How to Develop a Successful Nonprofit Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) Partnership

Learn the practices of successful nonprofit corporate social responsibility programs (CSR) and how to build productive relationships with local businesses.

Thinking about starting a corporate partnership program? Or how about bolstering the one you have? Corporate giving is outpacing individual giving in growth right now, so it’s a great time to get started. 

For our webinar, Turbo-Charging CSR: The Future of Nonprofit Corporate Partnership, we rounded up corporate giving and nonprofit tech experts to discuss the ins and outs of CSR partnerships and how your nonprofit can make the most of them. Our panel included:

Check out the top takeaways from our conversation and try their tips and recommendations with your team.


What is CSR?

CSR stands for Corporate Social Responsibility, although detailed definitions can vary from person to person. Many people use this term to refer to corporate social impact: companies doing their part beyond their bottom line and giving back to their communities.


Start a CSR Program with a Local Nonprofit

First thing’s first. Check out these tips to guide you as you consider companies for a potential partnership.

Think local.

Local companies want to partner with neighborhood nonprofits close to HQ so their employees can engage onsite. 

Go for the right size.

If you're a startup nonprofit, partnering with a huge enterprise company in your city may not be the best option. By pairing up with a similar-sized organization, you can ensure that you can meet their expectations regarding program initiatives and the amount of time and resources you can dedicate to the partnership.

Consider your mission.

Think about the good your organization makes possible, and let that guide your partnership decisions. Companies will likely want to engage with organizations whose work relates to theirs so they’re guaranteed to drive impact. And the way they see impact is changing. 

For example, Daily Harvest, a smoothie delivery company, could donate a certain number of meals to a food bank. That would be awesome, but instead, they’re taking it a step further through a strategic partnership with CCOF (California Certified Organic Farmers). 

This partnership increases their impact by enabling them to work directly with farmers to change their company practices, grow more organic foods, and develop sustainable processes. It also allows them to drive the climate and ecological impact their employees and customers want to support. In return, CCOF gains commercial opportunities by selling to Daily Harvest, which increases their crops' value and reach. How's that for a win-win?

Start with your network.

Bring your team together, tell them the top three industries you’d consider for a partnership, and ask them if they know anyone in those lines of work. When you begin with your immediate network, you’ll be surprised how quickly fantastic options can arise.  

Lean on tech to connect you. 

Gain exposure through free tools that let companies come to you. Check out our panelists’ companies on Pond to see what’s available to you by clicking the links by their names above. 

Do your research.

Conduct corporate prospect research (or hire someone who can help you) that identifies companies that actively support nonprofit organizations in your sector. 


Develop a Transformational Partnership In Which Everyone Wins

The transactional model of corporate social responsibility programs is no more. As businesses see CSR as culture and marketing tools, they want to do more than donate. They seek a transformational relationship, which means more work on both the part of the company and your organization that can reap great ROI if you do it right. 

We’ve all heard the horror stories about nonprofits who took on corporate partners only to waste their limited time and resources preparing for companies that never quite held up their end of the bargain. Or, the business got the headline they wanted from their time with an organization, but it didn’t align with that nonprofit’s mission. Sure, these things can happen, but they’re avoidable when your organization and the company dedicate effort to developing a strategic partnership that benefits folks on both sides of the equation.

Any great partnership requires communication. Plan to check in once per quarter or two times per year to:

  • Revisit why you began a relationship. 
  • Review your KPIs and your progress toward them.
  • Pitch new ways to strengthen your partnership and drive impact.

Think of it as a business relationship. Successful CSR partnerships have mission alignment with the organizations they support. In addition to their company values, and employee interests, the work they do with your nonprofit should also reflect the values of their consumer base. When these factors line up, that company can likely make a real difference for your mission. For example, a local grocery chain partnering with a hunger-focused nonprofit would make a wonderful match. 


Set Long Term Goals That Support Real (Not Performative) Impact

Performative companies are a dime a dozen. After the murder of George Floyd, a slew of companies committed to partnering with Black-owned suppliers and building diverse leadership teams, along with other initiatives, only to shift just a few months later. A values sniff test can often be enough to help your nonprofit differentiate between a company seeking a media opportunity vs. a company aiming to create impact. That said, even well-meaning companies can venture into performative territory without guidelines to keep them engaged in work that matters. 

When it comes to work that matters, your organization knows best, so take the lead in working with your CSR partner to develop measurable, long-term goals that require real, meaningful action. To increase accountability, you can also establish a committee among participants on both sides. These folks will be responsible for tracking your progress and conducting regular check-ins to determine what you’ve accomplished, what you can improve, and what’s next.


Reach Out to the Right People

Communicating the value of partnering with your nonprofit requires getting in touch with the people at companies who can turn your request into a reality. Seek out people who would likely support human resources, employee engagement initiatives, and company culture. (This is where your LinkedIn presence can really help you!) Roles like Human Resources Manager and Chief Culture Officer are immediate go-tos. If you see a marketing opportunity in the mix, consider contacting the Chief Marketing Officer or Marketing Manager. 

No matter who you connect with, be specific about why your organization would be a great fit for their company by pitching a potential engagement strategy and detailing volunteer opportunities that would appeal to them. 


Invest In Tech Tools to Manage Impact Data and Raise More Money

Whether you identify as a techie or not, getting comfortable with nonprofit tech tools can benefit both your corporate partners and your organization. Here’s how:

Impact data? Check.

Data-driven companies will expect more than the feels to justify their CSR investment in your nonprofit. They’ll want numbers and impact data to display on their website and share on social media.

This process used to be done by sharing spreadsheets back and forth. It took hours of time and was fraught with human error. Fortunately, the right tools can help your organizations get better data to justify the company’s spend by communicating ROI or a return on social impact. Best of all, your team won’t need to spend hours on end sifting through data in your CRM to make it happen. For recommendations, check out our panelists’ Pond profiles linked alongside their names above.

Easy ways to fundraise. Got ‘em. 

From Giving Madness brackets that enable companies to gamify employee giving to matching gifts tools that let employees know their employer will double their gift, technology continues to evolve in ways that make giving competitive, seamless, and fun. 


Find Game-Changing Tech Tools to Support Your Nonprofit Corporate Partnership on Pond


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