Nation Building Top Tip: Why partnering with an NPO is like dating
Even though February is the month of love, Elvis once crooned the words “wise men say ‘only fools rush in’…”, and this is sage advice for the courtship phase between a not-for-profit organisation and a business before entering a formal social impact partnership.
Corporate social investment and social development partnerships can be likened to marriage, and therefore one of the most important elements that contribute to a healthy relationship is identifying the right partner, and spending time getting to know them before making a longer term commitment.
“Courtship is the period in a relationship which precedes their engagement and marriage, or establishment of an agreed relationship of a more enduring kind”
Fans of reality TV will be familiar with the popular local series, Married at First Sight SA. Here, couples that have never met each other are chosen as compatible marriage partners by a panel of experts. Married at First Sight SA's expert psychologist Martsie Dreyer explains that candidates are paired based on similarities with a specific focus on their background, realistic expectations, financial management, religion, personality traits, values and interests.
The same can be applied to a partnership between NPOs and businesses. So it is in this stage that each partner need to consider what the other’s intentions are, their purpose, their approach, their character, their credibility (trustworthiness) and their track record.
During this courtship or dating period, an NPO and business spend time working out if they have similar values and vision for the future of the partnership and working together. Here it is also important to clarify the expectations that time together is not a guarantee of marriage, but of finding common ground and getting to know each other. While it is important to have guidelines in place to determine what sort of partner one is looking for, it is also valuable to invite the advice and approval from the broader ‘family’ (Board, employees, any other stakeholders) to support one’s choice for longer term buy-in and support of the partnership.
It is important to emphasise that it is just as important for an NPO to have these criteria for working with businesses because if they embark on social investment partnerships simply for the sake of financial support, they run the risk of starting off with misrepresentation – by trying to fit in with a funder’s mandate and criteria. While this could lead to a breakdown of communication and trust at some point, it can also result in mission drift and frustration further down the line. NPOs need to be just as choosey with whom they partner so that they enter a partnership on an equal footing based on trust and common ground, vision and objectives, and with support for their own mandate and approach.
Back to Elvis. The point is to not rush in to any binding commitment. Finding the right partner is the most crucial phase – and it is best to spend time ensuring that everyone is on the same page and working towards the same objectives. This helps to set down solid foundations for healthy and mutually beneficial relationships – which are likely to be the most effective and enduring in impact.
Written by Lauren Henning, the Public Affairs Director at Nation Builder. Visit www.proudnationbuilder.co.za.