneer and national leader in the industry, Arthur was viewed as an outstanding candidate for this recognition. Through his efforts, people all across the country, many of whom might otherwise have found it difficult to establish a quality living environment, obtained homes that gave them the opportunity to lead stable and productive lives. 

Honoring Arthur Winn and Partnering with WinnCompanies

The event provided benefits to both AJC and WinnCompanies. This dinner allowed AJC to introduce itself to a new community of prospective supporters and provided AJC with important financial support. It offered WinnCompanies and Arthur Winn prestigious recognition from an internationally respected organization with a more than century long track record for advancing democratic values. Importantly, it afforded WinnCompanies and its friends the opportunity to lend support to an organization in which they believe.

From the beginning, the event was envisioned  as a Arthur Winn with Boston Mayor and other Dignitaries_revisedpartnership with Winn and AJC employees collaborating closely on all aspects of the planning and program. This focus on partnership led to record breaking contributions to AJC Boston (close to $1 million) and a memorable evening, but the long-term result may be even more significant.

Arthur Winn, like many previous award recipients, has stayed involved with AJC. He has become active in many of its programs and has introduced AJC to new potential donors, advocates, government officials and future honorees. Underpinning this developing relationship between Arthur Winn and AJC is a level of trust and confidence that was nurtured in the process of planning and implementing a major awards dinner in Arthur’s honor. This success rests upon a number of simple principles.

5 Planning Tips for a Successful Nonprofit/ Private Sector Partnership

  1. Set clear goals up front. Think and talk about goals and agree upon them in advance, identify the interests of the respective parties, and make goals actionable. Keep in mind that the interests and skills sets of the parties may not be the same. This should be reflected in the way goals and action plans are developed.
  2. Determine clear divisions of roles. Establish a project team and work plan with clear allocation of responsibilities in order to ensure alignment. Develop a timeline for implementation and ensure regular communication to ensure everyone is informed.
  3. Understand the needs of each organization, institutional and personal. For example, businesses and nonprofits often have different structures, agendas and cultures. It will be important to take the time to understand where mindsets and expectations may differ. Ignoring these differences may otherwise lead to tensions in the relationship.
  4. A communications strategy should guide the event program. The “show” is all about messaging, so think about what needs to be communicated at this occasion.
  5. Planning an event is an intensive exercise. In the best cases, when the project is done, relationships have been developed and trust built. Think twice before walking away from these. These relationships can be assets that serve both organizations and are well-worth nurturing.

Nonprofit organizations rely upon the interest and motivation of respected community leaders and organizations like Arthur Winn and WinnCompanies. By focusing on the partnership first and not just the event, AJC and Arthur Winn were able to turn an event into a long-term relationship that supports shared values and aspirations.


Robert Leikind has been director of AJC New England since 2008. During his tenure, AJC New England has served as a well-regarded leader in Greater Boston and throughout AJC’s global network. Working with a passionate lay and professional team, Rob has proved an innovator in efforts to defend the well-being of the Jewish people, promote human rights and democratic values, and advance Israel’s quest for peace and security. The result has been a reinvigorated AJC and dramatically increased support across our region.

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