Cause Blog

How to choose a nonprofit partner, Part 3: Make them evaluate you.

By Ed Lord

This is part three of our five-part series on choosing a cause partner for corporations. You can start the series here. So far we've covered how your company should evaluate a nonprofit. Now it's their turn to evaluate your company.

Once you’ve chosen a nonprofit you’d like to align your company with, you need to encourage them to reciprocate and check you out. This can really help build a genuine relationship.

Make sure you put more effort into this than just giving them a link to your website “About” page. You should put as much or more work into landing a nonprofit partner as you put into an RFP for a corporate partner. Remember you’re trying to start a long-lasting partnership, one that will be viable to the public and that will have a positive effect on your business. You may have checked out a potential nonprofit partner thoroughly, but an intensive evaluation from their side is in order as well. After all, you don’t want them finding something out later that you consider a minor detail of doing business, but that’s a big deal to them. If the relationship gets rocked a few months in because the nonprofit was unaware of something, that can be a huge waste of everyone's time, as well as a PR nightmare. Here’s a game plan for the process of getting the nonprofit to vet you:

  • Create a company guide for them.
  • Get them to ask questions.
  • Create a letter of intent.
  • Do a trial run.

Create a company guide for them.

Put together a thorough dossier on your company. (Most of what you would tell them is probably public record or filed with the government.) But this is not just a matter of handing them your annual report. Create a document that honestly answers the questions a nonprofit would ask, as opposed to the ones that a stockholder would want to know. Their motives and sensitivities are entirely different.

Get them to ask questions.

It’s entirely possible that in the past the organization you’re vetting has only experienced take-it-or-leave-it offers from the companies that they’ve sought sponsorship from. If they’ve never had a long-term relationship with a company, they may never have considered that they have the right to deeply evaluate their potential business partners. They may just assume it’s not their place to ask. In the spirit of transparency, make it is their place to ask. Push them to come up with a plan for evaluating your company. Give them access to whatever they ask for so there are no surprises. When both sides lay all their cards on the table, the partnership is much more likely to thrive. 

Create a letter of intent.

While some companies may want to draft a formal legal contract with their nonprofit partner, you should at least create a letter of intent. This should include expectations that both sides have agreed to. It can be broad and capture the spirit of the relationship or be detailed and get down to the specifics of what each side will provide the other. Whichever you choose, this document should very clearly state expectations. Even if it’s not a binding legal contract, it gives both sides something they can go back and review to make sure both are living up to what was agreed upon from the start.

Do a trial run.

There’s no reason you can’t kick the tires of an organization to see how well it’s put together. Sponsor their event or come up with your own event they can run for you, or one that they’ll be beneficiary of. This gives you an opportunity to see how well run and how organized they are. On your end, strive to involve as many of your stakeholders as possible in the experiment so the nonprofit can see how much support you can bring to them.

The real point of all this is to make sure that both your company and the nonprofit have had every chance to understand the other and ask the tough questions early. That way there won’t be any misunderstandings later.

In our next article, we’ll cover some best practices that will get your relationship off to a great start.