When Partnering with Nonprofits, Communication is Key

Aug 15, 2016 4:30 PM ET

When Partnering with Nonprofits, Communication is Key

In honor of VM Summit 16, which is all about corporate/ nonprofit collaboration, this series of volunteerism-related blog posts will take one topic and explain how it’s relevant to both groups. Today’s topic? Communication in Corporate/ Nonprofit Partnerships. Check out our other blog, Engaging Volunteers, for the same topic from the perspective of nonprofit volunteer managers.

Communication is the single most important part of any relationship, including the relationship with your nonprofit partner.

Yes, I have a degree in public relations with a minor in communication theory. Yes, I sometimes volunteer to help nonprofit organizations with their communications strategy. Yes, I revel in wordsmithing and strive to find perfect content that resonates with my audience.

But I promise I’m not only a little biased when I say, communication is paramount in your nonprofit partnerships.

Why is communication so important?

Imagine this scenario: After spending some time researching nonprofits and areas of need in your community, you finally find a cause that’s a good fit. It aligns well with your company’s values, and it sounds like something your employees could get excited about. So you contact the nonprofit and they tell you they’re interested in partnering, too.

Learn how the VolunteerMatch Network makes it easy to find volunteer opportunities for your employees.

You’re probably eager to get started right away. You immediately start sharing ideas on how your employees can help. “We want to send a group of our employees for a day of service. How soon can we come?” or “We have engineers that can offer pro bono tech support, and an excellent marketing team that can help with your communications strategy.”

Here’s the issue: when you communicate closed questions like these,  nonprofits — especially under-resourced ones — can be afraid to say no to offers of support. (Overall, I think we’re getting better at saying “no”, but the negative connotations associated with doing so, especially in the nonprofit sector, still exist).

By creating shared expectations before embarking on a new relationship, you save time in the long run.

Creating Shared Expectations

Before telling a nonprofit what your employees can offer them, set aside some time to have an open, two-sided conversation. And during that conversation, ask them what they need. From there, you can determine together if what you have to offer aligns with what the nonprofit needs.

Here are some more helpful questions for setting up shared expectations:

“What would a successful partnership look like to you?”

“What do you envision as the endpoint of this partnership?”

“What methods of evaluation will we use?”

“Do you have any hesitations?”

You’ll want to document the expectations of both parties before getting started: say them out loud, write them down, share them with other stakeholders, etc. Having a reference point to benchmark alleviates misunderstandings, reminds you of the “why” behind the partnership, and helps you recognize if and when the partnership steers off course.

Continue the Conversation

It’s not enough to foster open communication solely at the onset of your partnership. Make it the norm for the duration of your relationship and into future partnerships.

Defining communication channels at the beginning can help with this. Be sure to ask questions such as,

“Who is my main point of contact at your organization?”

“Who do I reach out to if they’re unavailable?”

“Do you prefer updates by email or by phone?”

You’ll also want to schedule regular check-ins to ensure things are going as planned, while addressing any issues or complications that may arise.

All this conversation — especially at the start of a new partnership — can feel like a lot. And honestly, it can be. However, having these conversations up front (and having regular check-ins) will ultimately create efficiency, and it will increase the impact your company and employees have in your community.

After all, that’s the point, right?