Safeway Foundation: 6 Steps to “Partner” with a Corporation

Christy Duncan Anderson, Executive Director of The Safeway Foundation

photo courtesy of The Safeway Foundation

“Howdy, Partner!”

Monday morning.  An email (labeled with high importance) comes in from a nonprofit and a person I’ve never met:

“Dear Ms. Duncan Anderson, we are (a very important charity) and we want to explore a partnership with you.  My CEO would like to speak to you next Wednesday morning or Thursday afternoon.  Please let us know which of these works better in your schedule.”

They want a “partnership” with me?

Partnership (n):  A relationship resembling a legal partnership and usually involving close cooperation between parties having specified and joint rights and responsibilities

Partner (n):  a person with whom one shares an intimate relationship: one member of a couple

Are they sure they want to be my partner?  Does “close cooperation” mean I get to pick between the two times that their CEO is free.  What happens if one of the other 299 people who email me on Monday wishing to partner desire the same time period?  If we partner, do they want me to tell them how to go about running their programs?  Would they be open to a brainstorming meeting where I can give them my thoughts on how best to cure cancer or fight the obesity epidemic in underserved communities?

Probably not.

And for the sake of both disciplines where I have no expertise – I hope not.

I’m fairly certain they don’t want a partnership.  They want money.  They are either seeking money donated by my organization or they would like us to raise money for them.

Is there a value to having a for-profit associated with a nonprofit?  Certainly.  But, if I’m going to tie our brand with yours it’s almost like a partnership of marriage – I can only imagine if some man wrote to me out of the blue and said, “I am a very eligible bachelor and would like to explore a marriage with you.  I am free for a date either Friday or Saturday night at 8pm.” I’d probably run in the opposite direction.

It occurs to me that a true nonprofit partnership is a little like marriage, there’s the courtship, the dating, and then finally the big day where hearts are combined and we live in true partnership.

I am certainly no relationship expert, but I thought I’d take a stab in a few columns to detail stages of the path to partnership and maybe provide some advice and helpful tips along the way to paint a picture of a courtship of my dreams:

Step 1:  Wooing – how to get noticed

Step 2:  The First Date – some of the most embarrassing and best moments in first meetings

Step 3:  Dating – Getting to know each other

Step 4:  Making a first-step commitment – starting a small project to test how we could live together

Step 5:  The “big” discussion – joint rights and responsibilities - It is always advisable to discuss child raising and parenting practices prior to considering having a child

Step 6:  The proposal – how to move to the “big ask”

So let’s explore the path together, who knows:  this may help you find the right partner and there may be a ring in your future.

Christy Duncan Anderson| Executive Director, The Safeway Foundation

[email protected]


  • Bruce Burtch

    This is music to my ears. Nonprofits need to provide a business value to a for-profit partner, not a “I have a need and want you to help me” ask. Having designed partnerships between the nonprofit and for-profit sectors for over 3 decades this situation will only improve when this becomes a business discussion first, then moves into a focus on the greater good that can be accomplished through a true partnership. For-profits want to help, indeed they want to partner, but with so many people asking, they want and deserve to receive value in return.

    • Amy DeVita

      Thanks for the suggestion, Bruce. I totally agree—there has to be value on both sides for any true “partnership” to work. Wonder if it’s attributable more to a staffer’s inexperience (but doubtful, since it includes the CEO) or the organization’s pressure to get this done asap vs. taking the time to customize the approach?

  • Barbara Lubin

    I am Barbara Lubin the co-founder and Ex. Director of the Middle East Children’s Alliance in
    Berkeley California. We have been working for the past 25 years in Palestine, Lebanon and Iraq. For 4 years we have been raising funds to build water purification and desalinization Systems in the U.N. schools in the refugee camps in Gaza. So far we have raised close to 1/2 of a million dollars and have built close to 40 systems. They are designed and built by Palestinians in Gaza providing good clean drinking water and many needed jobs for local Gazans. Raising funds has been very difficult and I am wondering if you have any ideas for us
    of who to approach for help.

    • Amy DeVita

      Hi Barbara, First-thanks for the wonderful work you do and the incredible outcomes your group has produced. I’m hoping other readers will be able to offer more advice on where to go….I trust you are familiar with the The Foundation Center, which offers a plethora of useful data for funding sources. But, I would heed Ms. Duncan Anderson’s advice of finding a for-profit to which your organization can offer a value. Having aligned goals is what makes it useful to both members of a partnership. We’re currently developing a Discussions page where this type of question could get the most exposure-I’ll be sure to ping you when it’s live!

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    • Amy DeVita

      Thanks for sharing this on your site, Elaine—and for your tip about shedding the sense of entitlement. I appreciate your experience and was wondering if you think that entitlement or pressure for results are more the contributing factor for most groups?

  • Claire Axelrad

    Just like any other relationship, the essential WIIFM question must be asked and answered. Nonprofit staff who don’t even attempt to step into the business funder’s shoes are naive. It’s up to the nonprofit staff to make a strong case for support that showcases benefits, not just features. Often these sponsorships come from the marketing budgets, and not the philanthropy budgets. It should be a win/win/win — for nonprofit/business/community. The old term, “enlightened self-interest” comes to mind. Great post and perspective!

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  • Claire Lyons

    Dear Christy,
    Bingo! You’ve laid out the expectation misfire perfectly and with humor for punctuation; thank you! I often use the courting - marriage analogy as well. You’ve nailed it well, and hopefully opened people’s understanding to just how “out of sync” it is to make these assumptions. When I was leading the global grant portfolios and partnerships at PepsiCo Foundation, I was gobsmacked at times how little seekers considered the critical element of “WIIFM”. Not taking the time to consider and study up on PepsiCo’s priorities or leading with a genuine desire to provide value to PepsiCo often made a NPO appear entitled and arrogant … two characteristics unbecoming in a suitor, for sure. Keep it up! The more we “translate and interpret” WIIFM the closer we all come to finding our partners.
    Cheers! Claire Lyons
    Thanks too, to Claire Axelrad for posting this in Clairification

  • Barbie

    Thank you so much for beginning this series. As a {very} small nonprofit, we are attempting to expand and better our development department. Articles like this really help us to see the missteps we may make as we foray into new territory.

    In answer to a question in the comments, as a brand spanking new development person, I’d have to say that entitlement has little to do with my fundraising faux pas. They definitely fall into the inexperienced category (even for our ED - you get what you pay for), and pressure to achieve those big dollar donations.

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