Nonprofits perform many vital roles but have to juggle delivering their mission with limited resources. This makes a strong case for building partnerships that can leverage other sectors’ strengths and resources says Sofia Breitholtz, CEO of Reach for Change. In this month’s Expert View, she shares some of the lessons her organisation has learned in seeking out these alliances.
At their core, nonprofits are all about lasting societal change. They often exist to fill a void in society that no other sector fills – whether through giving a voice to the voiceless, providing healthcare to the underserved, or protecting our environment. In addition to juggling complex missions and beneficiaries, they must continue to fundraise for their existence while delivering strong and effective programmes. All this while juggling restricted resources and high degrees of staff burnouts. There is therefore a strong case to be made for building partnerships that can leverage other sectors’ strengths’ and resources. As the old adage goes – “if you want to walk fast, go alone, if you want to walk far, go together.”
When done right, cross-sector partnerships can be a powerful tool for nonprofits to leverage their cause and accelerate their impact. They can provide much-needed financial resources, help amplify their message, and open up new networks and opportunities. But they can also be extremely time consuming and challenging to execute – and especially maintain.
Reach for Change has been providing a model for scaling social innovation and entrepreneurship across three continents since 2009. This model is built on support and partnership with the corporate sector, where we rely on their resources, competences and core business strengths to deliver our programs. And we leverage this through so-called “co-worker engagement” programmes. Partnerships are critical to us in order to attain social impact. We also hope that our entrepreneurs identify pathways of scale through social procurement or other corporate alliances.
Lessons from our partnerships along this journey are that “soft skills” such as culture, leadership, and storytelling cannot be underestimated. At the same time, we have identified some “hard” and results-based features that need to be kept in mind when seeking out these types of alliances.
Get off to a good start
We are taught the lesson again and again – that social change does not happen overnight. This is a lesson our entrepreneurs teach us more than not, by applying to our incubator year after year with new innovations or pivoted models – all to support the core problem that they are passionate about solving. Our most frequent argument for our partners is to stick with it. Social change cannot occur in the current rush for quarterly results and earnings. This is a dialogue that must be had, especially with financial partners, whose strategies can often change and pivot, over and over again. And do be able to get to a place where such dialogue is possible, we cannot under-commit to aligning expectations, identifying realistic project plans with clear deliverables and agreeing on impact goals early on.
Partnerships require resources
Partnerships work best if we allocate the necessary resources to make them fly. We have seen that continuous joint evaluations, joint communication plans and bringing on new partners together strengthens the sustainability of the project. It is best to be transparent about the resources required from your end and from the partners’ end. Some of our best programmes have come from partners that understand the effectiveness of pilot phases and investing in programme design.
Put in the time
Investing in a partnership means investing in partner relationships. We model open and frequent dialogue and transparency, also when the project plan and deliverables are not progressing as hoped for. Schedule regular touch points, take the time to get to know one another and ask for feedback. And do not be afraid of admitting failures or hiccups. This is not only key for the not-for-profit, but also for the funding partner, or corporate to understand. Often times, it is also a desired role for many employees who want to work with purpose-related activities.
Promote a build-measure-learn approach
We love to co-create. Our innovative partnership approach means that we can pilot, refine, pivot together. Our joint values and impact goals keep us on track, but we always have fun on our journey. Our partnerships give us the opportunity to create experimental playgrounds and a platform for mutual learning.
The impact will always count
It’s important to measure and evaluate our impact for numerous reasons. When a partnership comes to an end, which it always will at some point, measurement and evaluation will ensure we bring our learnings with us. This will strengthen the outputs and outcomes of new impact partnerships to come. Last but not least – remember to celebrate the partnership’s successes and the impact created.
And finally, sometimes you need to stand firm. Creating social impact takes skill sets that are honed and developed over time. These are critical and need to be evaluated and awarded in the same way as marketing a product, or selling a service should be. Sometimes, partnerships do not fit with values and mission. And it is up to mission related organisations to know their full worth and fight for that worth.
About Sofia Breitholtz
CEO at Reach for Change Sofia Breitholtz believes in the power of bringing diverse sectors and perspectives together to solve global challenges. She has a passion for questions around the future of our children and youth, women’s empowerment and empathetic leadership. Sofia has previous experience from strategy and management consulting with EY and from working with sustainability at Ben & Jerry’s/Unilever, she also has experience from development cooperation with the EU in Southern Africa and from social entrepreneurship as Deputy CEO of Solvatten, as well as experience from several Board positions in the not-for-profit sector.
Picture: Reach for Change
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